Those of us who were punk rockers at some point in the 70s or 80s now feel old as fuck, clutching onto last ditch straws and first canes; our old hearts and puffy eyes trapped in middle aged, vice-tainted bodies, our tattoos gone to gray blobs, the safety pin holes in our ears and cheeks long scarred over, our livers shot from Hep-C and whiskey. But hey hey hey! In the words of this kid who sang for Black Flag before Rollins came along, below left...
|Darby, sings into 'the mic'|
Of all the interview subjects, X are the most charismatic, and Darby of the Germs the least, with terrible acne and townie teeth, playing with a tarantula at breakfast that is so normal and homey but just seeing this kid anywhere near a plate of eggs is enough to send me windmilling out of the room. Spheeris seems to film about six hours of a Germs show in what looks like a parent's basement, perhaps fascinated by his sheer loathsome druggy mania as he crawls atop speaker cabinets and crowds like Harpo Marx in the stateroom scene of NIGHT AT THE OPERA, his vocals dragging behind the 'rhythm' of the band like Angel behind the Generalissimo's automobile in THE WILD BUNCH. Too many film references? Fuck you! Jon Doe wouldn't think so. He references PERFORMANCE and GIMME SHELTER after a tussle breaks out in the similarly orange carpeted basement of Club 88.
What saves Darby from looking like some trainwreck intersection between Sid Vicious and pre-sobriety Iggy Pop is perhaps Spheeris' kind use of subtitles for the lyrics, all cute in the iron-on decal style Cooper font of the period. It's unusual and welcome considering the snarling incoherence. But the speed and downer mess of the Germs is like the frickin' Beatles compared to Slash Magazine writer Kickboy's godawful band 'Catholic Discipline" which we see play to an audience of around six bored people in a Chinese restaurant. Deliver us, Generallissimo Tso! The most disturbing bits come towards the end, with a couple of cute young boys utterly terrifying in their calm discussion of punching out girls and breaking kids' jaws with a tire chain. (Yet his own teeth are perfect!) and the vile gay-baiting rhetoric and unsubtle hatreds of Lee Ving, a kind of undeclared child of Travis Bickle and Sean Penn as the anti-Milk.
|Fear ("You talkin' to them?")|
But it's all worth the slog if you're a true X fan, for the on-again off-again marriage/romance between Jon Doe and Exene Cervenka is one of the great punk rock love stories of our time. Even when they're at odds their music only flourishes, singing as frankly and honestly in one song as an entire Sam Shepherd play rolled into one playful glance and howled lyric. Doe was the inspiration for me becoming a bassist, which his bass guitar slid like a serpent across the dorm room and around my leg while the rest of the band was lamenting the loss of the old bassist. That very night I was playing in front of more people than the goddamned 'Catholic Discipline' ever saw. Not X, though. Even giving ratty jailhouse tattoos Jon Doe is magnetic, a future side gig as a screen actor all but assured and Exene is like a relaxed Lady Macbeth who's target isn't the king but the entirety of narrow-minded American adulthood. I remember Exene smiling beaming down at me after one big dude clocked a skinhead who was about to knock my lights out - It was a baptism - I know now that was no fluke.
I don't even think there was the word skinhead yet - or thrash.
And that's another thing - we definitely wonder just how much Spheeris is being put on by these clowns, Claude "Kickboy" Bessy especially seems to consider himself some kind of media maven whose sneering hatred of everything and everyone provides the entirety of the punk movement with its voice, soul, and spine. But there's the feeling too that he's performing this iconoclast routine for Spheeris' cameras.
Fortunately this vast set includes both sequels (the second making real heavy metal into something funnier than Spinal Tap) and audio commentaries with Spheeris and more key interviews. And the third which takes a more runaway-squatter rights approach.
For me the punk-poseur scene dropped from my repertoire in 1986 when I found out all my (what today would be called Goth but then were just punk-poseur kids (back when 'poseur' wasn't necessarily bad - it just meant you weren't alienated from capital) in the 'Cure-Smiths-Siouxee' branch of the then-big tent punk family (near but not next to crossover-straight bands the more straight meat-eaters of us liked, such as REM and the Dream Syndicate) were all bi or gay and hadn't told me because they didn't know if my jammed gaydar was a result of being jut naive, closeted, or legitimately homophobic. Thus I peeled out in search of acid and hippies, my camp's former enemy. And I windmilled back into City Gardens over breaks, but slam-dancing and pogoing became moshing, where only big ugly skinheads (when they were still called 'baldheads') were really 'safe'. '
|X marks ze Monster|
Then again, hearing all these boys' preference for rough masculine contact and their general aversion to girls, it's not a stretch to peg the whole punk thing as stemming from a kind of Jenner-esque macho burlesque, the safety of punching over the terror of embracing, or as Florence of the Machines sings (and BRONSON suggests), "A kiss with a fist is better than none."
Florence and the Machines, incidentally, would have been classified punk in 1981, as was Patti Smith, Television, and REM and, believe it or not, Bob Marley (thanks to UK bands like The Clash and The Slits providing the crossover bridge
|That's so punky: Eugene decries the violence of his scene before confessing he's punched everyone he knows|
|Spheeris, still smokin'|