Turn It Around: The Story of East Bay Punk


The scene is a monster.

(2017) Musical Documentary (Abramorama) Billy Joe Armstrong, Iggy Pop (narrator), Jello Biafra, Laurence Livermore, Tim Armstrong, Kathleen Hanna, Brett Gurewitz, Ian Mackaye, East Bay Ray, Fat Mike, Ben Weasel, Kirk Hammett, Lars Fredricksen, Mike Dirnt, Sergei Loobkoff, Kevin Seconds, Penelope Houston, Tre Cool, Duff McKagan, Kamala Parks, Honey, Miranda July, Ginger Coyote. Directed by Corbett Redford

 

The nature of music is that every so often there comes a confluence, a mixture of talent, opportunity and inspiration that coalesces in a single location. The rise of Motown in the 60s, the British invasion, the Seattle grunge scene, the jangle pop scene in Athens, GA, the Madchester era and the Minneapolis of Prince, the Replacements and Soul Asylum are all examples of this.

There are other scenes that are evergreens; they are generally large cities that have a steady influx of talent. Los Angeles, New York City, London and San Francisco are all consistently churning out great artists and inventing (or reinventing) new sounds. Sometimes these large city scenes are like black holes, drawing in everything in a 50 mile or more radius.

The East Bay of the San Francisco Bay Area has always existed on the edge of San Francisco’s orbit. While Oakland has always had a thriving rap scene, the suburbs of Alameda, Contra Costa and Solano counties have largely been garage band territories that have from time to time produced some fine bands.

During the 80s as the punk phenomenon was in full swing in San Francisco with bands like the Avengers, the Dead Kennedys and Flipper making important music something happened; the scene began to fade as hardcore skinhead bands began to suffuse the scene in violence. The editor of seminal punk ‘zine Maximumrocknroll Tim Yohannon wanted a venue that punk rockers of all ages could watch their favorite bands in safety – but also gave the bands the freedom to be themselves. He found such a space in Berkeley in a converted warehouse at 924 Gilman Street.

The 924 Gilman scene became a thriving punk scene that supported a wide variety of bands. The most famous bands to come out of the Gilman scene were Rancid and even bigger was Green Day whose success became a sticking point for many of those who felt that signing with a major label and making any sort of money was in effect selling out.

Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong approached Corbett Redford who went to high school with him looking for archival footage from the halcyon days of Gilman for a film that Armstrong wanted to make documenting  the scene. Not only did Redford have the footage that Billie Joe was looking for, he volunteered to direct the thing as well.

The result is one of the most exhaustively thorough music documentaries I’ve ever seen. Essentially chronicling the story of San Francisco Bay Area punk from its early beginnings to the break out success of Green Day in 1994, the movie contains footage of the bands who played the Gilman regularly and interviews with literally hundreds of people associated with the scene, from the musicians who played there to the volunteers who worked there to the writers who covered the scene to the artists who grew out of the scene. The film clocks in at about 2 ½ hours so it’s not something you sit in without some sort of commitment.

The length of the movie may be daunting to some; it’s hard to sit through 155 minutes of talking heads and snippets of songs but the frenetic editing pace makes it palatable. In fact, I was left wondering if with additional footage this couldn’t have been a mini-series rather than a movie although I have to admit a movie was an easier sell to something like Netflix than a miniseries based on a specific scene. Still, one has to admire the passion of all those involved from the filmmakers to the interviewees who made this happen.

The footage is in many cases extremely rare and unavailable anywhere else. For me, there was a nostalgic appeal in seeing bands like Operation Ivy, Neurosis and Kamala and the Karnivores, bands that figured in my Bay Area rock critic days and who now existed for me only as worn-out cassette tapes and memories – until now.

Redford utilizes animation sequences masterminded by Tim Armstrong of Rancid fame that recollects the artwork of the great punk zines. The animations are some of the best and most entertaining segments in the film and are worth seeing on their own.

One can’t understate the importance of Gilman as the ultimate expression of the DIY philosophy and of taking the punk ethic to the next logical evolutionary step. Not everything that came out of Gilman was amazing and life-changing but there was always an energy that radiated from the bands that played there regularly that were not present anywhere before or since. The Gilman is still there; some of the people who have been there since the beginning are too but for the most part, it’s a new generation trying not necessarily to live up to the accomplishments of those who came before them but to blaze their own trail while holding true to the tenets that have guided the Gilman collective since the beginning.

This isn’t a movie for everybody; people who find the music discordant and irritating doubtless will not find much to like here but it isn’t just the music that is important but the society that sprang from it. Love Green Day or label them sell-outs; they were an important part of the Gilman Street Experiment (almost said Experience there) and because of their success or maybe in spite of it, they are able to wield the clout to get a movie like this made. Punk scholars will appreciate this most of all.

