I imagine some of my loyal readers are curious about my take on this movie, since I was around "back in the day" and still believe that hardcore has plenty to offer, that it continues to regenerate itself. Well, in the parlance of Siskel and Ebert (and whoever Ebert works with these days), I'll give it a mild thumbs up. A recommendation with reservations. Some of my hardcore compatriots won't even go that far, completely dismissing the film out of hand--interestingly, I get that perspective more from younger folks who are actively involved in the underground/DIY hardcore scene whereas people in my age range love the trip down memory lane but, since they've long since moved on, they may not understand why the younger folk (and some of us old farts) may be offended.
Filmmaker Paul Rachman and American Hardcore author Steven Blush attempt to encapsulate a certain time frame, that being from 1980-1986 and the press kit tips its hand: "AMERICAN HARDCORE traces this lost subculture, from its early roots in 1980 to its extinction in 1986." Before reviewing the film, I have to say "what the fuck?!" Lost subculture? Extinction? Maybe to Blush and/or Rachman, it's extinct. Blush did say in his book of the same name, "As for the current hardcore renaissance, I don't wanna deny the legitimacy of today's teen angst, I just feel like, "Yo, make your own fucking music! Why just ape the music of my salad days?" I can relate to those old Jazz or Blues cats who played back when it was all about innovation rather than formula and who now see a bunch of complacent, umpteenth generation beneficiaries claiming the forms as their own. Face it, hardcore ain't the same anymore. It can still make for powerful music, but it's an over-with art form. It's relatively easy to be into now, but back then it was an entirely different story."
No, it's not the same anymore. And it's true that there's a certain amount of redundancy, repetition, predictability, ritualization etc. that is a part of the current hardcore universe. There was just as much of it back then--remember the term "generic thrash"? I don't think it's "over with" in any way, though. There are still innovative bands playing with the heart and intensity of someone discovering it for the first time and not merely "aping" what happened before. Since I still go to a ton of DIY shows and these bands are finding different ways to add that influence but still sound fresh, I'm taken aback with some of the "old guard"'s attitude. At the end of the film, Steve DePace from Flipper and Zander Schloss from the Circle Jerks (and Repo Man, probably his only claim to fame) had comments about punk sucking, etc.. They were probably meant half in jest but they're both out there playing the "punk oldies circuit." Leave that out and the movie is a time piece but, by adding it, it invalidates everything that's happened since.
They also have this "in my day" attitude--the whole "I walked barefoot through ten miles of snow to get to the gig." How the bands today with tour buses, Warped tours, etc have it soft. I wouldn't consider those the antecedents of that hardcore scene, though. The DIY community continues to thrive, beneath the radar, and these bands hardly have it soft, playing for gas money, sleeping on floors. I don't think the bands who sleep on the floor in our house, usually arriving in a mechanically-hampered van would agree with that assessment. But due props to those early 80s bands for being the trailblazers and doing it without the internet. Hmm... maybe it IS a little easier now.
I suppose I should discuss the film's contents--plenty of talking heads, including Henry Rollins, Keith Morris, Ian MacKaye, Greg Ginn, Vic Bondi from Articles of Faith, Dave Dictor from MDC, HR, Dr. Know and Darryl from Bad Brains and such Bostonians as Springa and the other members of SSD, Dave Smalley and Jon Anastas of DYS. It's a rush of clips, most of them short, a lot of them not always the best quality. The film seems to focus in on Bad Brains, Black Flag and Minor Threat, which makes sense since each were hugely influential. Bondi seems to represent the political/social conscience end of the hardcore spectrum and talks about what fueled the anger, while doing so in an overly intellectualized fashion. Dictor goes more to the heart of the matter, talking about flying the freak flag, being out-of-step not only with society but with certain elements of the hardcore scene. Different "regional scenes" are covered and the straight-edge movement is touched upon, as well.
There are some humorous moments in the film, both intentional and unintentional. Hank Williams III and Phil Anselmo offer a few incoherent words of wisdom. The backdrop of the interview with HR from Bad Brains is a wedding reception, where you can see the bride and other guests passing by in the background. Dr. Know explains that the Brains' upbeat Positive Mental Attitude came from a book called "Think and Grow Rich"--you can probably still see commercials for that book on late night TV. Jack Grisham from TSOL is hilarious, with his tales of debauchery, although he mentions raping women and some people picked up on that more than I did.
