When Reagan Babies Fight Back! Another State of Mind

another state of mind punk dvd coverIt 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.

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