I was born in 1981, which means that 90% of my favorite bands were at the apex of their existence while I was running circle pits in my playpen to the sounds of "Sesame Street." Although I often lament the fact that I was born too late to experience firsthand the music that has proven itself to be the most vital in my life, I always keep an eye out for digitized time capsules of a bygone era, such as this one.
Set and filmed in 1982, BYO's Stern brothers purchase a decrepit school bus and set off to tour North America with their Los Angeles peers, Social Distortion. A melange of roadies, mechanics and peers tag along for the trip, lured by the thrills of the experience and a $5.00 per-diem. Footage of live performances and the road is interspersed with interviews of the participating bands and street punks, waxing philosophical about the intrinsic entropy of standard-issue suburban family units, Reagan-era politics, Mike Ness' drinking habits, and punk rock ethics. There's also footage of an adolescent (not the band) Mike Ness applying his make-up in the mirror and strumming a catchy tune that would later become the song "Another State Of Mind."
There's a wide cast of characters in this movie, from brain-damaged Canadian gutter punks to snooty French coffee shop owners who call the cops to throw out hungry punk rockers. As the tour grinds on, the merry collective of peripatetic punks quickly grows frustrated with each other's personalities, eccentricities and the cramped, steerage-like living conditions. Attrition inevitably occurs, with fed-up roadies and band members opting for Greyhound tickets back to Los Angeles. Morale deteriorates as the bus becomes fraught with mechanical problems, resulting in everyone's daily food money being reduced to cover repairs. The crew crashes briefly in New York with Circle One's John Macias and the P.U.N.X. Christian punk collective, taking advantage of the free lodging and politely tolerating the pervasive "Join Jesus" atmosphere.
The bands move on to Washington, D.C. and are put up at the Dischord house, where we are treated to golden footage of Ian MacKaye working behind the counter at Häagen-Daz (though Rollins had already left for LA with Black Flag -- he is nowhere in sight) and some classic chaotic footage of a Minor Threat show. After crashing in D.C. and taking a hard look at their circumstances, the bands realize that they can't complete the tour and decide to return to Los Angeles, tired and hungry. As they leave the broken-down bus in the driveway of the Dischord house, each of them is alternately sorry that things didn't work out and excited that they're going back home.
The movie runs for roughly 80 minutes, and although some of the interviews can be a bit long-winded and tedious, there are plenty of goodies to keep you entertained, such as an instructional primer on skanking (which is punk dancing for those of you who don't know), various bits of punk mischief (stealing Canadian flags, for example) and a montage of stage-diving and moshing clips set to the tune of Youth Brigade's "Violence".
All in all, I enjoyed this movie very much, because it was a peek into a world that I was too young to experience, but never too old to look back on and celebrate. If you're a fan of Social Distortion, Youth Brigade, Minor Threat and the Reagan-era zeitgeist of punk/hardcore, then this is well worth the $13.99.
Now, if only they'd release "Decline Of Western Civilization" on DVD...