Some nitpicking... I find it odd that, in the intro to his book, Blush mentions the importance of Dead Kennedys but they're not a part of the film. Is this by design or, perhaps, Blush couldn't get clearance for their footage or perhaps Biafra and the other DKs weren't willing to cooperate? I also wish they'd shown more than a few seconds of each song and not dubbed the recorded versions over the footage. Just a few seconds of the Big Boys? Blush should have talked to Tim Kerr or Biscuit (if it was filmed before his passing) because their interpretation of hardcore had a wider, more welcoming scope.
The communal/community aspect of hardcore seems to be understated. One of the best things about hardcore was connecting with people around the country, with old fashioned correspondence by mail. You'd look through Maximum Rock 'n Roll or Flipside for the reviews, seeing what gems to mailorder, or through the classifieds, trying to find new pen-pals to exchange flyers, records, etc. Zines, in particular, get short shrift. They were an important factor in the spread of hardcore in that pre-internet era and Blush should have spoken with a zine editor or two.
It certainly wasn't all peaches and cream--it was rough, raw and visceral a lot of the time. It wasn't one big cuddly group hug by any stretch of the imagination. Violence was certainly a part of it, particularly in Southern California. But it was more about the music, an expression of frustration at ones own life and society at large, at least to me, and that didn't necessarily have to be expressed in a violent fashion. I do think American Hardcore does capture SOME of the essence and it should be viewed as one person's take and not the last word. Ultimately, I thought it was entertaining, if somewhat disjointed and flawed.
EMPTYING THE CLASH VAULT ONCE AGAIN...
That's right--two more Clash items, one of which is a repackaging of sorts and the other something that hasn't been available in the US. In their inexhaustible quest to continue issuing Clash material, Sony have come up a singles box set (The Singles), which does seem like a cool premise if you're a diehard collector or completist. I got a 4 CD promo that includes all the tracks and a press It’s packaged (jesus, I sound like a commercial here) in a box with either vinyl singles or CD singles that add on bonus tracks. The CD version I have is pretty awesome—19 single CD’s with a reproduction of the artwork and there’s a booklet with testimonials from such "luminaries" as Shane McGowan, Steve Jones from the Pistols, Bernard Sumner from Joy Division/New Order, Clash manager Bernie Rhodes, etc--each offers a reminiscence of one of the singles.
With the Clash, the later material, starting with "Sandinista," was widely disparate and the endless remixes aren pretty much non-essential. One definitely doesn't need 3 mixes of the "Magnificent Seven," along with a single edit. And a lot of that later material doesn't hold up too well, although the Clash could still come up with a stunning song from time to time--"Straight To Hell," for instance. The less said about the three songs from the Mick Jones-less "This Is England" EP, the better. It's the early and mid-period stuff, though, that stands up. And it's not just primo punk, including such tasty b-sides as "City Of The Dead," "The Prisoner" or "Pressure Drop." They also nailed it with some of the reggae jams--the Mikey Dread-produced "Bankrobber" and "Armagidion Time," the flip of "London Calling."
The previously-unavailable item is the first DVD release of the Rude Boy film from 1980. I remember the running line back then was you should see it for the live Clash footage and not so much for the storyline. It tells the tale of a ne'er-do-well named Ray (Ray Gange) who seems to be aimlessly floundering through life. It's obvious he lives for punk rock--it's doubtlessly more satisfying than his day job working in a porno shop (while being on the dole, as well). Ray eventually hooks up with the Clash and becomes a roadie.
Despite the band's leftist political stance, including playing a Rock Against Racism benefit, Ray seems more enamored of the Tories than Labour, more right than left. One of his friends, a skinhead, can be seen tearing down anti-National Front posters while he and Ray play pool and they seem to agree that the leftists are cowards. There's an interesting conversation between Ray and Joe Strummer in a pub where Strummer explains that the reason the leftist viewpoint is preferable is because it's not "the many slaving for the few." Ray counters that he wants to be one of "the few," he wants wealth, to become rich. Yet, he works with the Clash.
