A long-awaited documentary on the influential 80s D.C. hardcore scene Salad Days: A Decade of Punk in Washington, D.C., makes its hometown premiere tonight (Dec. 19) at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center in Silver Spring, MD. The first of the four-sold out screenings this weekend will feature a conversation with the film’s director Scott Crawford, executive producer Jim Saah and Kenny Inouye from the band Marginal Man interviewed by WTOP radio’s Neil Augenstein (formerly of the D.C. band Modest Proposal).
Salad Days is a rather completist film and features a cavalcade of D.C. hardcore’s leading lights interspersed with archival footage and photographs. The documentary is as much an historical document as it is an informative and entertaining overview on the rise of D.C. hardcore and its lasting influence.
“We must have interviewed over 100 people for the film,” Crawford tells Billboard. “We traveled all over the country and there were plenty of others I would’ve liked to have interviewed, but scheduling and budgets were always a concern.” That is likely a good thing.
Of course Ian MacKaye, D.C.’s Ur-punk rocker and the driving force behind the Teen Idols, Minor Threat, Embrace, Fugazi, Dischord Records and the scene in general, is featured prominently. Early on he describes the profound impact seeing The Cramps play at Georgetown University had on him — which included singer Lux Interior vomiting, leaving the stage and returning to play. “That was it,” Mackaye exclaims in the film, “That was the night I was like, ‘I’m cutting my hair.”
Here too is Henry Rollins of SOA (and later Black Flag and Rollins Band) paying homage to the influential Bad Brains and recalling how he learned to fight fending off the suburbanites in Camaros who bullied the teenaged punk rockers loitering about Georgetown’s Wisconsin Avenue and M Street. Dave Grohl makes several appearances and rather emotionally credits his days playing in Scream and the scene in Washington as making him the person he is today (see his HBO series Sonic Highways‘ D.C. episode). It’s a claim repeated throughout Salad Days by many of the other middle-aged talking punk heads.
Crawford — who himself came to the scene as a precocious 12-year-old, played in bands, had a label and ran the Metrotimes fanzine thirty years earlier (before becoming the editor of HARP and Blurt Online) — makes the film something of closed circle. “A lot of the people in the film I first interviewed as a kid,” the director explains. While that insideriness surely put his subjects at ease, it may not have afforded the film much critical distance.
But the film’s powerful music and incendiary live performance footage by the likes of the Bad Brains, Teen Idols, SOA, Government Issue, Void, Faith, Marginal Man, Grey Matter, Rites of Spring, Embrace Dag Nasty, Fugazi and many others speaks for itself and is a constant highlight. That it’s mostly young males with testosterone pumping at full fury skronking, screaming and stage-diving across D.C. house parties, clubs, alternative performance spaces and political benefits lends a certain credence to Thurston Moore‘s hilarious commentary on how the scene changed once people started “getting laid.”
Salad Days, which is named after a Minor Threat song mocking nostalgia, is laid out chronologically, but there are enough twists and turns in the volatile scene’s history and dozens and dozens of musicians to keep the film moving apace. There’s Minor Threat’s break-up following their legendary 1983 show with D.C’s fantastic go-go band Trouble Funk as recounted by Brian Baker, Brendan Canty and Mackaye; the scene’s struggle to ward off jackbooted thugs and misogyny; the debate over political activism; and the so-called “Revolution Summer of 1985” and the rise of what is termed “emo.”
It’s all set against a backdrop of 1980s Washington, D.C. in its pre-gentrified splendor and squalor: deserted, riot-scarred streets, a growing crack epidemic and the city’s infamous U.S. murder capitol title that arose under the reigns of Ronald Reagan (reviled by D.C. punks) and the scandal-ridden administration of Mayor Marion Barry. It is a city now all but unrecognizable in what Forbes recently called “America’s coolest city” (a.k.a. the kiss of death).
The film took Crawford four years and $50,000 to make, which he raised on Kickstarter. “I had been thinking about making a documentary about the D.C. punk scene for a long time,” he says. ” It was quite a journey.”
Salad Days will hit the film festival circuit through spring and make a theatrical run around March. Crawford is working on a coffee table book about the film with never before seen photos and anecdotal outtakes from the film which will be published by Akashic Books (founded by Girls Against Boys‘ Johnny Temple).