Miss out on the birth of the local scene? There’s a new documentary full of baby pictures
The Chicago scene’s absence from the established history of punk is usually framed as a glaring omission, since Chicagoans are by and large the only people who bother to point it out.
But I think we should be grateful that Midwestern punk hasn’t been buffed smooth and bled dry by generations of well-meaning hagiographers. It’s especially easy for me to take that perspective now that I’ve seen the new documentary You Weren’t There, which tells the story of Chicago punk and hardcore from ’77 to ’84. Lots of fabulous shit was happening in our city back then, and I’m glad it’s still so unfamiliar that it can hit me with such startling power all these years later.
Husband and wife Joe Losurdo and Chris Tillman, aka Regressive Films, use vintage concert footage and recent interviews with a busload of Chicago punk veterans to sketch the outlines of an outrageous scene that was indebted to the pioneers on the coasts but often outplayed and usually outweirded them. It’s hard to generalize about any punk community, and there’s not much you can safely say about Chicago’s except that the musicians were more likely to be unpretentious, working-class people—and like their LA cousins, Chicago scenesters had a less intellectualized idea of what it meant to be punk, rolling with a free-form, anything-goes party style.
The Chicago Reader
Joe Losurdo and Christina Tillman’s documentary, You Weren’t There: A History of Chicago Punk 1977-1984, made its LA debut last night at the Silent Movie Theater on Fairfax, and — after hearing about it for well over a year — Carole and I were supremely stoked to finally have a chance to view Joe and Chris’s labor of punk love. I’m even more stoked to report that it more than lived up to our (fairly high) expectations, and that the film is a most worthy addition to such punk docs as Decline of Western Civilization, The Filth and the Fury, and American Hardcore. Hopefully, they’ll be able to find distribution for it, because it’s a hilarious, educational and totally rocking flick that really belongs in every punk fan’s DVD collection.
Widely ignored both during and after its heyday, the Chicago punk movement completely lacked the glitz and glamor (and mainstream media attention) of the NYC and LA scenes, or the (mostly) unified dogma and sound of the DC hardcore scene. Big Black is probably
the best-known and – respected band to come out of it, with
Naked Raygun running a distant second. But there were many other good-to-great bands like the Effigies, Strike Under, Articles of Faith, the Subverts, Savage Beliefs, End Result, Negative Element (pictured above), Rights of the Accused, Verboten, etc., all of whom finally get their moments in the cinematic sun in You Weren’t There. I read one review of the film that spoke of how Chicago punk bands “out-played and out-weirded” their contemporaries from other cities, and in many of the above cases I’d have to agree.
Read the whole review at http://lavieenrobe.typepad.com/la_vie_en_robe/2008/08/i-wasnt-there-f.html
August 08, 2008
Award-winning journalist and freelance writer who splits his time between Los Angeles and Palm Springs. His first book, 20th Century Pop Culture, was published by Carlton Books in 1999; he’s currently working on a book about baseball in the 1970s.
Even if you weren’t there, now you can be.
Truly great documentaries not only evoke a period but resurrect them wholesale. That’s the case with You Weren’t There–A History of Chicago Punk 1977-84, a bloodspattered valentine directed by Joe Losurdo and Christina Tillman.
-Robert K. Elder
Many music scenes formed around charismatic but brain-dead personalities and flamboyant showmen who were otherwise without substance. An awful lot of those people are now bitter burnouts or embarrassing parodies of themselves. It was great to be reminded that Chicago really was different, and that the people who did things here were genuine, perverse, gifted and unique.
Chicago, you had a great punk rock subculture in the beginning! Salut!
Losurdo and Tillman have spent the better part of the last decade compiling archival footage, collecting oral histories from club owners, promoters and scenesters: and interviewing members of Chicago’s legendary punk bands (Naked Raygun, the Effigies, Big Black). as well as the city’s unjustly obscure acts (Tutu and the Pirates, the Subverts and Savage Beliefs, among others).