REASONS TO GO: The concert footage is indispensable. The animated sequences are zine-like and cool. The Gilman scene gets the due it richly deserves.
REASONS TO STAY: Too much information coming at you in a documentary that’s a good half hour too long. There is an overabundance of talking heads here.
FAMILY VALUES: There’s plenty of profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Redford and the members of Green Day all went to Pinole Valley High School although two years apart.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/22/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 87% positive reviews. Metacritic: 65/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Decline and Fall of Western Civilization
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: The Monster Project

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The Other F Word


Lars Frederiken still knows how to swing.

Lars Frederiken still knows how to swing.

(2011) Documentary (Oscilloscope Laboratories) Jim Lindberg, Lars Frederiksen, Tony Escalante, Fat Mike, Art Alexakis, Tony Hawk, Mark Hoppus, Matt Freeman, Ron Reyes, Flea, Brett Gurewitz, Mark Mothersbaugh, Jack Grisham, Josh Freese, Tony Adolescent, Rick Thorn, Greg Hetson. Directed by Andrea Blaugrund Nevins

Cinema of the Heart

It is the nature of misspent youth that we rebel against the things our parents held dear. Maybe the ultimate rebels in that sense were – and are – the punks, who turned their collective tattooed backs on everything our commercially-oriented society held dear.

Those punks though are reaching middle age and have wives, families and mortgages now. This documentary captures these guys at a crossroads where their idealistic youth is colliding with the reality of life and in nearly every instance ideal is giving way to the needs of one’s children, which are considerable.

Jim Lindberg, in particularly, is at a crossroads. The lead singer for Pennywise, one of the most successful punk bands out there, he like many musicians has been forced to spend increasing amounts of time touring in order to make ends meet, but that’s becoming more and more of a problem for his family obligations. He clearly loves his family – but he clearly loves his band as well. Something is going to have to give and it isn’t much of an issue. He announces that he’s leaving Pennywise.

Lars Frederiksen of Rancid still sports leopard-patterned hair and tats but has a sweet boy that is his entire world. He looks far more dangerous than he is – but when he enters a park to play with a son the other parents leave pretty quickly. That’s okay with Lars – he doesn’t mind getting some one-on-one time with his son and having no lines at the swing set is only an extra added bonus.

Duane Peters of the mid-level band U.S. Bombs has several children but his son Chess was his oldest. When Chess died in a car accident, Peters – a veteran skateboarder and singer with a variety of bands on the skate punk scene – fell apart. He became suicidal and when discussing that period in his life, it’s obvious the wound is still raw.

But mostly it is about guys outside the mainstream trying to provide a life that’s as close to normal as their kids as is possible. Most of these guys had childhoods that were far from that and they’re determined to give their kids the support and love that they didn’t get themselves. You get a sense that while yeah these guys can be aggressive about their ideology and look pretty damn intimidating, they’re still basically nice guys.

We get a pretty wide range of punks and extreme sports guys from the famous (Tony Hawk) to the largely unknown outside of the punk rock community. The relationships with their kids varies; some of these guys are surprisingly disciplinarians while others are kind of new age in their child-rearing philosophies.

We see the dads in their punk rock lives (although some of them, like Black Flag’s Ron Reyes, has moved on from music and gone to different professions) and also in their home lives. There are a lot of interviews, like Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers talking about the birth of his daughter inspiring him to give up drugs and alcohol.

Some of the movie is pretty lighthearted but a few scenes are truly moving. Throughout there’s a kind of goofy charm. Sure there’s that fish out of water element where we see punks adjusting to the real world (which seems to piss off some critics who don’t get that people change as they get older) but that’s not all that this movie is about. What it really is about is how kids can change even the most out there of people – people who reject even the most basic of society’s norms can have their hearts changed in an instant by the birth of their child.

The mother-child bond is often idealized, particularly in the movies and there’s no doubt the power of a mother’s love may well be the strongest relationship there is. However, the bond between a father and his children is often overlooked. For many little girls, their first valentine is their daddy and indeed the affections of a dad for his kids, while often expressed poorly, is no less deep or lasting.

This is one of those movies that remind you about that bond and that guys, doofuses though we may be, have it within us to be surprisingly sweet. Those moments can keep you ladies coming back to us guys for more, even though we may forget our anniversary date or need help finding where the extension cords are. In my book that makes this movie something to be treasured.

WHY RENT THIS: A really good look at fatherhood in unusual circumstances at times. Lindberg and Peters are distinctly moving.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Might put off some punk rock fanatics.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a pretty fair amount of cursing and some adult themes.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The making of the movie was inspired by Lindberg’s book Punk Rock Dad which is referenced somewhat here.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There are some performance clips for a number of the bands presented here (including Lindberg’s post-Pennywise project Black Pacific) as well as some pretty interesting outtakes, including one involving Dr. Drew Pinsky. There’s also a 15-minute Q&A session from South by Southwest that I wouldn’t have minded going on longer.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $53,714 on an unreported production budget; I’m thinking this movie wasn’t profitable.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Decline and Fall of Western Civilization

FINAL RATING: 9/10

TOMORROW: The Pianist