Skyscraper Magazine » A History Lesson, Part 1: Punk Rock In Los Angeles in 1984
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Dir. Dave Travis
Historical Records
Format: DVD
Release Date: March 22, 2011
By Rob Browning April 1, 2011

Historians have widely held that knowledge of the past is essential for those seeking progress in the present. Filmmaker Dave Travis has long agreed. The Californian has documented the West Coast punk scene since his teenage years, recording live shows and shooting early videos like Black Flag’s “Slip It In.” Throwing generator parties in the Santa Monica mountains and playing in the early 1980s LA punk band Permanent Waves made it easy to accumulate hundreds of hours of footage of seminal live shows from the likes of The Descendents, MDC, and Black Flag. Almost 30 years later, Travis has taken classic live footage and interviews with Redd Kross, The Meat Puppets, Twisted Roots, and The Minutemen (who also give the documentary its title) and compiled A History Lesson.

Subtitled Part 1: Punk Rock In Los Angeles in 1984, if A History Lesson reinforces anything, it is that 1984 was quite a year for punk rock, despite (or perhaps owing to) the Orwellian connotations of the Reagan era. Classic footage abounds with The Minutemen clips alone worth the price of admission. A History Lesson captures six live songs from the pride of Pedro, paired with typically wonderful Watt footage post-Boon’s death. By the level of jowlage Watt is sporting and his lack of a beard, I’m going to argue the interviews are from 1995 or 1996. The Redd Kross and later-period Meat Puppets interviews seem to be more recent, from the 21st century, but I may be wrong.

Whether period or present-day, great video abounds in A History Lesson. Being at ground zero with a makeshift Steadicam-like VHS/belt apparatus allowed Travis to compile a slew of rare footage, unlikely to be seen anywhere else. Watching Boon dance a fat man’s jig during tracks like “The Big Foist” should put a smile on the face of any punk worth his salt. Paired with latter day anecdotes from the bassist, including a great story about pulling over at a library mid-tour to settle one of the infamous Watt/Boon history debates, you will laugh out loud. Those tuning in for The Meat Puppets live footage will enjoy material falling between their first and second records, where the lysergic and Grateful Dead leanings start to trump the Bros. Kirkwood’s thrashier roots. Both brothers weigh in with recollections, and included are three songs from a 1984 Pasadena gig featuring an early appearance of the eventual Nirvana favorite “Ring Of Fire.”

Travis was perhaps closest personally to Redd Kross, touring with them for a prolonged stretch after finishing high school. Redd Kross broke from punk rock conventions of the day, yet still played a seminal role in LA’s scene. Sporting a contrarian nature and more than candid about their desire to be rock stars, Kross were as polarizing as Black Flag. Whether they were successful in attaining stardom is arguable, but they maintain a unique perspective on the mid-1980s LA scene, including a respectful but less than rhapsodic take on Black Flag, breaking from conventional recollections of the band. The live material captures Redd Kross’ only gig with ex-Bangle Vicki Peterson in its ranks (who had herself replaced ex-Flag singer/guitarist Dez Cadena upon his departure to join Twisted Roots). Peterson joined her brother in Kross’ ranks, making for double sets of siblings in their line-up.

Nothing is addressed explicitly about the brother factor, but it speaks volumes about the level of camaraderie LA bands enjoyed. Redd Kross and The Meat Puppets sported actual blood ties, while Watt and Boon may as well have been born brothers. Twisted Roots featured Paul Roessler and his sister Kira (herself Mike Watt’s ex-wife), along with Dez Cadena, and then recent ex-Germ Pat Smear. Twisted Roots footage is practically non-existent, so punk historians would do well to search out the material here. It captures three songs from one of the handful of shows the band did before imploding/morphing into DC3.

Whether your interest in the 1980s LA scene is slavish or cursory, punk historians and casual fans of the genre can take much away from A History Lesson. The VHS source material can be suspect at times, and the curious tendency Travis has for replacing heads of interviewees with footage from later interviews is something I would have advised against, but this history lesson is one you would do well to be doomed to repeat.

Visit: A History Lesson
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