Tuesday, March 13, 2007

American Hardcore

American Hardcore
Directed by Paul Rachman
Based on the book by Stephen Blush
Sony Pictures Classics, 2006

American Hardcore documents the first wave of US Hardcore, from roughly 1981 – 1985. It combines archived footage with present-day interviews of people involved in the scene.

First the good – it is pretty thrilling seeing footage of Bad Brains, Black Flag, and Minor Threat from back in the day. I was especially excited about the Bad Brains stuff, as I had never had a chance to check them out, and goddamn, are they good. They are four Rastafarian jazz musicians who decided to apply their technical skills to hardcore punk, and they fucking rocked.

I also really enjoyed the interviews with my childhood idols Henry Rollins and Ian Mackaye. I’m not sure how much they enjoy being considered punk’s elder statesman, but they do a pretty good job of it.

Now for the not-so-good: At it’s best, the film is a documentation of the scene, but in a lot of ways, American Hardcore is just a bunch of old dudes reminiscing about how fucking hardcore they were back in the day. I’m seriously hoping that TSOL’s Jack Grishom was taken out of context when he was bragging about pissing in a drunk girl’s face or blowing shit up with homemade pipe bombs. I mean, I know he was one of the biggest, meanest assholes in punk, but I hate to think that he still believes that that is something to brag about.

Also, the message of the film, that hardcore punk was revolutionary, is belied by the footage of the film, which shows a bunch of 16-year-olds hammering out tuneless songs that all sound the same. The problem with hardcore is that for every amazing band like bad brains or minor threat, you had, well, you had pretty much the rest of the scene, which was kids with a lot of heart and very little talent. Don’t get me wrong, I love old hardcore, but it has a very limited scope, and most bands only produced a handful of good songs, one album tops.

I was seriously offended by how the only reference to the post-85 hardcore scene was to imply that they were all a bunch of sell-out, wimpy fucks. As the guitarist of gang green says, “they are riding a tour bus on the road we paved.” Worse, Zander Schloss, of the Circle Jerks, says “Punk is over! Go home, your cage is clean!”

Yes, hardcore got incredibly shitty and violent and metal in the late 80s, but it has had more than one renaissance since then. I was a big fan of the whole crust/extreme music scene in the late 90s with bands like Hiatus, Doom (who, admittedly, are foreign),Charles Bronson, What Happens Next, His Hero is Gone, Monster X, Orchid, etc, etc. There were tons of bands who were carrying on the DIY tradition of the originators, and creating music that was as good or better. They were also more sophisticated politically, and organizationally, creating viable alternatives to the mainstream music industry. Think Maximum Rocknroll, or prank records, or 625, or life is abuse, or profane existence, or Heartattack, all of which are still around. As hardcore has aged, it’s tackled a lot of issues that were not dealt with in the early days, like racism, sexism, and homophobia in the scene, and how to help punks practice what they preach more by providing outlets for activism etc. Activist collectives like food not bombs or crimethinc have spread up alongside punk, allowing hardcore to be much more effective in creating social change than just singing about how fukt the government is.

In the end, American Hardcore was a reminder for me to stop being such a jaded old man, and to try to resist sinking into icky, self-righteous nostalgia.

No comments:

Blog Archive