Strange Days Indeed

The Gipper, Tricky Dick, American Hardcore, The U.S. vs. John Lennon and deja vu all over again

"On the one hand, it's awesome that kids are diving into this and validating the music of my youth," he says. "On the other, get your own fucking music."

He pauses.

"All kidding aside, the only point I'd like to draw with hardcore then and hardcore now is there was always a political aspect, a political intent, passive or overt, depending on your band. Show me a highly political, anti-establishment, dangerous hardcore band today. That's what hardcore is."

His book drives that point home in its opening chapter, "Living in Darkness," which includes a flier with "HARDCORE" in militaristic capital letters and a portrait of Ronnie and Nancy Reagan—both bald—standing in front of an Oval Office window with a mushroom cloud off in the distance. The following text runs alongside the illo:

Ronald Reagan, another product of Southern California, won the presidency in 1980. He was the galvanizing force of Hardcore—an enemy of the arts, minorities, women, gays, liberals, the homeless, the working man, the inner city, et cetera. All "outsiders" could agree they hated him.

Early in the film, we see the full swearing-in of Reagan at his first inauguration in January 1981.

"In the early '80s, there was a new order," Vic Bondi of the Chicago band Articles of Faith says into the camera. "The Ronald Reagan white man order is coming back. We had that puppet Jimmy Carter, the feminists, Negroes getting uppity. The whole country goes into this really puerile '50s fantasy. The cardigan sweaters. And we were just like, 'Fuck you. Fuck you. Not us. You can take that and shove it up your ass.'"

Hardcore's violent reputation—the very thing that drew kids to it in the first place—had the most to do with the scene imploding. Great bands like Bad Brains couldn't deal and gravitated to new sounds. Others couldn't sustain music careers as cops shut down venues. And then there was the clichéd self-destruction amid drugs, prison stretches, nagging spouses and the ravages of Old Man Time. But, as American Hardcore contends, Reagan's re-election sucked the spirit out of hardcore.

Near the end of the film, we see the full swearing-in of Reagan at his second inauguration in January 1985.

"The first time was unbelievable," Dave Dictor of the San Francisco/Austin, Texas, band Millions of Dead Cops tells the camera. "The second time was very disillusioning. Punk rock fragmented into many scenes."

It is still fragmented.

"One thing that has been very distressing these last few months is looking at MySpace and seeing the incredible number of Christian hardcore and deathmetal bands," Blush says. "It is staggering; there are hundreds and hundreds of them. That, to me, is scary. The one thing in hardcore was that everyone pretty much hated church and state. Every major hardcore band was blasted by evangelicals as the work of Satan. That churches have coopted this music makes me think we were right in the day, because to coopt punk rock to sell Jesus is pure evil."

AMERICAN HARDCORE AND THE U.S. VS. JOHN LENNON WILL BE REVIEWED IN NEXT WEEK'S FILM SECTION.

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