22 December 2009

I Wasn't There


Last night I went to the Portage Theatre on Milwaukee Avenue (in Chicago) to check out the premier of You Weren't There the American Hardcore-styled documentary about the Chicago punk scene of the late 70s and early 80s. The film was an interesting attempt on the part of the film makers (along with local middle-aged scenesters/hipsters) to mark Chicago as an overlooked player in the the annals of punk rock history. Among the claims made in the film was that Chicago housed the first Punk Rock dance club in the United States, La Mere Vipere, which was basically just a gay bar whose DJs played songs from the Clash. When Le Mere Vipere burned down in the late 70s the local misfits and outcasts began gathering at clubs like OZ and O'Banion's and then eventually to a number of what are now Sports Bars in Chicago's northside Wrigleyville area like the Cubby Bear. The activity around these people and places is what the film claims to have constituted the Chicago punk rock scene of the late 70s/early 80s.

The one thing that I felt connected to in the film was their inclusion of the story of the Centro American Social Club, which was one of the venues where I dipped my toe in to test the waters of the Chicago punk scene during the summer of 1985 while I was still just a wide-eyed, small town 17 year old looking for some kicks. But as the film's testimonials (as well as its title) ironically suggests, the scene was over and done with by the time I came bumbling along. Instead, what I experienced in the summer of 1985 was a scene dominated by asshole meatheads and an overall attitude that was reminesent of the cafeteria clique postering that goes on in any high school in America: too much elitism, snobbery, attention-whoring and close-mindedness.

You Werent There rekindled this impression I originally had all those years ago, but what was really the most annoying aspect of the film was the film maker's not-so hidden agenda of trying to crowbar the forgotten Chicago punk scene of yesteryear into the Rock History landscape and then dismissing anyone who doubts its claims to fame with their "You Weren't There" elitism. But I have to wonder, if you have to tell everyone how great and important you are, then how great and important are you? You don't see the old geezers from the Minnesota scene tooting their own horns, do you? Or the old timers from the DC scene? So why do the old geezers from the Chicago scene have to do this? And by the way, its not just the so-called 50 year old "punks" from Chicago who have this annoying exclusetivity/self-important thing going on, I've seen this same trait amongst the LA and NY punk geezers as well. And in each case, it comes off as pathetic attention whoring and at BEST it might impress a few pimply-faced clueless teenyboppers for a second, but most intelligent people will see this for what it actually is. And it's basically just pretty pathetic. My advice to these old geezers is that you're not dead. It's fine to remember the past and tell the old stories, but once you begin to glorify it, then you start losing perspective and end up looking like a bunch of clueless old buffoons.

Despite all this, I still enjoyed the film. There was some fun music featured by Chicago-based punk bands like the Articles of Faith, Effigies, Naked Raygun, Rights of the Accused, The Subverts, Strike Under, Silver Abuse, Savage Beliefs, DV8, and Negative Element. There was also some amatuer photography and concert footage that documented the shows and scenesters of the time which I enjoyed. But in the end the predictable waxing poetic had the typical effect: an occasional funny anecdote here and there, but mostly just boring.


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