NJ Film Fest to screen documentary about ’80s rocker Robin Lane

The title of the 1981 Robin Lane & the Chartbusters album, "Imitation Life."

The cover of the 1981 Robin Lane & the Chartbusters album, “Imitation Life.”

“When Things Go Wrong” is the title of the 11th song ever played on MTV, a track from the self-titled 1980 album by Robin Lane & the Chartbusters. It’s also a perfect title for a documentary on Lane that will screen at the New Jersey International Film Festival in New Brunswick on Saturday, with an introduction and Q&A session by Lane and director (and Chartbusters drummer) Tim Jackson.

Subtitled “Robin Lane’s Story,” the film takes a close look at Lane and her brief time in the limelight, as well as her current, fulfilling work as a music therapist. It’s a story that’s little known, since Lane has been out of the public eye for so long, but it’s a good one, and Jackson tells it in an impressively thorough way.

At one point, it looked Lane would emerge as one of the most important female rock voices of the early ’80s, alongside people like Chrissie Hynde, Debbie Harry and Pat Benatar. Her talent was never in question. And she did manage to land a big record deal, and generate a fair amount of hype, and become a leading figure on the Boston rock scene. But that step to the next level never happened.

It’s good to finally have an answer why. Or really, I should switch that to plural: “answers why.”

For it was a lot of things, including her late start (she drifted around for a while before becoming serious about her music); her fervent embrace of punk-rock (which confused some of her fans); her inability to talk about herself articulately in interviews; and a pregnancy that forced her to take a break from the business before she could really afford to.

“If you’re selling millions of records, fine, take a year or two off, then come back,” says ex-manager Mike Lembo, in the documentary. “Then you can afford to get a nanny … or whatever. But having a baby stopped us dead. That’s it. We were done.”

There are some “Zelig”-like touches along the way. Her father, Ken Lane, played piano for Dean Martin and co-wrote the standard, “Everybody Loves Somebody.” She attended the first Human Be-In in San Francisco during the Summer of Love; sang on the classic Neil Young & Crazy Horse album, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere; and was married for a couple of years to guitarist Andy Summers, before he was in the band The Police.

Even with everything that went wrong in her career, she could have become a star anyway. As the many performance clips in this documentary prove, her material was good enough; lots of artists have gone further with less. She was in the right place at the right time. But … everything wasn’t quite right enough.

That’s the thing about the music industry. You need to talent and hard work to get ahead, and Lane had both. But you also need luck. And she came up short in that department.

The screening takes place at 7 p.m. Saturday at Voorhees Hall on the Rutgers University campus. Another documentary, “Inside the Frame: Portrait of Photographer Linda Troeller,” will also be shown. Tickets are $10 ($9 for students and seniors), with food courtesy of Jimmy Johns included. Visit NJFilmFest.com.

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