A History Lesson, Part 1: Punk Rock (A film by Dave Travis)

Posted by Chuck, March 25, 2011 12:00am | Post a Comment


In the early-1990s, while walking down Hollywood Boulevard as a cluck from Colorado, I remember coming across a videotape of The Misfits playing live from 1983 and thinking “dude, no fucking way.” I’d never seen actual footage of them, but perpetually carried one of their sadistic Elvisy horror-themed songs stuck in my head (particularly “Queen Wasp”). I wanted to see their devil locks, the face paint, those signature Crimson Ghost insignias and battle ax basses and the basement crowd reacting to one of their purportedly awful performances. Danzig the former grave robber. “Skulls.” Green Hell. Only and Robo and Doyle and Mr. Jim (god bless him). Ed Wood and Plan 9 From Outer Space. All that stuff. I bought it. And everything was as I’d hoped it would be, from the shit-quality to the clam notes to the indecipherable lyrics from a lurched over Danzig. I brought it back to the 303 and impressed would-be Fiend Club members. There’s something irretrievable about this kind of history that gives you a pang of inflated significance.

Now digging up old footage of such mythological bands has become easy, but it still strums a raw nerve when a film comes out centered on that small, closed-in faction of early punk. Dave Travis’ A History Lesson, Part 1: Punk Rock in Los Angeles 1984 DVD is another, and I had that familiar feeling. The four bands he centers on are The Meat Puppets, Red Kross, The Minutemen and Twisted Roots. Mike Watt and D. Boon? The cerebral Kirkwood brothers of the Meat Puppets? The McDonalds of Red Kross? Here peeps the stage performances of each band circa 1984, framing the context of the mindset/pathos/attitude of the time with interviews by Paul Roessler (looking like he’s squatting somewhere in Echo Park with wife Hellin Killer), Curt and Cris Kirkwood, Mike Watt and Steve McDonald. What it says is that 27 years ago the feckless nature of things in punk rock still makes you reconsider our value system, so sleepy and precious then as now.

Some of the highlights are when Curt Kirkwood says The Meat Puppets were catering to the “original feeling of being depressed and stupid,” to the low-life niche that has/had transcendent appeal. With everything interspersed, Jeff McDonald of Red Kross says he was worshipful of the “witchy” early Puppets of those days (before the reinvention towards country), and the two pieces of footage show the live performance of The Meat Puppets in Pasadena on Cinco de Mayo followed a week later by a live performance by the Minutemen at the Olympic Auditorium. A week apart, same city periphery, it seems like a magical time to be a degenerate who refused to wash his shirt. During the Minutemen segment, Mike Watt talks about D. Boon writing ideas on napkins and how he’d use those as the nexus for his songwriting, little random scraps of throwaway thoughts. Next thing they are showing the Minutemen doing “Bob Dylan Wrote Propaganda Songs” and “Jesus & Tequila.” D. Boon, quaking and with frisbee-sized holes on back of his shirt, never carried more energy. He of course died a year-and-a-half later in a car accident. Watt’s stories of Boon add to the ephemera of the place and time.

Otherwise, there’s a cool piece of footage of Red Kross doing “Janus, Jeanie and George Harrison,” as well as some Twisted Roots coverage with the Swiss dressed Maggie Ehrig on the vocals. To hear Roessler talk about the iteration on the night in question, they were all kids, and Ehrig in particular wasn’t cut out for fronting a punk band. Maybe not, but between her garb and the Puppets in their little white gowns and mops of unruly hair, you can see Kurt Cobain’s scaffolding. In fact, one segment shows the Puppets playing “Lake of Fire,” which was lionized by Nirvana on the Unplugged show a decade later.

A History Lesson... came out March 23 and is available here for $11.98.

Relevant Tags

The Minutmen (1), The Meat Puppets (1), The Misfits (1), Dave Travis (1), Part 1: Punk Rock In Los Angeles 1984 (1), A History Lesson (1), Red Kross (1), Twisted Roots (1), Mike Watt (4), Punk (68)