Review by Sammy thrashLife
“When you hear the applause, it brings you off the floor – to the average level that most people are at.”
Raymond Burns, better known as Captain Sensible, guitarist for The Damned has low self-esteem. The same could likely be said of all four original members of the British punk band formed in 1976. Save for a few brief hiatuses they’ve been playing in some incarnation to this day, despite having never enjoyed the kind of commercial success or paychecks garnered by their peers, most notably The Clash and the Sex Pistols. The curse of The Damned is the term their fans have coined when discussing it. Some members are dealing with the curse better than others.
Much of the film chronicling the band’s history is told by the members as they go about their lives in the present day. Walking around a flea market, drummer Chris Millar (better known as Rat Scabies) bitterly remarks to the film crew, “I don’t give a shit and I don’t give a shit about your documentary.” In a counter service Tex-Mex restaurant, Captain Sensible discovers that they’re all out of iced tea. “It’s the curse of The Damned,” he quips.
If you’re a fan of The Damned, this movie is obviously for you. Full disclosure: I am not. I mean, I like them more now than I did prior to watching the movie but that’s not important. The characters that make up The Damned are what make this film worthwhile. Petty disagreements, refusals to make amends, and maybe some misdirected royalties ensure that members shuffle in and out of the band (and then back in (and often back out)). These are everyday people with everyday problems. They just happen to have played a wildly influential role in the history of punk rock. They were the first British punk band to tour the US. They were the first British punk band to cut a single, to chart, to record an album. And while the Descendents or Green Day might owe more to bands like The Ramones or The Clash, The Misfits and AFI inarguably grew from seeds planted by The Damned.
What turned me off of the band as a kid, I discovered, is also what makes me appreciate them more after watching this film. As Fred Armisen comments, The Damned were arty oddballs. There were no politics in their lyrics. No message for social upheaval. They didn’t care about changing the world – they just wanted to play fast, play loud, get drunk, and have fun.
Well, initially anyway. This is a band that’s been through a lot of phases and it’s interesting to see how their approach and their music changed as the individuals did, and as time passed. Maybe it’s more accurate to say that The Damned were mostly about just doing whatever the fuck they wanted (which might explain the impulsive nature with which they seem to constantly quit and start again).
If you don’t give a shit about The Damned or about punk rock, I think you could enjoy The Damned: Don’t You Wish That We Were Dead in a purely sociological sense. But if you do like punk rock, well, interview subjects include Jello Biafra, Ian MacKaye, and Billy Idol, as well as members of The Clash, Sex Pistols, The Offspring, Circle Jerks, and The Melvins. Also, Pink Floyd and Depeche Mode but I’ve never heard of those two.
“The Damned: Don’t You Wish That We Were Dead” screens at Sun-Ray Cinema on April 28th at 7 pm.