Moviate presents the region’s lone screening of Salad Days: A Decade of Punk in Washington, DC (1980-90) at Midtown Cinema in Harrisburg on February 15.
Minor Threat. Bad Brains. Government Issue. Fugazi. While each is widely regarded among punk music’s pioneers, there’s another common thread that runs through these bands – Washington, DC. By the mid-1980s, the nation’s Capital had emerged as the breeding ground for the punk scene as Reagan-era conservatism clashed against social discord fueled by a high murder rate and rising economic disparity. But as politicians and authority figures spent their days debating how to lower crime rates and joblessness, their kids were assembling en masse at clubs across the city, unknowingly the foundation upon which the punk scene would be built.
Scott Crawford was there. As a teenager, he established fanzines dedicated to covering the bands and punk community. Fast forward 30 years, Crawford – who has since enjoyed a career in journalism – is back at it, only this time as the writer and director of a new documentary, Salad Days: A Decade of Punk in Washington, DC (1980-90). Crawford partnered with photographer Jim Saah in creating the film, aiming to highlight not only the seminal punk bands that emerged from that place and time, but also, as described on the Salad Days website, to convey “DC’s original DIY punk spirit … as a reminder of the hopefulness of youth, the power of community and the strength of conviction.”
Salad Days debuted in December at the Black Cat in Washington DC, and is now making its rounds at independent theaters across the country for one-night-only screenings. In advance of Salad Days screening at the Midtown Cinema in Harrisburg on February 15, I called Crawford to reflect on his growth from producing fanzines as a kid to sitting face-to-face with punk royalty like Ian MacKaye, Henry Rollins and Dave Grohl.
Mike McMonagle: How does it feel to finally have the film finished and on the road?
Scott Crawford: It’s been a long road. But there’s been an amazing amount of momentum with the film. I had been saying for years to anyone who’d listen – Why hasn’t anyone made a film about this? It was just such a pivotal time to so many people, and for me. So to put it out there for the world to see on Kickstarter, and hope that people were as enthusiastic as I was, was great. We reached our Kickstarter goal in six days, which is crazy. That was a little over two years ago; it was September 2012 when we launched Kickstarter. And we’ve literally worked on this every day since. In one way or another, I’ve been working on this for the last four years.
MM: Hasn’t it been longer than four years? You were a teenager when you started the fanzines back in the ’80s.
SC: Good point. I guess if you look at it that way, I’ve been working on this for over 30 years.
MM: So the Kickstarter got funded. Now it’s time to actually get down to business. Where do you start?
SC: Everyone had their own experience from those days. The things that I took note of or were interested in may not be the same things that the guy next to me was interested in or paid attention to. So I realized halfway through that all I could do was just tell the stories that I knew or that I was most interested in or inspired by. If someone else wants to make their film about the stuff I left out, then please do. You could make a dozen films on that decade and still not cover everything.
MM: Did you make a statement up front that “this is my lens” or “this is Jim’s lens”?
SC: I didn’t use those words, but I’m in the film. Jim shot the whole thing, so he’s in there as well. I felt like it was important to put us in there just for context, to kind of give us that license. People are going to say we left out this band or that band. But when you have 100 minutes, there’s only so much you can do. I tried to come up with creative ways to have a lot of bands at least visually represented in the film, if not by name.
MM: So here you are as an adult doing face-to-face interviews with the same bands a much younger version of you was covering in your fanzine. Did you have any “holy shit” moments along the way in which you found yourself being a fan once again?
SC: When you’re a kid, you don’t have that journalistic perspective that this person shits just like you do. You have them up on this huge pedestal. But it wasn’t like “holy shit.” It was just nice to be in the same room as these people who had inspired me and who I had such fond memories of. In some cases, I did acknowledge it. I interviewed people that I had negative experiences with as a kid, so it was really important for me to go back and talk to them. You know, when you’re this teenaged, angsty kid, your view of things isn’t always correct. So to have the chance to go back and talk to these people, I got to realize that in many cases, it wasn’t the way I remembered it.
