The long-awaited documentary of punk rock progenitors THE DAMNED by Wes Orshoski. Known for his previous work with ‘Lemmy’ this opens on a similar theme; that of tragic recording artists with a perceived poignancy to the tale. In this case, THE DAMNED’s seeming lack of ‘mainstream attention’, which I guess must be an American perspective.
The flick starts at the Punk Rock Bowling Festival with vox pops from punks who don’t seem to know much about them outside of Lemmy being a one-time player. The then oft trotted out description of ‘Prog’ and ‘Stadium Rock’ describes the era that spawned punk, with a somewhat ironic visual backdrop of THE DAMNED playing a stadium-size punk event.
Talking heads run you through some thoughts, with appearances from the likes of Jack Grisham of T.S.O.L., Mick Jones of THE CLASH and the omnipresent Ian MacKaye (“These songs are gospel in many ways to me”), although mainstays Henry Rollins and Dave Grohl are for some reason absent.
Captain Sensible takes you around where he used to work and first met Rat Scabies (“What a job eh? Hanging around toilets all day.”) They talk of ‘The Curse of THE DAMNED’ (don’t most hands claim to have this?) and slowly but surely the story unfolds.
The chaotic 1979 West Coast U.S. tour is covered, that was seen by many as the seed that spawned the speed of West Coast punk compared to everywhere else. The gobbing and the pints thrown at the band to this day, and the ‘conveyor belt of bass players’ sets out the chronology.
The classic early albums and singles are talked about, before moving onto the expansion of the band’s sound with ‘The Black Album’ and beyond, with the addition of keyboards, frilly shirts, and two members of early South Wales punk band VICTIMIZE to the fold, charting a musical course that seems not unlike THE WHO of the punk generation.
The film adds some bitterness to its tale via a defensive and aggressive Rat Scabies, who the years don’t seem to have mellowed. He protests about being accused of ripping his fellow band members off for years over licensing and publishing, while other original ex-member Brian James is more philosophical. The two then embark on a live jaunt to France to play ‘Damned Damned Damned’ with Texas Terri on vocals.
There’s a whole host of on-stage and back stage shenanigans, candid chats and goofing off with the band in its present form of Vanian, Sensible, two members of the ENGLISH DOGS 90’s line-up and a bloke called Monty Oxymoron who looks like he just got off keyboards from a recent SPINAL TAP tour.
Some of the most interesting stuff here is for some reason confined to the ‘Extras’. With the tale of fleeting member Henry Badowski, and a fascinating insight into the ‘Anarchy Tour’, where THE DAMNED were apparently enlisted to headline as an already established ticket selling band, but soon excluded by subterfuge once the Bill Grundy show was aired.
Jake Riviera from Stiff Records and others involved shed some light on the manipulation of Malcolm McLaren and Bernie Rhodes, where the members of the other bands were told not to speak to THE DAMNED (although not all complied). These ‘Extras’ probably left out due to their controversial nature, make for some of the most interesting.
Ultimately, without THE STOOGES and ‘Three Stooges’ inspired horror mash-up of the early DAMNED, punk rock would’ve sounded a lot different, with the likes of T.S.O.L. (and those they went on to influence such as THE OFFSPRING) to GOVERNMENT ISSUE, and even the fashion sense of people such as Mike Ness of SOCIAL DISTORTION and THE MISFITS, punk rock would’ve also looked a lot different without them.
It says something that after forty years of anarchy, chaos and destruction, THE DAMNED are still out there in some form to this day, and this flick serves as a necessary Curtain Call for the story of THE DAMNED for audiences old and new. Play it at your sister.