Even with it being a fictionalized account involving real life characters, Rude Boy does attempt to capture a certain time, as did American Hardcore. One difference, of course, is Rude Boy is a product of its time, as opposed to a reminiscence. Of course, that's the ascension of the Clash, along with the ascension of Margaret Thatcher in 1979. In fact, the last scene is when she arrives at 10 Downing Street to begin her term as Prime Minister. There's economic dismay, racial conflict, police abuses, the SUS law--not only are people of color affected but members of the Clash and Ray himself get "nicked," as they say in the UK. Ultimately, Ray ends up back where he started--wondering what's next. Wandering off in the darkness.
As mentioned earlier, the attraction is the live material, all of it from 1978 and the DVD is set up so you can just watch the musical performances. Which are stellar--the Clash at the top of their game. There are also a few extra live clips of "English Civil War" and "White Riot" and, as bonus material, a current-day interview with Gange, road manager Johnny Green and the filmmakers. Not a theatrical masterpiece but worth watching the movie once, then you can go back to the live performances.
MORE MUSIC REVIEWS
CAUSTIC CHRIST-Lycanthropy (Havoc, LP)
Heavy and ugly. Caustic Christ are back with their second album. The Scandinavian influence remains a central part of the sound, without following the Dis-formula. Instead of following the predictable pattern of beginning with one of their faster songs, “The Caustic Curse” is a stop ‘n start dose of heaviness. This is followed by the ever-timely “Doesn’t Anyone Want To Impress Jodie Foster Anymore?” and if you don’t quite get the premise, a certain Mr. Hinckley not only had a vision (thank you, Feederz) but wanted to impress Ms. Foster when he shot Ronald Reagan. Much like Reagan was the target in the 80s, Bush is the target of derision now. Plenty of raging material along the way—the hit and run “Frustration,” “Medicated” and “Cold” and the slightly more moderately-paced “Public Service.” The last track, “Standing In A Circle... The Ballad Of Ukla Von Oopenstein,” is a Flag-ish instrumental. I prefer their first album slightly more but “Lycanthropy” has a high-enough bash quotient to keep ‘ya happy. (PO Box 8585, Minneapolis, MN 55408, http://www.havocrex.com/)
DESTRUCTION UNIT-Death To The Old Flesh (Empty, CD)
Reatards and Lost Sounds cross-pollination once again, on this album, recorded in 2004. This is ostensibly a solo project for Ryan from the ‘tards but he gets help from Jay Reatard and Alicja Trout. A tandem of raw, aggressive synth/guitar punk rock. To call it new wave would be inaccurate—it’s too intense to fall into that realm. Smashing and slamming hard and the cover of the Normal’s “Warm Leatherette,” given a harder, faster edge, fits in well with Ryan’s vision. (PO Box 12301, Portland, OR 97212, http://www.emptyrecords.com/)
KUNGFU RICK-Fragments Of The Past Time (625, dbl. CD)
Two discs of wanton grind and heaviness. A double-disc complete anthology. Kungfu Rick were a tight band and navigate the tempo shifts successfully but that’s not enough to prevent it from becoming numbing after awhile. I imagine it’s a simplistic take on things but one can only take so many blastbeats and electrode-on-testicles meet lower register tradeoffs between the two gentlemen manning the mikes. I will say it’s not one-dimensional and at the more traditional thrash speeds and metallic buildups, the songs have a better effect. As always, it depends on how much grindin’ you want. It’s above average for that approach. By the way, one of the flyers in the booklet reveals they opened for Wesley Willis. Now THAT’S an intriguing combination. (http://www.625thrash.com/)
PARASITES-Retro-Pop Remasters (Go Kart, CD)
I can’t believe it’s around 15 years since I first heard this band—that was back when Dave Parasite was using the first name Nikki. A multitude of members have come and gone but it’s always been about the pop-punk. I mean that in the purest sense of the word. A compilation from various releases over the years, all remastered, blah blah blah. Plus a guest appearance at the end from the one and only Rev. Nørb taking on Handsome Dick Manitobot (don’t ask), followed by one last coda. Sure the singing is sweet and harmonic; sure, the lyrics are heart-on-sleeve. Sure, this is less hard-edged than what I listen to these days but, within a few minutes, about the time “Ronnie Is A Psycho” began, I remembered how catchy these songs are. (PO Box 20, Prince Street Station, NY, NY 10012, http://www.gokartrecords.com/)