Not surprisingly, most of the links that turn up on a Google search-results page for "American Hardcore" are for pornography. The information that I was looking for concerns Paul Rachman's film American Hardcore: The History of American Punk Rock 1980-1986, but there's a tenuous link there. The speed and aggression of early '80s hardcore music made it appeal, overwhelmingly, to teenage boys -- it was the soundtrack for the erupting (and almost entirely masculine) surf and skate culture in Southern California in the early '80s, and teenage boys, more than any other demographic, love the hell out of some porn. One of the startlingly noticeable things about the music and the culture that attended it, though, was its utter sexlessness. Instead, '80s hardcore sounded as if someone had taken all punk rock up until that point and jacked it up on steroids; this was the music, after all, that necessitated the invention of the mosh pit. California punk rock in the late '70s, with bands like the Dead Kennedys and the Germs (who contributed the boppy '80s nihilist anthem "We Got The Neutron Bomb" to the culture) was already getting bratty and aggressive, but hardcore took it to the outer reaches. Somewhere in there, the sex, glamour, posturing and fashion that had accompanied rock 'n' roll got sloughed off, and nothing was left besides the kind of bursting, manic, violent energy that exists nowhere but in the frightening levels of testosterone that course through the veins of fifteen-year-old boys on skateboards.
That being said about the genre, Rachman's film (based on the book of the same name by Steven Blush) is exhaustively thorough, with rare, raw concert footage and extensive interviews with musicians from the scene. (The film's Web site is an even better document, with an interactive map detailing hardcore scenes all over the country.) It also is obviously and unrepentantly the view from within. Rachman got into film in the first place by shooting bands like Agnostic Front, which performed around New York and New Jersey while he was going to college there. That work got him lucrative gigs directing major-label music videos in the '80s. A note on the Web site's map says, unironically, that "DC was the first Hardcore scene in which a handful of hot, bitchy girls hung out, a welcome relief because many HC chicks -- although certainly not the majority -- cultivated dysgenic affectations as an art statement." In other words, this is a home movie, not anthropology.
The pure energy of the music is replicated absolutely in the chaotically cut film and the enthusiasm of all the interviewees. Notoriously grumpy and now practically middle-aged rockers like Black Flag's Henry Rollins and the Circle Jerks' Keith Morris overflow with juice during their segments. Rollins grins like a schoolkid when he swears, "It sounds like someone's exaggerating, it sounds like you're just making it up, but no. I've never seen anything like it." They're talking about the ferocity of the sound, but also the general violence of the scene -- what amounted to a messy, dirty, ugly culture of loud and smelly violence set to music that either hurt your head or was patently addictive and spawned a youth culture, the rebellion of which was ultimately positive. The do-it-yourselfers published their own writing, released their own records and distributed their own films. The film's release is especially timely (and because it's timely, kind of depressing); the stultifyingly conservative climate engendered by the two terms of the Reagan Administration gave birth to some of the rawest, most authentic American music ever. As we count down toward the end of George W. Bush's second term, one wonders what's not on the radio?
Coincidentally, the '90s punk and hardcore legend Ian McKaye (Fugazi, Minor Threat) -- the founder of the seminal indie label Dischord Records and the man who probably put at least one of the letters in D.I.Y. -- will be giving an open-to-the-public Music Industry Studies presentation and Q&A at Loyola University's Nunemaker Auditorium at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 14. If anyone has something thoughtful and relevant to say about punk rock in the 21st century, it's the almost annoyingly earnest and accomplished McKaye.
Benefit for Tom Haulard
In October, French Quarter resident Tom Haulard was hit by a car while riding his scooter through the French Quarter. Haulard, who has no insurance, broke his arm, pelvis and leg. Luckily. One Eyed Jacks (615 Toulouse St., 569-8361) is sponsoring a benefit show on Monday, Nov. 20, to help defray his medical bills. The Happy Talk Band, Blair Gimma, the visiting Glaswegians, the Craft Brothers, the Good Guys and Silent Cinema play.
- Edward Colver
- Henry Rollins played in the legendary hardcore band Black Flag.