DVD Movie Release: American Hardcore: The History of American Punk Rock 1980 –1986
Directed by Paul Rachman
Written by Steven Blush
Inspired by the book American Hardcore: A Tribal History by Steven Blush (Feral House 2006)
Remember playing war in grade school? Two teams would line up against each other at opposite ends of the playground, someone would yell “Charge!”, and you’d run at each other full tilt and end up pummelling each other with your chubby little fists. For me it was one of the most exhilarating experiences of childhood; a thrilling bacchanalia of mutual fondness. But then the same adults who wielded the strap and the belt got wind of it and squelched us, insisting that we children must not use violence for our enjoyment.
It was situations like this that made punk necessary.
This documentary shoots holes through a heap of media-fabricated fibs–that punk rock was an exclusively white movement, for example, or that it was solely Malcolm McLaren’s fashion brainwave–and serves up a grassroots vision of punk as something a lot broader and deeper than the distinctive leather-and-safety-pin regalia of late ’70’s London. The Ramones are conspicuously absent, but then this isn’t about the stars, even though some of these people did get famous eventually. It’s about a countrywide underground rebellion against, among other things, hypocrisy, pretensions, the popular kids, the Reagans, the normal, the manicured, celebrity, conformity, and commercialism. Hardcore punk rock was the battle cry of those American youth who realized they had no significance to the establishment except as acne-ridden consumption zombies to whom all manner of useless goods could be marketed ad infinitum.
Take a gander at all the wonderful black-and-white photos in this documentary and you’ll get a taste of how much fun punk was in its day. When you went to see a punk rock act you were part of the performance and your antics were filmed and photographed at least as often as the band’s. You were not only part of the performance, you actually belonged to this wonderful tribe that for a brief moment thought and felt as one, who loved darkness, excitement, danger, and excess, who were all literally starving but somehow managing to acquire tattoos, booze, records, and sound equipment, all engaged in acting out the violent bravado of the truly vulnerable.
Like every popular movement, punk contained the seeds of its own demise, notably music that sounded like the howling of souls in perdition, destructive fans (there was no such thing as a return engagement), a complete lack of any structure within which to work toward political goals, an overwhelmingly masculine aesthetic, and ultimately a regression to a feral state which all but removed any initial sense of the movement’s integrity (a gruesome story about a butchered sheep is a case in point). A deliberate courting of rejection precluded the long-term financial sustenance of the movement’s artists, and an antipathy to rules ended up becoming oppressive in itself.
Present-day interviews with former champions of the movement, filmed against backgrounds of manicured lawns, suburban interiors, fountains, and swimming pools, affirm the final verdict that punk has passed on and that current mimickers are just carrying out historical re-enactment. Zander Schloss of the Circle Jerks makes this cogent remark regarding those who tried to keep the movement alive after the mid-‘80s:
“Go home! Your cage is clean.”
But is punk ever really dead? As a historical movement, punk’s anti-music opened the door for ingenious artists, writers, performers, and composers whose work owes a large share of its visibility to the fact that punk preceded it and woke the world up to a prophetic vision whose accuracy mainstream society is just now coming to take seriously. Punk returned youth culture to the youth at a time when corporations were pouring billions into dictating soporific entertainment choices to the young. Without punk the spectacular range of musical exploration in the ‘80s might not have been understood, and youth might not have given each other licence to explore the dirty urban landscape of American disenchantment, an exploration still alive and vibrant today in ever-changing artistic forms.