Tuesday, March 13, 2007

everytime i went to the local blockbuster all the copies of american hardcore were out. frustrating. so i bought a copy and watched it last night. tho i agree with most of the critics who call it a sprawling mess, when bad brains' song 'pay to cum' opened the film i felt almost 15 again.

but if a viewer who didn't give a shit about this particular strain of punk rock watched this documentary then that viewer would be bored by the film's lack of structure. and all those middle-aged punks mumbling a lot of fuck! it was like fucking, um, so like rollins like bashed this fucks head in.

scintillating. but that was punk rock, hardcore style: stupid, aggressive, loud, violent and unforgettable. unfortunately the director paul rachman never anchored his documentary in a bit of punk history, how hardcore derived from the more astringent, intellectual bands from nyc. if patti smith was a poet who sang like a deranged goddess on the lower east side, then keith morris formerly of black flag then later the circle jerks learned from smith and other bands like television and reduced the poetry to sloganeering at 300 beats per minute in l.a. in other words, the difference between 1970s punk rock and 1980s hardcore is this: smith sang; morris screamed.

and yet, hardcore cannot be so easily summed up. which is another frustration with rachman's film. tho he interviews many of the key bands and bandmembers, such as henry rollins [s.o.a. from dc; black flag from l.a.], jack grisham [t.s.o.l. from huntington beach], dez cadenza [black flag], hr and dr. know [bad brains who later kickstarted the hardcore scene in nyc], ian mckaye [minor threat from dc] and so on. but rachman never places those pivotal, and very different scenes and bands in any sort of context. the director brings up a little about straight edge, a movement founded by minor threat that advocated no drugs and no drinking. but why, or how this off-shoot of hardcore develops is not satisfactorily explored.

bad brains might indeed be the best of the best hardcore band ever. they are given almost top billing here. it's not insignificant to point out that the brains were black who played mostly to white kids. but that fact is glossed over too. mckaye is given kudos for talking about his song 'guilty of being white' but even mckaye, who is one of punk rock's most eloquent songwriters, never gets above a yeah man.

hardcore was filled with mute, inglorious miltons who picked up their instruments without knowing how to play and screamed out their frustrations about living in reagan/america. thus the music was raw, explosive and absolutely exhilarating. it might be difficult to imagine know what it was like to be 15 years old and hearing 'kill the poor' by the dead kennedys for the 1st time when all around was fleetwood mac, the stones and a shitload of crap held over from the hippie era. i'm not being nostalgic at all. i think kids nowadays are rebelling against the all-pervasive corporate structures of our world and making vital music. i hope so at any rate. but we are living in an age of spike tv, a channel that specializes in police chase videos, which in turn is sponsored by corporations. how to rebel against that?

rachman should be commended for making a documentary on a much-neglected part of music history. it is watchable with a killer soundtrack. rachman went far and wide to find his subjects. he interviewed bands i'd forgotten about, such as the big boys, the necros, dirty rotten imbeciles, die kreuzen and so on. there is a short on the photographer edward colver who chronicled the era on the disc. many of those photos i've not seen in over 20 years.

butt rachman's film is not the definitive history. rachman never explored the relationship ska music had with hardcore. many hardcore bands were also ska bands. nor did he open a vein with horror punk, such as bands like early t.s.o.l. and the misfits. nor did rachman mention how egalitarian, even if for a short while, punk was. there was no clear dividing line between audience, fan and band. often there were none of these division at all.

we still have to wait for that documentary.


At 5:08 PM, Blogger Steve Caratzas said...

I recommend Hated: GG Allin & The Murder Junkies. It's actually quite informative, though challenging. And less about the punk movement but rather the bowel movement.

At 8:15 PM, Blogger Martin Edmond said...

hey Richard, I haven't been here for a while ... mea culpa. in 1979 I was in NY roadying for a band, we had a gig at a Yippie place near the Bowery in Manhattan, but the Fire Dept. closed it down (a regular occurence). The Yippies said we could play in this house they had across the road, so we did. It was just a sitting room with a mezzanine that was the stage. Not long before the gig was to begin this other band showed up in one big old car, they were five black guys from Washington DC, they were called the Bad Brains, they said they were booked for the same gig as we were. so we worked osmething out & both bands played. Story was they'd been a jazz band but had just decided to become punks. we watched their set, it was blistering, also bizarre because their bass player was so tall that he had to play bent over, the ceiling being so low ... but what I remember best was a reggae song they did, still recall a line from the chorus: o the man yeah, he was a lawyer. whatever that means. it was a beautiful, soulful, chunky tune, impeccably played ... anyway, yeah, the Bad Brains.


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