I'd first heard about David Markey's "My Career as Jerk" via Facebook. If you're not familiar with the guy, Markey is the director responsible for such crucial flicks as the Black Flag documentary, "Reality 86'd" (restored to YouTube here) and "Desperate Teenage Lovedolls." He's also responsible for a little movie called "1991: The Year that Punk Broke" (the titular irony lost on many), which covered Sonic Youth's emergence from the underground with a fledgling Nirvana in tow. I must shockingly confess to never having seen that film (apologies, Mr. Markey, but it's only recently become available on DVD). By the same token, as much I have a lot of love for Sonic Youth, I'm kinda sick to death of the deification of Nirvana.
Anyway, when I heard he was working on a documentary about the Circle Jerks -- one of my former "favorite all-time bands" -- I practically started frothing at the mouth. At last, someone was finally paying attention to what I consider to be one of the greatest bands of the hardcore era. I realize that assertion doesn't put me out on too many limbs, but in the rapturous rush to praise (entirely worthy) bands like Black Flag, Minor Threat and Bad Brains, it strikes me that the Circle Jerks frequently get overlooked.
I've talked about my indoctrination into the faith of the Circle Jerks a couple of times here already, so I won't bore you with all that again, but suffice to say when my friend Brad O'Sullivan played me their amazingly fast, visceral music for the first time, it practically blew a new part in my hair and made the Generation X and Adam & the Antz records I was otherwise listening to at the time sound flaccid by comparison. Practically overnight, I was scrawling the Circle Jerks logo on school blackboards, textbooks and backpacks like a zealot (which didn't exactly endear me to the uninitiated, who were legion). Outside of a tiny gaggle of my friends, nobody seemed to know -- much less care -- about the Circle Jerks, whereas I thought they were practically *gods*.
In any case, Markey's film dives right in, tracing the backstory of the band via first person accounts by Keith Morris, Lucky Lehrer, Greg Hetson and a fistful of other SoCal hardcore scenesters of the era. As documentaries go, it's pretty straightforward, but in terms of subject matter, it's so refreshing to see the story of this band treated with respect, reverence and an observance to detail. Even the band's gradually less crucial years are covered with a thorough eye. If, like me, you too were a geeky teenage weirdo obsessed hardcore, you really owe it to yourself to see this movie.
Not too long after I'd first discovered the Circle Jerks, I started reading the name of this Minnesota band called the Replacements who were vaguely trading in the same circles. But it wasn't until the 1984 release of Let It Be, their third proper LP (well, technically, fourth if you count Stink), that I seriously investigated them. Inspired by Let It Be's now-iconic cover (a simple photograph of the gents in the band -- all denim, Chuck Taylors and unwashed hair -- hanging out on a rooftop), I picked up the LP (records were still cheap enough to do that in 1984). That might sound like a crazy reason to buy a record, but it had worked before; that same year, I picked up Ride the Lightning by Metallica based solely on the fact that the on the back cover, guitarist Kirk Hammett was wearing a Discharge t-shirt. Both Ride the Lightning and Let It Be swiftly became (and remain) two of my favorite albums of all time, albeit for very different reasons.
Blah blah blah...like droves of other hardcore heads, rock dorks, record store geeks and indie hipsters-in-training, I too fell head over heels in love with Let It Be. It ended up being strikingly different (endearingly so) from the narrow, slovenly hardcore I'd been expecting (although "We're Comin' Out" covered that department in spades). The Replacements were entirely more versatile, adventurous, ambitious and, frankly, IMPORTANT than any hardcore band. They weren't making music for any particular scene. They made music for themselves. That fact that anyone else outside the band liked it or not was incidental, which is probably why all their records (even the weaker, later ones) still hold up today.
Fervor for the Replacements is significantly more widespread, so when I first heard that they were making a documentary about the band, I wasn't at all surprised in the manner I'd been upon hearing about the Circle Jerks movie. Gorman Bechard's "Color Me Obsessed," however, is an entirely different type of film than "My Career as a Jerk." For a start, the surviving members of the Replacements themselves do not appear in the film outside of a (surprisingly) few, fleeting photographs. There is no concert footage. Not a single song by the band is featured in the movie. Not one.
Instead, the film is more like a lengthy oral history as recounted by friends, fans, writers, hangers-on and more windy rock critics than you can shake a middle-finger at, each of them lovingly unspooling yarn upon yarn about the band's fabled exploits, their remarkable music, their stinging (under)achievements and their enduring legacy. I suppose I respect Bechard's strict adherence to the concept and structure of the film, but even halfway into it, I felt pangs of unsatisfaction (see what I did there?). My thirst for palpable nourishment went entirely unslaked. While I do harbor respect for cats like Robert Christgau, Jim Derogatis, the disarmingly frail looking Grant Hart and that beardy dude from Titus Adronicus, I was expecting something a little more than their rose-tinted ruminations. While I'm glad I saw it, I didn't really come away from "Color Me Obsessed" feeling like I'd learned anything new about the band. If I wanted to hear people wax rhapsodic about how great the Replacements were, I can call up any number of friends of mine.
Adding insult to injury, I probably should have saved my money and not bought "Color Me Obsessed," as the entire film is on YouTube. Watch it here: