Sunday, March 18, 2007

Yep, I seen it, I have. In fact, I paid about $40 for the thing last Friday at Missing Link when I was in one of my rare forays outside of the house in the last 3 weeks. Upon purchasing it, I said to the young shop clerk - let's call him "Scotti" - "I've read really mixed reviews for this, but I don't care. The topic is so close to my heart, so imbedded in my upbringing, my psych, my very being, that no matter how lame it is, I must see it, I must own it". Or something close to that effect. Now having said that, and having watched this a couple of times, I may have to retract those words. I'm not so sure it was $40 well spent.

You've read the Steven Blush book this is based on, right? I have too; bought it the week it came out, read it the day I bought it and walked away rather underwhelmed. So eager was I to get my disappointment off my chest, I even penned a review on Amazon(!). But anyway, Blush wrote and co-produced this pic, Paul Rachman directed it, and for some reason Sony Pictures have gotten behind it for marketing/distribution. I'll try not to repeat myself here from previous posts, but I have rattled on before - at length - regarding the music which is covered here - American hardcore punk ca. 1980-'86 - and the effect said music had on me as an adolescent. It was, to keep it simple, nothing short of a revelation. Gearing up from a year spent worshipping '77 Brit punk as a 13 year-old, my purchases of the Dead Kennedys' Plastic Surgery Disasters and the Repo Man soundtrack (Quincy-punk purchases, for sure, but a young man has to start somewhere) in my 14th year set me on a 20+-year course which probably ruined any chances I mighta had for living a "normal" existence. It was the music of my high school years, a scene full of mentors and heroes like HR, Jello, Henry, Ian, Greg, Chuck, Will & Bruce, Al Flipside, Tim Yo, etc. - love 'em or hate 'em - which helped me keep me sane throughout puberty.

On top of that, I could probably add the fact that, at this stage in my life, I feel like I've probably read just about every book regarding the history of American punk - hardcore and non-hardcore - there is currently available, and I say this w/ no braggaduccio intent: I know my American punk rock. If you're going to make a documentary on such a crucial period in rock history, a period which helped shape just about any real rock music worth a damn which came in its wake, you'd better do it right. Which, of course, is why it pains me to say that Blush and Rachman got this all so horribly wrong. It's not like this is a total disaster, but it could've been so much better.

I don't wish to sound totally negative about it, so let's grace over a few positive aspects: the footage of a 5-piece 'Flag (hairy, end-of-tour period) is a killer, as are the brief snippets of Bad Brains, Void, Negative Approach, Flipper, etc. (I know some people have complained that you can find all this stuff on YouTube. BIG DEAL! You can find everything on YouTube!); hearing the likes of Ian MacKaye (who always comes across as the smartest guy in the room), Henry Rollins, some dude from GWAR, the "dudes" from Corrosion of Conformity, Dez Cadena, Die Kreuzen's Dan Kubinski, Kira, Dave Markey, Ed Colver, Jack Rabid, Greg Ginn, Mike Watt, Steve DePace, Dave Dictor, a surprisingly lucid HR, producer Jerry Williams, the Zero Boys' Paul Mahern, some Culturcide guy and even the likes of Duff McKagen and Flea give some thoughtful and intelligent comments regarding the hardcore scene and, well... that's about it.

What's wrong with it? I'll tell you what's really wrong w/ it in a minute, but first, there are other, slightly more minor faults to address: someone should keep Articles of Faith's Vic Bondi away from a microphone, and possibly a camera, at all times (he is completely obnoxious and full of shit). Whilst you're at it, best to keep Keith Morris (much as I love the guy), Harley from the Cro-Mags and especially a stoned Phil Anselmo(!) out of clear sight, too. But the problem isn't who's in it, but who isn't. OK, legal problems kept Jello and the Dead Kennedys out of action (and no matter what you think of either, a documentary claiming to be the final word on early-'80s US HC which doesn't even mention the man or the band isn't giving the whole picture), and same goes for the Misfits, but what about the following: Jerry A, anyone from Husker Du, Jeff Bale, Tesco Vee, Corey Rusk, Steve Albini, Gary Floyd, Tim Kerr, Al Flipside, or even the likes of Gerard Cosloy, Lou Barlow, Byron Coley and Thurston Moore (all over-achieving undie-rock elder statesmen who found their feet during HC's boom)... Ugh, this is a matter of taste, but for my two cents, Texas had the second-best punk rock scene in the whole country, and it's given about 10 seconds air time, whilst the boneheaded (and musically worthless) Boston and NY scenes managed to waste a good 10-15 minutes of my life (though you do at least get a good laugh at SSD's "hard rock" period).

My main bone of contention regards the sorry lack of any narration in the documentary. It's easy for me to follow the story, and it's probably easy for you, too. Hell, we all know that Middle Class released possibly America's first ever "hardcore" record and that hardcore started to take over the Californian punk scene once the kids from the 'burbs started following Black Flag from gig to gig, thus scaring off the older, artier Hollywood punk crowd. Or perhaps it began when the Bad Brains started attracting the attention of the "Georgetown Punks". Things got faster, harder, heavier, scarier and The Kids took over. But show this film to a total musical diletante and I doubt they'd be able to reiterate any kind of coherent history of American punk in the '80s after having seen it. It's simply a mess. Band names are mentioned, clips are shown, heads do some talking, but it's not pieced together well enough to tell a story, giving the viewer - assuming the viewer to be completely clueless on the topic - how A got to B then to C etc.

If the idea of American Hardcore was merely to get together a whole bunch of talking heads from the old days waxing lyrical in between some pretty cool footage, then fine, it succeeded. I'll probably give this a heavy re-viewing over the next 10-30 years just for that. It's a good thing to show friends some nice footage when they drop by. But it completely failed in telling the actual story: the who's, what's, where's and why's. I can only hope this doesn't go down as the "definitive" look at American hardcore.


1) VOCOKESH - All This And Hieronymous Bosch CD

Great new album from these veterans on Strange Attractors Audio House

2) TEN EAST - Extraterrestrial Highway LP (Alone)

I know I spoke of this recently, though it still hasn't left the stereo. Awe-inspiring instrumental desert jams caught somewhere in the nexus of early Meat Puppets, instrumental Black Flag, Sun City Girls and Slovenly. Possibly my fave rock album of 2006

3) THE EVERLY BROTHERS - The Very Best Of The Cadence Era CD (Repertoire)

My wife gives me grief and calls me the Fonz when I play this at home, but it hasn't stopped me yet. I will belatedly state that the Everlys are worth their heavy rep and then some

4) FATSO JETSON - Stinky Little Gods CD (SST)

Speaking of belatedly... I've only recently purchased this 1995 album since I've been corresponding w/ Gary from Ten East and Yawning Man (both of whom feature Fatso Jetson people, as does Chuck Dukowski's Sextet). I wouldn't have expected an SST album from 1995 to've been remotely listenable, though this one is fantastic, and I'll be delving in for more. Desert dude-rock w/ major nods to the Minutemen, along w/ Dick Dale surf riffs and 'Sabbath-like heaviosity. I like.

5) DENNIS COFFEY - Big City Funk CD (VampiSoul)

Excellent, excellent, excellent comp' from this honky Motown guitarist who made a string of absolutely funkified solo albums in the early '70s. Not bad for a white boy, these instrumentals make great soundtracks for imaginary blaxploitation flicks. You can hear a track from this on, strangely enough, the latest MOJO mag CD, compiled by Iggy Pop. Can't say I like the new Stooges album at all, though I really like Iggy's choices in music: Howlin' Wolf, Junior Kimbrough, Mothers of Invention, Little Richard, Trashmen, etc.


Nara 666 said...

I had the same problem with American Hardcore. No Misfits? No Dead Kennedys? No Husker Du? Social Distortion? Anything from Florida? Any members of the Necros?

No narration also hurt it.

They knew they were making a movie for a certain audience and the DVD doesn't contain all the excess it needs. They could have given us complete interviews and everything instead we get a few funny stories.

So, the quest for the definitive hardcore book or movie continues. Combining all the books (American Hardcore, Dance of Days, Banned in DC, All Ages, Making a Scene, what am I forgetting?) has given a lot of people the story, it just needs to be put together in a cohesive narrative.

