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At a time when CBGB exists only as a St. Marks retail shop and what passes for a punk icon is a Good Charlotte schmuck who could very well be Nicole Richie’s baby daddy, what kind of asshole puts out a film called Punk’s Not Dead? Turns out those assholes are none other than Rancid’s Tim Armstrong, an associate producer on this rockumentary, and erstwhile D.C. punk photographer Susan Dynner, the film’s director and producer—thankfully, people who know the difference between the Stranglers and Green Day.
High Fidelity bickering aside, Punk’s Not Dead isn’t as defensive or scrappy as its disagree-and-I’ll-gore-you-with-my- mohawk title suggests. Dynner doesn’t have delusions about the current state of punk—as Pennywise guitarist Fletcher Dragge points out, when you dye your hair green in 2007, “you’re not scaring your mom, your mom takes you to get it.” So what follows the obligatory punk-for-norms lesson—delivered by the likes of Henry Rollins, Ian MacKaye, Legs McNeil, and a hilarious Phil Donahue episode—is a documentary that’s more about the enduring lifestyle of basement shows, crust-punk houses, and aging rebels than the music. And that can be fascinating stuff.
For one, Dynner doesn’t ignore punk’s never-ending contradictions. How can you sing about the injuries of class and be sponsored by Vans? (Pennywise’s Dragge on the Warped Tour: “When Target came in, it really upset us, and we almost thought about not doing it. But then: ‘Hey, I shop at Target all the time!'”) When Avril Lavigne’s Sum 41 husband admits that he has to call his band “pop-punk,” not punk, so his heroes won’t make fun of him, you have to wonder how a subculture formed as a refuge for the excluded became so exclusive.
Where Punk’s Not Dead comes up short is on the bigger questions. A community founded on rebellion, anger, and studded leather has lasted for more than 30 years, but what has it actually changed? The only answer present here: Now there’s Hot Topic.