It is moving, especially for punk fans my age, to see a crowd moshing in slow motion during the opening credits of a film. In the late ’70s and early ’80s, Punk was open to everyone. You would see kids with mohawks and leather jackets and Sid Vicious Lock necklaces. You would also see kids with sweaters on, khakis, even older people just off work. Often a kid with a football helmet on would crash into the mosh pit, or a punk would have safety pins in his cheeks. There was no standard uniform, though one eventually developed. Everyone was invited and tolerated, because it was a new culture, and there were no rules. I was there at many shows in the early ’80s, back when terms like “Punk rock saved my life” and “DIY” (i.e., do it yourself) were not slogans used to announce sales at Newbury Comics.
Another State of Mind, perhaps the granddaddy of all Punk movies, gave a harrowing and celebratory glimpse into the scene as well as shredded the lofty concepts of prior rock documentaries. There are no stars here, just people trying to make music. Punk had hit the radar screen just six years prior, at least as a mainstream curiosity. This new generation road flick follows Social Distortion and Youth Brigade as they embark on one of the first full-scale punk tours, which takes them from California up to Canada and east to Washington, DC. Of course, the tour falls apart, due to hunger, money, egos, and their tricked-out school bus that never stops overheating. Yet their goal is noble: to hook up with kids who are beginning their own punk scenes in various cities, to provide music and support, and to spread the word about punk.
The now legendary Mike Ness, currently a buff and tattooed rockabilly idol, appears in the film in his skinny, eyeliner-ed junky days, as does Youth Brigade and Adam Stern, one of the first spokesmen for hardcore. We even get to see Minor Threat and Fugazi legend Ian MacKaye working at Haagen-Dazs, dishing out ice cream to customers unaware of their servant’s place in the new culture. Worth the price alone is the section in DC, where the bands stay with Minor Threat at the Dischord house, as the bus dies and Social D breaks up. Footage of Minor Threat at a gig where the microphones are taken away by jittery club roadies, setting the stage for the entire audience to help MacKaye sing the songs they all know by heart, is the embodiment of everything punk stood for and hoped to achieve.
Equally memorable are the interviews with local punks, especially in Montreal. What comes through poignantly is that these kids turned to punk to find a place to belong. Whether driven out of broken homes, or searching for a genuine life divorced from the traditional options of consumer society, the early wave built a community by word of mouth. Through flyers, zines, and college radio DJ’s willing to play some new music, small scenes in distant cities heard about each other and formed a network.
State takes place in the early years of the Reagan Administration, at the start of the conservative movement that is reaching its zenith in current politics. With punk today absorbed into the mainstream, now just another choice of background music for the iPod, can another alternative music culture appear? Another State of Mind shows how it can be done.