South Bay pop-punk group Descendents are, by far, the best band to ever exist. Perhaps that sounds like hyperbole, but consider this: When done properly, rock 'n' roll is nothing more than adolescent rage on wax and no one ever captured the frustration of being a teenager better than songs such as “Parents,” “I'm Not a Loser,” “I'm Not a Punk,” “Suburban Home,” “Hope,” “I Don't Want to Grow Up,” “Silly Girl,” “Sour Grapes,” “Get the Time,” “Coolidge” and “Clean Sheets.”
So, as you can tell, it's about time someone told the band's story, which is what a team of four people did. The result is Filmage: The Story of Descendents/ALL, a documentary detailing not only Descendents, but also ALL, the group formed by three-fourths of the final Descendents lineup.
Simply put, Filmage rules and you should see it. The film is being shown twice Sunday at the Art Theatre of Long Beach, but you can't go because there was a raffle for tickets and the raffle is over. Thankfully, Filmage editor/co-producer James Rayburn says the movie should be online and on DVD in the recent future.
One person interviewed for the film is original Descendents bass player Tony Lombardo, who plays on the group's first two full-lengths (Milo Goes to College and I Don't Want to Grow Up and the Fat EP). The 68-year-old — who quit the band in 1985 — has lived in Lakewood for nearly 30 years and retired from the United States Postal Service in 2005. Considering I am a bass player from the South Bay (and that Lombardo is my bass hero), I had to talk to him regarding Filmage. Here's a snippet of what he had to say about the film (which he has yet to see) and his time in the legendary punk group.
OC Weekly (Ryan Ritchie):Bill Stevenson and Frank Navetta were teenagers and you were 34 when you started jamming. Did the age difference create problems for you or the other band members?
Lombardo: Because of where I was in my life, I was not fully mature and (because of) the music I loved, it really was no problem for me. I was never a hang-out guy, anyway. As far as the whole punk scene, I don't know if you're familiar with the song “I'm Not a Punk.” I remember playing this one show in Redondo Beach — there was something about punkers destroying the bathroom — that whole thing turned me off. I just wanted to play the music and do it as best I could and I had a lot of fun doing that.
Your songs such as “Suburban Home” and “I Don't Want to Grow Up” take on a different meaning given the age you wrote them at.
My memory is shaky on this, but based on how I feel today, I would write a song like “I Don't Want to Grow Up” like, “I don't want to grow up because I don't want to be like certain adults that were negatively influencing the world.” Not just I want to be a kid and live like a kid. I don't want to grow up to be like you. And “Suburban Home?” I think I wanted to get lost in suburbia, rather than embrace suburbia. I live in suburbia now and I'm still the black sheep on the block. I'm single. No kids. No barbecues. No picnics. My neighbors are hardcore Christians. Nobody bothers me. I couldn't stand to live on a place like Melrose, where all the cool people are coming by whenever they want, just dropping in. It's like “I'm Not a Punk.” I want to be my own person.
According to the film, Frank and Bill overheard you playing in a garage and asked you to jam.
Frank's brother lived three or four houses away from me. I would play in the garage with the door open. One day they came by and said they needed a bass player. That's my recollection — I've heard other takes of it. I was listening to Rodney on the ROQ and I probably was goofing around and trying to see if I could come up with anything original. I might try to do another person's song, which I've never been that good at picking things up quickly. It was random, but it was uncannily fortuitous from the standpoint of how much chemistry we had musically together. I'm not saying we were so virtuoso or anything like that — Frank was Frank, Bill was Bill and I was me and together it was the Descendents. There was something chemical there that just happened to work out.
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What's with the rumor that you, Bill and Frank recorded before Frank's passing?
We recorded some of my songs in 2006 at the Blasting Room. In 2002, we recorded a whole bunch of songs — mostly Frank's songs. He was a great songwriter. He had such a unique EQ out of his amp. When we recorded later in 2008, we did some more of my songs, but Frank wasn't there for that. We tried to recreate that unique Frank sound. I'd like to think of these as songs that if the Descendents had stayed together, this is what we would have sounded like. Those are in Bill's hands. Milo has said from the get-go that he would record it, but he hasn't yet.
In the film, you said leaving the band was a mistake and that you'd still do it if you could.
In 1985, when Bill came to me and said he had lined up a U.S. tour, I had just bought a house, I had been working at the post office for three years and I was engaged to a woman who I never did marry. Not doing that (the tour) was the biggest mistake of my life because I think, “Wow. I could have exhausted my creative potential into the band.” I'd like to think we would have moved into a punk/jazz direction, like “Tonyage.” I guess most people say they have no regrets in life. Yes, I still do regret that. I will always regret that. It was my insecurities. To go on the road, to leave this woman, my house, my job…I wasn't a 17-year-old kid who could say, “Bye, mom. I'm off.” It's goodbye to this woman I'm engaged to, goodbye to this house I put $40,000 on, goodbye to this job I've had for three years.
Was there talk of you writing and recording but not touring?
No one brought that up. I don't think I would have liked that either. Playing in front of people is the fruition of everything that comes before. Even more than records. Playing live, you get that immediate feedback from people.
The film gets into something most people don't know, which is the band has strong ties to Long Beach.
I was from the South Bay, but I moved to go to Cal State Long Beach. We practiced there and that's where we met. It's 9th and Walnut. In the beginnings, our origins were in Long Beach, but as we kept on we gravitated toward the South Bay. I live in Lakewood now. I've lived here for almost 30 years.
Why aren't you attending the screenings?
I'm kind of a private person. I heard something about panels. I feel irrelevant because it's been so long since I've been a part of it. I'm a novelty. A lot of people have never seen me. They don't know what I look like and they wouldn't know it was me playing unless someone said it was me. I don't want that attention. I don't feel it's deserved, even though I respect it. I haven't seen the film. I've seen the trailers. I'll see it online sometime or something.