“I just wanted to document a scene that was meaningful to me. But I also wanted to show that this happened 30 years ago without the Internet, without any kind of corporate support or infrastructure, but by a bunch of kids. And if it could happen then, it can happen now.”
MM: Did you learn anything new about yourself?
SC: It was interesting learning peoples’ perception of me as a teenager. You’re obviously different 30 years later, so to get that perspective was really fascinating to me. I’d always just thought I was this annoying kid that was just hanging around and making a nuisance of myself. But to hear these people say, “No, we were always looking out for you. We’d always say ‘Where’s little Scott? Is he good?’” And these were people that I looked up to, people in bands. I just didn’t know that that was happening at the time. When I look back now, I realize of course they were, or else I would have gotten myself into some pretty fucked up situations.
MM: I’ve heard the punk scene described as a community, as a way of life. Does Salad Days examine that at all?
SC: I didn’t want this movie to be a bunch of people coming around being like, “Man, those were the best days…” Back then, D.C. was really unique in a lot of ways – and that’s an understatement – but socio-economically speaking, a lot of the kids in the punk scene were the kids of lobbyists, lawyers, politicians. Important people. Not working class, but white collar. So I tried to take a look at that in the film and see how that reflects in the music. I tried to explore the city as well; it was a very different city. It was a shithole. There was a lot of crime. The downtown area was just really depressing and blighted.
MM: Could this have happened in any other city at that time, or was there something extra special about D.C. that made it the ideal breeding ground?
SC: I could be biased, but I think there was something special. There are some arguments made as to why in the film. But what was happening here was very specific to D.C. There was a certain intellectual component lyrically and in terms of the music. The band a lot of us looked up to is Bad Brains. They raised the bar pretty high. So if that’s your big influence, you spend the rest of the decade trying to outdo them. Think about that musically. Bad Brains were incredible musicians. They were really the first punk band to come out of here in a major way. So you have every band from Minor Threat to Dag Nasty and so on that use them as their measuring stick for what punk should sound like, look like, feel like.
MM: Was it that competitive from band to band?
SC: I don’t think it was a negative thing. But musically speaking, I think there was a sense of let’s make this the best music it can be. Let’s make it real. Let’s not fuck around. Let’s not waste it.
MM: Did you and Jim have an “artist statement” in creating Salad Days?
SC: We didn’t have an actual statement. But there are some things we hope people take away from it. I just wanted to document a scene that was meaningful to me. But I also wanted to show that this happened 30 years ago without the Internet, without any kind of corporate support or infrastructure, but by a bunch of kids. And if it could happen then, it can happen now. Your best days don’t have to be behind you. I’m in my 40s now, but I don’t look back and view those as my glory days. Your best days can be now.
MM: Do you think today’s punk scene reacts to current situations in society the way the D.C. punk scene was reacting to the societal issues at that time?
SC: It was easy to rally behind this music and this culture when you had Ronald Reagan in office; he really represented everything that you were hopefully fighting against. It’s not quite as easy when you have someone like Obama in office, but there are clearly things that he’s doing that can be talked about, written about, shouted about. I think now with the Internet it’s become easier to kick those messages out there, much easier than it was back then.
MM: Punk music and the punk scene seem to have a reputation for being polarizing, in a societal sense.
SC: Is it polarizing anymore? I don’t really know if it is. I think it was back then. The first part of the film explores this. Guys like Henry Rollins and Ian MacKaye were getting their asses kicked on a daily basis – guys getting out of their car, coming up to them, beating the shit out of them, getting back in the car and driving off. Simply because of the way they looked. Thankfully that’s not happening, at least I don’t think it’s happening. But it was really a commitment to look that way. At that point, just shaving your head or wearing combat boots was enough to get your ass kicked. But I think that’s the point of punk rock – it’s supposed to be loud, it’s supposed to be played with urgency and passion. So there’s always going to be a segment of society that that polarizes. And thank god for that.
Salad Days comes to the Midtown Cinema (250 Reily St., Harrisburg) on Sunday, February 15. 7pm. All ages. $5. Click here for tickets.