Salad Days opens tomorrow at the Gateway Film Center and runs through April 22. For show dates and times, as well as where it’s playing in other cities, check it out here: http://saladdaysdc.com/screenings/
“Do you remember when?
Yeah, so do I
We call those the, uh, salad days
The salad days
And do you remember when?
Yeah, so do I
We call those the good old days…”
So penned by Ian McKay for Minor Threat’s final EP, this exuberant, first-hand documentary of those “good old days” authentically portrays the complex, often not-what-it-seemed decade of the burgeoning, boisterous, clannish punk rock scene in Washington, DC.
Director/writer Scott Crawford lays a foundation of authenticity, having experienced these early days of punk himself. As a teenager in the DC suburbs, he started a fanzine called Metrozine that documented much of what was happening in the DC hardcore punk scene in the 1980s. At the age of 14, he released a 7″ compilation of local DC punk bands featuring Beefeater, Marginal Man, Gray Matter, and Mission Impossible (featuring a 16 year old Dave Grohl) before most of the bands had released albums on their own.
Through interviews interspersed with rapid-fire visual montages of mosh footage and club scenes, the movie lays down a timeline – actually, an evolution. From Bad Brains and S.O.A. to the straight edge stylings of Teen Idles (notated to this day by a bold, proud ‘X’ on the top of one’s hand, a paradoxical “fuck you” to anything other than music being accessible to everyone) and their transition to Minor Threat, from the Limp Records evolution to the Dischord label and the ensuing “Dischord House” where McKay and his crew lived and recorded in; to the girl power of Fire Party and the culmination of Fugazi, this film maps it all out for us – with real talk from the real people who lived it.
How did it begin? A perfect storm, really: In a city literally owned and operated by “the man” (“everybody worked for the government”), punk naturally seeped from the cracks as a reaction. Between that, and the fact that the city shut down at 5, leaving it wide open and beckoning to creativity after dark, you had the perfect environment for punk to take hold. Add some innovative young musicians whose minds were blown the first time they heard the Ramones and Bad Brains (Henry Rollins, who said “he had been listening to ELO and the BeeGees” before he heard them) and Ian McKay (who shaved his head the night he heard the Cramps in Georgetown), the result was, as Ian says, “A petri dish for great ideas.”
This early community was a family, for good and bad. The theme of kinship and brotherhood runs throughout. Some might be shocked to understand that these trailblazers of punk were just teenagers –and fairly placid at that, when not onstage – and often got harassed and even beat up by the threatened “aggro male” as he attempted to obliterate whatever endangered his masculinity. Shop owners had their backs; took them in, told them they were safe if anyone tried to hurt them. Bands listened to each others’ music and supported their gigs. As the cauldron of the early days bubbled and formed, the earliest pioneers were all friends – a fitting metaphor being the friendly cohabitations of Void and Faith sharing sides of an LP.
So how did it devolve? Misogyny toward female musicians finding their voice, AIDS, drugs, violence, skinheads – as the 80’s progressed times became more turbulent. Things began to fall apart with the growing popularity of the sound and the influx of the mainstream at hardcore shows. With these mainstream crowds came the violent ritual of slam dancing in the pit. And when this happened, as Holy Rollers’ Joey Aronstam said: “It stopped being fun.” With the audience consisting of vast groups of the unknown, the bands playing at that time became overcome by a feeling of the scene not being their scene anymore, but rather, the scene. No longer a communal small group of friends, by 1984, many of the bands had broken up.
And then, ushered in with a new hopefulness and energy from “Revolution Summer,” the hardcore scene began forming new bands with a new statement to make. The next wave came, with Fugazi in particular rising from the ashes and paving the way for the 90’s sound. In a sense, the movie explains, “Everyone was waiting for Fugazi.”
In the final scenes, we see and hear Dave Grohl – a fitting subject for representing the bridge between 1980’s and 1990’s music — contemplating on how if there had been no punk, no Scream, no D.C. scene, there would be no Nirvana. He’s incredulous of the fact that during this groundbreaking time, bands were taking matters into their own hands, releasing their own records and booking their own shows, without major record labels. To this day, this pioneering spirit has opened the door for young bands and musicians to get their music heard on their own terms.