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‘Salad Days: The D.C. Punk Revolution’ Documentary

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I wasn’t living in Washington D.C. in the 80’s and I wasn’t even into punk, far less into hardcore punk, at that time… so how could ‘Salad Days’, a film on Washington, D.C.’s ‘80s punk scene directed by Scott Crawford, could even interest me?

Because it is fascinating to see these teenagers booking their own shows and releasing their materials themselves, without any help of major labels or the record industry, embracing or even inventing the DIY ethic and plainly succeeding at it. And doing this in a city where the government is the biggest employer but where crime, drugs and poverty nevertheless reign. ‘Some of the people in a lot of these bands, their parents were lobbyists or lawmakers or politicians,’ said Crawford. ‘They had those things discussed at the family dinner table, and through osmosis it just found its way into the music.’

During 90 minutes, the film documents the rise of influential bands such as Minor Threat, Fugazi, Bad Brains, Scream, Black Market Baby, the Faith, the Slickee Boys, Void, Government Issue, Marginal Man, Dag Nasty, Iron Cross, Ignition, Government Issue, Teen Idle, Youth Brigade, Void, Untouchables, Gray Matter, Beefeater, Scream, Rites of Spring, Fugazi, Shudder to Think, Nation of Ulysses, Jawbox…, with a lot of talking heads narrating their humble beginnings, and you get to see a lot of insightful interviews with Ian MacKaye, Henry Rollins, Jeff Nelson, Thurston Moore, Brian Baker, Alex MacKaye, among other pioneers of the scene, but also Fred Armisen and the unavoidable Dave Grohl. It was basically impossible for me to remember all the names of the people involved, as there were a lot of them! But the most interesting aspect of the film may be his director, Scott Crawford, who was there at the time, a 12-year-old kid, who looked even younger, going to hardcore punk shows and starting a fanzine called Metrozine to document the scene. You even see him in the picture above, he is the smallest, all-wide-eyed kid in the crowd, very close to the stage!

The movie doesn’t provide many clear footages, only grainy and out of focus black & white videos, and it’s funny to think that technology has evolved so fast, whereas the 80’s do not seem so far away in our memories. But what did I get from the documentary? That the Bad Brains, the first punk black band, really changed everything and Henry Rollins’ life, that women were present in this boys’ club but were having a hard time, and that Mac Kaye’s DIY ethics is really something to admire, as someone who has never sold out, even when major labels were courting Fugazi, and as someone who only wanted to get his music out with no interest in the record industry whatsoever – he founded Dischord Records in 1980 and he has run the label for 34 years.

The movie also acknowledges violent behaviors such as slam dancing and the idea that punk rock became associated with skinheads, aggressive behavior, misogyny, racism, homophobia, and the discouragement that followed. But during summer 1985, known as ‘Revolution Summer’, there was a rebirth of music, more melody based, with a new wave of bands, and the beginning of emo-core, a term that Ian MacKaye found ‘fucking stupid’ …

The myth of the D.C. Straight Edge is another thing the movie should clear up, it just started as a reaction against venues with age restrictions due to alcohol consumption, and punk teenagers just wanted teenagers to be able to attend gigs. Despite the fact that MacKaye has never wanted to be a movement (that would have been very un-punk) the term has pursued him to this day, to his greatest aggravation.

Washington D.C. became the scene that created hardcore punk, post-hardcore, emo, and the beginnings of the alternative music scene of the early 1990s, Nirvana would have never existed, without this scene. Despite the numerous musicians, all middle-aged men (and just a few women) succeeding in front of the camera and looking back on the past, MacKaye appears like the central and totally un-nostalgic character,… there were actually a lot of laughs in the theater, and I was probably surrounded by many old punk rockers reliving the good old days? But this is not what the movie is really about. ‘Salad Days’ is named after a Minor Threat’s song whose last line is ‘some people call them their Salad Days and I call it a fucking lie’… and from that I take that there is absolutely no nostalgia involved, and also no glorification of the past or the youth,… our salad days are now.

 

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