What they unveil is a portrait of a scene that was more down-to-earth than it’s contemporaries on the coasts, yet more cosmopolitan than in other Midwestern cities. More interesting may be the examples of Chicago-style business-as-usual, that in this case had the early punk scene, the gay scene and the mob intermingling, as long as the right people got paid. The film opens with a profile of LaMere Vipere, a gay bar that becomes the first punk dance club in America. After only a short tenure the club mysteriously burned to the ground, but from its ashes came venues like O’Banions and OZ, WZRD’s Sunday Morning Nightmare radio show, and record labels like Wax Trax and Wasteland, all serving a scene willing to embrace both absurdity and artfulness.
Time Out Chicago
This fourth day of Noise Pop begins with a film that I’ve been dying to see since the trailer showed up on Youtube last year. You Weren’t There: A History of Chicago Punk 1977-1984 is a film by husband
and wife filmmakers JOE LOSURDO and CHRIS TILLMAN AKA Regressive Films that was six years in the making and, based on my viewing, it was worth the effort and the wait.
The feature itself is a smart and well-crafted look at the Second City’s punk scene from its birth until the Orwellian year of 1984, when the innocence had been lost. Almost always overlooked in punk-lit and films, Chicago was just screaming for someone to take on the task of documenting a vital scene, and thank god (sic) for Regressive Films. I watched with a mix of amusement and feelings of comaraderie as early scenesters recounted tales of being assaulted with shouts of “DEVO” and “FAGGOT” (okay, less amusement with that one) when they were out in public in their punk garb. I recall the phenomenon well from my years growing up in suburban Detroit in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Being chased and beaten up was not an uncommon experience in those days but thankfully it didn’t prevent a vibrant community from being born. Losurdo and Tillman were not content to simply bung together a work based on bands and talking heads busy patting themselves on the back. No, besides band members, others playing vital roles are included, such as various promoters, bar owners, DJs, and zine workers. The filmmakers really try to give a sense of the whole scene by including such varied participants, and the film is better for it.
As far as the venues, the tale of the city’s first punk club (and nation’s first punk disco) – LA MERE VIPERE (which apparently means
“the mother snake” – get it, it was a gay bar) figures prominently as the film starts. Wildly popular with the city’s misfits, La Mere attracted neighborhood resentment to such a point that someone torched the place. Police and firemen have been suspected, but it remains a mystery as to who ended the run of La Mere. Other clubs of the day, such as Oz and O’Banions, stayed just one step ahead of the law (thanks in part to likely payoffs to the man) and managed to host many classic shows by the likes of THE EFFIGIES, NAKED RAYGUN, and STRIKE UNDER. The live footage shown was just stunning – The Effigies at OZ in all their boots-and-braces glory, for instance.
Early incarnations of Naked Raygun playing loft parties!!!! Amazing stuff.
I can’t say enough about how good this film is and how it succeeds on so many levels.
A must see…
Big Takeover 30 April 2008
The number of books written about the international punk explosion of the late 70s/early 80s is exhaustive—nearly every rock overturned and every “crazy” story explained matter-of-factly. From LA to NYC to London, punk rock grew from a lifestyle to simply life for many wayward young people. In You Weren’t There: A History of Chicago Punk, 1977-1984, husband and wife filmmakers Joe Losurdo and Chris Tillman delve headfirst into the violent, back-stabbing, and no-flash blue-collar punk rock scene of the Windy City.
You Weren’t There is a much needed and well-made documentary with its focus pointed at a forgotten time in an important musical age. The archival footage is second to none and the sound, even of the earliest recordings, is fantastic. To listen to the people that were there is always interesting and funny when the editing makes it a fluid conversation (the banter between Albini and Articles of Faith’s Vic Bondi is priceless). Even those that have a pedestrian opinion on punk rock and those
involved will enjoy this addition to the chronicles of a movement long gone and sorely missed.