Anonymous said...

Haven't seen American Hardcore yet, but your assessment sounds informed and totally valid. So . . . thanks for saving me the 20 bucks & postage & VAT to import it to the UK, only to be disappointed too.

ZZ TOP + DEVO = FATSO JETSON. ZAPPA + DC3 = FATSO JETSON. EARTH + MARS = FATSO JETSON. Everything they've put out blows my eardrums out daily.

And sorry I haven't written you back sooner - I've been without internet for the past month. I'm gonna finish my NeareSST Relatives piece real soon - I promise!

Anonymous said...

Nara, there's also "Going Underground", which isn't a bad look back at growing up in the early '80s among US HC. Worth a look.

Mrow: I want to see that NeareSST article from you! I've still been flogging those Yawning Man/Ten East CDs every day. In fact, Gary rang me today. Some interesting news there. Greg Ginn has actually joined Ten East as a second guitarist.



Nazz Nomad said...

Excellent and fair review of American Hardcore. I thought the book was pretty good actually, focused on alot of what's missing from the movie.
I am reading a new book called Babylon's Burning... a big old "history of punk" that features eveything from the pre-1976 start of the CB's scene through the Australian scene (good stuff on Radio Birdman) through Grunge.
600 + pages and lots of quotes from the major players.

congrats on the birth of your daughter... nothin' better then kids!

ps- if you like redd kross- i've got desperate teenage lovedolls on my site for download

bleedin out

Dave said...

Hey Nazz,

I was going to buy that Clinton Heylin book today, since I liked his From The Velvets To The Voidoids book many a year back... but at this stage it's still $55 for the hardcover, so I might wait for the paperback. It looks pretty good, and I think Heylin is certainly above hack level as a writer, but having a flick through it today in a bookstore, I still fear it's going to be covering so much ground I've covered time and time again in other books. Then again, that's never stopped me before!

Anonymous said...

Why every smart blog (Jay at Agony, dave at lexicondevil) out there's got a beef with the Articles of Faith? I know the guy in the film is a little annoying at times ("normal people do not listen to Hardcore, and we liiiike thaattt way"), but their music was hot, good old melodic Hardcore, the way it's not being done anymore.
Yeah, I was eager to the film (I already read the book in 2004) and, you know; it's always nice to see live clips and the characters of that scene, but I'm going to be the umpteenth person to say that the film spents too much time in Boston (why even bother with SSD or DYS? give me The Freeze, Proletariat or jerry kids before those lame bands) and NY (lets be frank, the Cro-mags will always suck, however much asses Harley "kicked" in his teens!), and barely mentions the midwest and Texas scenes; aside from the honorable omissions you cited (I'd also included the Descendents in the SoCal clips, but I guess they're more like Popcore).
Anyway, I enjoyed the film.

Anonymous said...


no beef w/ Articles Of Faith here - they had some good songs - the beef was w/ their annoying singer, Vic Bondi. Yes, the film, as I think I said, did spend waaaay too much time on the worthless NYC scene, which I thought was completely out of tune w/ how much that city actually contributed to the original wave of HC, which was zilch. NYC had a vibrant toughguy HC scene in the late '80s, though that wasn't what the film was about, and I hate that shit anyway. Maybe the film makers owe Harley a favour or something

- Dave

Anonymous said...

Yeah - I am not necessarily a huge fan of the Cro-Mags but the reason they feature pretty prominently is their connection to the Bad Brains and the fact the Bad Brains became New York based. As I see it, because the film is practically a mini-doco on the Bad Brains (a good thing), you had to put up with Harley.

Anonymous said...

"I know my American punk rock."

Feel free to borrow my Killed By Death comps any time you like, mate.

Anonymous said...

Oh geez, Rich, so I don't happen to know every two-bit punker outfit who released a flexi-disc in Idaho ca. 1978. That is the TOTAL trainspotter butt-end of punk-rock appreciation and of little consequence. My dick is still bigger than yours.

- Dave

Anonymous said...

Well, that was all I needed to know right there thanks man. No huskers? almost pointless. I've been thinking about those guys a lot in my speculative perfect music universe where Ian Curtis didn't neck himself, and it really should have been them instead of REM.