Saturday, October 21, 2006
The time is so precious, the time belongs to us:
It's been a long time since hardcore felt like home to me, but today I'm nostalgic for something that was never mine. That's on account of the rush-of-memory documentary American Hardcore 1980-1986. Oh God. Black Flag, Minor Threat, Bad Brains, SS Decontrol... Many years later -- say 1996 --a Michigan band called Jihad once sang, "I can see you, but you can't see me." That was how I felt: marked as part of an invisible tribe, reinforced but not stifled by people who felt like I did. You were on the lookout for the tell-tale signs of your brethren: Does she have a patch on her hoodie? Does he have a couple pins on his bookbag? Are those tattoos peeking out from under those sleeves? Didn't I see you at ABC last Saturday?

I guess that's my only problem with an otherwise-perfect movie: it's invested in suggesting that it all dies after 1986, when Greg quits Black Flag and Ian MacKaye decides he's sick of the violence. That makes sense. The story told is about a specific era. But we need to make a new film, one about what happens when Ian makes that decision. What happens is Revolution Summer 1985, when Embrace and Rites of Spring emerge and change everything. Then Maximumrocknroll decides to open Gilman Street in Berkeley. Krishnas meld with a new generation of straight edge kids in New York City, who decide that they can play a new style of hardcore and call it old. A bunch of women in Silver Spring and Olympia decide punk rock is theirs, and they can play it like they live it and it'll be better than what the boys play. A bunch of kids in Richmond decide that someone needs to make a stand for community. A bunch of zines like No Answers and Anti-Matter and Bikini Kill and HeartattaCk and Inside Front and Icarus Was Right and Rumpshaker and Slave decide that they have something they need to tell you.

But that's our movie, and it's something else entirely. In the meantime, two quick stories.

1) Derya Golpinar in March of 1995 opts to make me a trade. She's going to make me a tape of Minor Threat. In return, I dub a bunch of Slant 6 and Run-DMC songs. I was 14 and that tape changed my life. You know it's hardcore when it sounds better on a fourth-generation dubbed cassette than on its master reel. About a month later, my mother and I drive to see Leslie's first sermon as an ordained rabbi in Connecticut and she asks me what I'm listening to on my walkman. I put the tape in the car's tape deck and excitedly ask her what she thinks. As un-PR as it is, I want mom to like Minor Threat because I love both of them. She says, "But, to me, it just sounds like BLAH-BLAHBLAH-BLAH! BLAH-BLAHBLAH-BLAH!" And I reply, "No, there's more there."

2) It's September of 1996, the first day of junior year of high school. Miraculously, MDC is playing that afternoon at ABC No Rio, their first show in New York in probably a decade or more. Colin, Michael, Eibhy and myself decide there's no way we're missing that. But the first day of school is a half day, and so we have a lot of time to kill. We go to the Hudson River, probably half a mile north of Canal Street. And we see the boats bobbing along from here to New Jersey. Colin gets an idea. We're going to hijack a dingy. From the dingy, we find a schooner. We hijack the schooner. Then we find a tugboat. From the schooner, we hijack the tugboat -- and so on, and so on, with larger ships, ripping our shirts so we can fly the black flag, and sail out to international waters, free on our little anarchist pirate ship. If we run afoul of a Navy Destroyer, we're taking that motherfucker by force. The MDC show was good, but nothing could be better than that afternoon daydream.

When you see the telltale signs of the HC tribe, you can rest assured that you can walk into their insect colony and scream, You tell me that I make no difference, and they'll all yell back, At least! I'm! Fucking! Trying! What the fuck have YOU done? And if hardcore is about anything, it's about finding your way to answer that question.
--Spencer Ackerman
speaking as someone incredibly older than you, spencer, i'll note three things:

1. the great thing about rock and roll (broadly defined) is that something changes everything for every generation;

2. my earliest memory of hardcore the term (as opposed to hardcore the scene, which, as a boston native, i had a chance to experience very early on with ss decontrol, proletariat, jerry's kids, and the whole this is boston, not la compilatin) was in a column that doug simmons (now managing editor, i believe, of the village voice) wrote about hanging out with mission of burma's bass player (whose name is now escaping me) late one night and having him play all this incredibly powerful stuff on 7-inch vinyl, stuff he called "hardcore."

