For Los Angeles punk rockers, the sprawl of the city and the swaths of freeways gave punks from all parts of the city–the Valley to the South Bay– opportunities to merge and mosh. When sixteen year old Dave Travis’ dad gave him a video camera, Dave began documenting the flourishing scene, and out of thousands of hours of footage comes A History Lesson Pt 1 which links four bands that helped shape modern American music.
SST Records was a pivot point for punk music, with a roster of acts and a flourishing touring network. In A History Lesson Pt 1, we meet four different acts associated with SST: The Meat Puppets, the Minutemen, Twisted Roots and Redd Kross. Live footage–including full length songs–is interspersed with interviews from the bands. The anarchistic roots of SST are clear in the story of the Meat Puppets–the band shared a bill with SST’s Black Flag in Phoenix and was invited to open for them in Costa Mesa, CA. The Meat Puppets’ country-tinged psychedelic punk jams caused a riot a the club; surf-soaked hard core fans just couldn’t wrap their heads around the jams. The musical anarchy appealed to Black Flag guitarist/SST founder Greg Ginn, who immediately signed the Meat Puppets to his label.
For Paul Roessler of Twisted Roots, it was always more about musical anarchy than political anarchy. The band featured Paul Roessler, singer Maggie Ehrig and Paul’s sister Kira. Kira moved on to bass with Black Flag and formed Dos with Mike Watt of the Minutemen and FIREHOSE. Twisted Roots’ lineup at various times included Dez Cadena who also played in Black Flag, the Misfits and Redd Kross, as well as former Germs guitarist Pat Smear, who eventually joined Nirvana and the Foo Fighters, furthering SoCal’s cross pollination, family ties and influence on modern music.
A History Lesson Pt 1‘s footage is from 1984, the year the Minutemen’s seminal album Double Nickles on the Dime was recorded and released. Double Nickles is considered one the most important albums of the 1980s. Vocalist-guitarist D. Boon was killed in a van accident in late 1985, and A History Lesson Pt 1 provides us with some of the most inspiring compelling footage of this graceful musical and philosophical giant, while Mike Watt spiels tales of the band’s history.
The footage of Redd Kross includes Vicki Peterson before she joined the Bangles. Redd Kross were in many ways an anachronism to the SST aesthetic; the McDonald brothers–who formed the band while still in middle school– offer up that they were leery of joining the SST family because of what they perceived as a cultish mindset. More glitter-pop and younger than than other SST bands, Redd Kross were entranced with rock and roll glamor, Saturday morning cartoons and pop music. They appeared in Dave Markey‘s films Desperate Teenage Lovedolls and Lovedolls Superstar and other mainstream films, including Grace of My Heart with Matt Dillon. Steve McDonald has played bass for Carole King, Beck, Sparks, White Strips and Tenacious D and his brother Jeff has produced several bands.
A History Lesson Pt 1 provides a look at a creative community of artists unified by a sense of outsider-ness and love of music who defied conventional societal norms and through their unique self-determination opened the floodgates and minds to new musical forms, inspiring not only bands, but artists, writers, and fans to do it–whatever “it” is– themselves.