My January 2013 film column for Maximum Rock N Roll. Originally appeared in issue 356.
I look around, there's no place to play
Punk nostalgia has got me down. It seems like every band is reuniting in some attempt to recapture some bit of lost youth (or more honestly a paycheck). It is weird to see a middle aged person singing songs they wrote when they were a teenager. Or worse, releasing a new album. Face it, even if it is great, it is never going to be really that good. Likewise, there is a glut of punk documentaries where every interviewee reminds you how punk was rebelling against the lameness of the 1970s. Everyone is so busy trying to make sure they get their place in history, they are forgetting about what made punk fun. Punk is the now the oldies circuit and we have only ourselves to blame.
Which brings me to All Ages The Boston Hardcore Film, the latest in the line of documentaries telling the history of punk. This one about the narrow section of the Boston scene - hardcore 1980-1985. It starts with a Gallery East reunion featuring DYS and Jerry's Kids. Christine Steele comments "I love to see the kids here. We created something that didn't exist before and they're carrying it on and they still go to shows and they're participating in something that we gave birth to." I can't stand when a person in a documentary says something like this. All I can think is this person gave up on punk thirty years ago and is suddenly back condescendingly saying thanks for keeping the scene warm for us, we're ready to bask in a miniscule amount of glory by getting to say we were there first. Meanwhile the true punks never gave up on it. We stayed punk all along.
Watching DYS perform at the Gallery East reunion show in 2010 that is all I can think about. It is annoying. Bob Hatfield of the F.U.'s remarks "[It's a] hardcore high school reunion. It's probably one of the coolest things that's happened around here in a couple decades, you know." Wow. That is really sad. Isn't that a cliche usually used to put down the former popular kids in high school whose life continually got worse after graduation? I hope Hatfield was simply feeling overly sentimental seeing old friends and whatnot that he didn't realize what he was actually saying. I left Boston in 1990 and there really hasn't been anything cool going on in that town since then? That's questionable. Sorry to tell you Hatfield just because you're not there doesn't mean it's not happening.
The most disappointing aspect of All Ages The Boston Hardcore Film is that it portrays the scene as so small and insular. There were only five bands: SSD, DYS, Jerry's Kids, The F.U.'s and Gang Green with an acknowledgement of The Freeze, but somehow they weren't accepted. Apparently there was no influence of any of the '70s Boston bands even though Mission of Burma's name appears some of the fliers shown throughout. The story according to the film begins with The Decline Of Western Civilzation playing in Boston. The kids go see it. The Dead Kennedys play at Emerson College which spawns the formation of SSD. The guys from SSD go to see Black Flag play with The Freeze on the Cape. Black Flag becomes the most influential band to the Boston hardcore kids until they discover Minor Threat. This Is Boston Not L.A. is released. The hardcore bands start going metal. Jerry's Kids declare the end of hardcore at their last show in 1985.
Over the years I've had a few people let me know that the Boston scene was derivative and full of neanderthal goons. I would always defend it because that was never my experience. However I didn't know any of the band members personally, never hung out with any of them and didn't exclusively go to hardcore shows. Yet that is how Boston hardcore punks are represented in All Ages The Boston Hardcore Film. It reinforces those impressions. Perhaps that's the way it was all along.
Like the majority of punk documentaries made after the fact All Ages The Boston Hardcore Film consists mostly talking heads. Oddly many of the talking heads in this film are placed before a blue screen. Then scenery is projected behind the subject. Choke is sitting in front of the Boston skyline. Curtis Casella of Taang Records is in front of an old black & white photo of a Boston street. The majority are in front of an active street scene which is so distracting. There is scaffolding in the foreground and an endless throng of people passing by with the Beantown Pub in the background. Such an odd choice unless of course, the Beantown Pub is now at the location where Gallery East used to be. I'll have to look into that.
The reason to see any punk documentary is for the old stuff. All Ages The Boston Hardcore Film does manage to get some good old footage of bands playing. The best stuff is SSD at Gallery East in 1981. There is also a nice montage of photos from the shoot for SSD's The Kids Will Have Their Say album cover. College radio stations are given a lot of the credit for helping the scene and getting the music out to people. Choke did a radio show with Katie The Cleaning Lady at WERS and Dave Smalley did one at WZBC. Chris Doherty of Gang Green remarks, "Those radio stations are the ones that really broke it open. The only way that anybody knew about this was through the college radio."
Oddly missing from the film is SSD's Al Barile. He may not appear personally, probably not wanting another surprise visit from Springa like he got in American Hardcore, but his influence does not go unmentioned. He is credited with starting the Boston hardcore scene as well as having the idea for the This Is Boston Not L.A. compilation even though he refused to let SSD appear on the record. SSD only wanted to be on records they released themselves.
Jerry's Kids may have declared the end of Boston hardcore in 1985, but it was the metal cross over that really killed it. Fortunately there is footage of the last SSD show where Springa looks like he should be in a L.A. hair metal band. He struts back and forth on stage at L.A.'s Olympic Auditorium playing between The Minutemen and Suicidal Tendencies. He admits that he thought he was doing great until he look down at the kids in the front row who looked so disappointed. He realized he blew it.
There are extras on the All Ages The Boston Hardcore Film DVD too. Springa takes you on a tour of his mother's basement as "The Springa Chronicles". He digs through boxes looking for SSD memorabilia. The most interesting thing is Springa showing his musical history through his collection of 8 track tapes. He started getting into punk with the second Television album Adventure on 8 track. There is also an explanation of "Rat Hunting" a twisted game played behind the Rat club and a preview of Chip On My Shoulder - The Story of Slapshot. I didn't get around listening to director Drew Stone's commentary. I figured that since he is interviewed in the film already I probably wasn't missing anything. All Ages The Boston Hardcore Film
I am always looking for films to review. If you made one, send a copy to Carolyn Keddy, PO Box 460402, San Francisco, CA 94146-0402. If your film is playing in the San Francisco Bay Area, let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will go see it.