Monday, November 12, 2007

American Hardcore

During the very late 70s and early 80s, radio music waves that seeped into Salem's Branch had a distinctive country twang. I liked some of the music that was a bit edgier for the time--The Charlie Daniel's Band and Hank Williams, Jr. for example--but really hated most of the stuff that was played. The only radio stations I could pick up were in Beckley, WV, so I was pretty much stuck with the format:

All tears and beers, all the time!

One Saturday while pretending to clean my room I had the radio on and suddenly, in mid-song, I realized I was listening to something unusual. A song that didn't sound like all the others that typically played on that station. Music that sounded contemporary with lyrics that were smart, and a song that didn't get wrapped up in a sweetly packaged conclusion.

It was an Eagles song: Lyin' Eyes.

Today, Lyin' Eyes sounds as Country as can be. When it was fresh out, though, it was different. Different in style than anything my parents were listening to. Different in substance than anything the people in my church were listening to. And different in sound to anything folks living up Salem's Branch listened to regularly.

I loved it!

It made me feel unique. Special, and different. Each generation needs to figure out it's own identity, the thing that makes kids different and distinct from their parents . Teenagers need to feel as though they have a place in the world that's just for them. And as in my example, it's through music that this identity's sometimes discovered.

I missed the punk rock movement that's the focus of the documentary American Hardcore. Based on the book American Hardcore: A Tribal History, the film takes a look at the hardcore punk movement that occurred from 1980-1986, focusing on the early pioneers of punk, including Black Flag, Bad Brains, SS Decontrol, The Minutemen and Minor Threat. It's a cool mix of videotaped performances of some terrific shows, and modern day interviews with the musicians who performed them.

The interviews were my favorite part of the documentary, especially the focus on what the music itself meant to the artists who were performing. It was not only a way to separate themselves from their parents, but a way to vent and express their dissatisfaction with current political and social constraints. American culture changed dramatically in the 70s, and the punks were talking through music about the isolation, indifference and violence that was the result. It was also interesting to hear those interviewed talk about the commonly understood cultural practices of the bands as they toured. Staying in a fancy hotel while touring wasn't common; not only was it a waste of money that couldn't be spared, but it was considered to be selling out. The movement was as much about keeping the music and it's message pure as it was anything else.

In fact, those interviewed insisted they got out when it became clear the music had become something other than that.

"What if?" questions intrigue me. What if it had been Black Flag's Damaged II I heard, rather than the Eagles songs? What might I have become if The Punch Line by The Minutemen had caught my ear?

She gets up and pours herself a strong one
And stares out at the stars up in the sky
Another night, it's gonna be a long one
She draws the shade and hangs her head to cry

She wonders how it ever got this crazy
She thinks about a boy she knew in school
Did she get tired or did she just get lazy?
She's so far gone she feels just like a fool

My, oh my, you sure know how to arrange things
You set it up so well, so carefully
Ain't it funny how your new life didn't change things
You're still the same old girl you used to be

I wonder.


Elvis Drinkmo said...

I was exposed to hardcore in the 80's and it never would have happened had we not been blessed with a friend who moved up here from New Orleans.

I think I was somewhere in between glam rock/heavy metal and listening to old 60's shit like the Doors when I first heard the song: Dead Kenndys- Kinky Sex Makes the World Go Round, which is a phone conversation between someone at Reagan's "Department of War" and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher over another DK song called Bleed for Me.

The premise of the song is that corporate America wants to launch another war to help improve the economy. They call Reagan and give him his orders to which this official says: "The president? Oh, he loves the idea. All those missiles streaming over head to and fro. Napalm. People running down the road skin on fire." The whole ends with a question to Thatcher: "So what'd you say?" and she responds, "it's marvelous."

I loved it and from there I went on to Black Flag, MDC, COC, Minor Threat, the Exploited and the Misfits, etc.. Had I not met my friend from New Orleans, I'd have never heard any of it.

(Then again, everything runs full circle- as I write this I'm listening to Merle Haggard. Hard to believe I was cool once upon a time.)

Buzzardbilly said...

I loved this film. I caught it late one night on HBO on Demand (or was it Showtime...I don't know). It was a great walk down memory lane.

I hung out at (and sometimes worked at) the Underground Railroad and the Dry House in Morgantown. I saw most of those bands. I met most of those bands. Ones that came through more than once, I kind of got to know a little.

Great documentary, but I thought they were woefully short on Dead Kennedys to be documenting a time when the DK's were the shit.

And, Elvis, you wouldn't believe how many punks love country. Punk spoke some truth about everyday life. So does country. It's not a stretch. If you haven't fallen into the Hank III crowd yet, do yourself a favor and give "Straight to Hell" a listen.

The Film Geek said...

Hey Elvis and Buzzardbilly: Thanks for such great--and personal--comments. It's the comments, you know, that makes me enjoy this blogging stuff so much.

To be clear, I ain't dissin' Country, really. It's just that the traditional form of Country isn't for me, and was something I tried to escape from as a teen. The comment about truth is a valid one, though, and one I can really see in the Alt-Country thing going on with Wilco, Ryan Adams and Lucero. I'll be always thankful to Jackie for turning me on to those artists.