3. there has never been anyone as good as bad brains!
Blogger howard | 8:38 PM

Oh man, Howard, I have to confess not being too into the early 80s Boston HC stuff -- the Boston Not LA comp being the exception; that's classic -- but I *loved* the Proletariat. By the time I got into them, which would have been 1997, you could only get their stuff on a cassette that Havoc Recors in MNPS had compiled. (I think it began with a bunch of stuff from a radio show up in Boston.) Man, they were good, and to this day remain unfairly neglected.

Also, god bless the Mission of Burma. There's a scene toward the end of American Hardcore documenting the final MoB show, with Negative FX (the one from the famous Charles Manson flier), and the whole crew looks way, way down on the brilliant Burma. Fun fact: two college housemates of mine were cousins of one of the guys in Birdsongs of the Mesozoic, the band that 2/3s of MoB became.
Blogger Spencer Ackerman | 10:34 AM

spencer, just to continue this journey down memory lane: a.) mission of burma are one of the 3 bands i've seen the most in my life (the others being sun ra and the grateful dead, circa 1970-74); b.) burma picked proletariat to open for them at their farewell concerts when roger miller first learned of his tinnitus (which is what led to birdsongs, which covered the bullwinkle theme and don't get me started down that path); c.) i wrote for the boston phoenix for a few years and my great regret was that i didn't get to be mission of burma's first positive writeup, because the piece didn't get finished due to other demands. it also featured mission of burma's own favorites, the girls ("jeffrey i hear you"), whose drummer was connected, through cleveland circles, with pere ubu.

and due to a brain-finger disconnect last night, i didn't mean to say that i was native to boston, but i was then resident in boston. the funny thing is, i wasn't particularly impressed by ss decontrol (not compared to those who venerate them in retrospect), but they were the leaders of the scene and i was enjoying watching the scene explode....
Blogger howard | 4:51 PM

Spencer, I am SO excited for this film to hit Philadelphia.
Hardcore music changed my life, way back in 1983, and it's always exciting to see people writing about it.

That said, I wish you liked Boston HC more. What an amazing scene, a scene that still infiltrates the city. I grew up in Newport, home to Verbal Assault, and my first show (June 1984) was the FU's, Gang Green, The Freeze, Verbal Assault, and Vicious Circle. There might have been more.

I haven't seen the flick yet, but if what you write is true, that "it's invested in suggesting that it all dies after 1986", I can't necessarily argue with that. I began to drift away at that time myself: Caroline was doing a lot of that hardcore/metal crossover, and a lot of the more knuckleheaded bands from NY, like Raw Deal/Killing Time, Judge, became the norm. I used to joke that their lyrics could all be boiled down to "You did something bad/ NOW I'M FUCKING MAAAAAD", delivered in your toughest NY-tough guy yell. The other side of the coin seemed to be that late DC scene, "Revolution Summer 1985, when Embrace and Rites of Spring emerge and change everything", and that stuff was way to heady for me, and not my bag.

Sometime this week, I'm going to write the piece about how I made Ian McKaye so mad he yelled at me.

Anyone remember Boston's The Flies, who became the Titanics, who became the Satanics, who broke up about the same time the Bags did, and the remnants of both bands became the Clamdiggers, who became the Upper Crust, whose original thrid guitar player Ted Widmer became a speechwriter for Bill Clinton?

Man, memories...
Blogger Brendan | 10:10 AM

I was way into hardcore from about 1983 to 1986. I was living in Baltimore and there really wasn't a huge Baltimore scene. Reptile House was the best local band.

There were good DC bands, but they were all in the shadow of marginal threat who had broken up just before I had a chance to see them.

My favorite was black flag who did a huge amount of touring in this period. The Ramomes (not strictly hardcore but awesome live) toured alot around this time too. I must have seen the Ramones 8-9 times.
Blogger joe o | 4:30 PM

Damn right hardcore didn't end in 1986. One of the greatest shows of my life was Sick Of It All, Gorilla Biscuits and Judge at City Gardens in Trenton, NJ in 1988. I bow to no one in my love of the Bad Brains (how Caroline dared to release that piss-poor remixed and re-sequenced version of Rock For Light instead of just reissuing the glorious PVC version like they should have I'll never know), but the thick-necked late '80s NYC stuff was the shit, even if it did wind up in the hands of Hatebreed. (Somebody who can send me a CD-R of the Breakdown demo tape, please e-mail me at today!)
Blogger Phil Freeman | 5:43 PM