XXXAll AgesXXX: The Boston Hardcore Film (Review)
(By way of disclosure, I basically missed the vintage period of Boston hardcore. My first all ages punk show was at the Channel in late ’84: Hüsker Dü headlined and New Haven’s little-recalled Sorry supported, and no, I don’t really care enough to check the date).
My overall impression of “All Ages” is that it might be worthwhile to people who were already interested in the era, but fails to convey the adrenaline-raging spirit of those times for several reasons. Least excusable is the decision to present 90 minutes of footage, supposedly on the subject of a live music scene, without allowing even one song to play uninterrupted from start to finish. Not one studio track, not one live performance. Hardcore songs were not very long. Someone could have said something. Jerry’s Kids’ soul-gutting classic “I don’t belong here” plays under two minutes, while “All Ages” includes at least two minutes of the middle-aged Choke (Negative FX singer) talking banal crap about making flyers, his personal feelings and other irrelevancies. The small group of people who went to those early hardcore shows were there for musical action, not to sit around and philosophize about “what does it all mean?”
The doc is also twice as long as it really should be and half an hour longer than it would have to be to work on television. Bad move. Blowing it up with filler is not likely to make “All Ages” a theatrical blockbuster.
My final grievance against the film is the unexplained absence of SS Decontrol guitarist “Lethal” Al Barile from the scores of experts interviewed. Lethal was undisputedly a central character in Boston hardcore, and is referred to so many times in “All Ages” you’d think there should be a disclaimer saying he’s still alive, or something. This is weak journalism. You have to at least speak with your primary sources. Lethal lives less than twenty miles from downtown Boston and I doubt it would take me more than half a day to find him if I was drunk with one arm tied behind my back, in fact I know he doesn’t move around as fast as he used to. If I called him to request an interview and he never got back to me, or explicitly declined, I’d go find him and ask again. If I found him sick on his deathbed, I’d ask for a phone interview. If he declined again, I’d whip out my camera and “sandbag” that ailing hard man.
“All Ages” most winning material is the photography, much of the best by Phil In Phlash. When I went to hardcore shows as a teen, I’d sometimes wonder how disturbed my parents might be if they saw the ritual going down; the shaved heads, the simulated riot on the dance floor, played out to deafening music largely limited to blistering speed and expressions of anger. Looking at Phlash’s pics now, I know my folks would have understood those kids were having a damn good time, and it was THEIR time. No one told the Boston crew how or when to rock. The music and the kids who supported it were the same thing.
Respect is also due to skate punk Jake Phelps for remembering two lynchpins who are no longer living: Mitch, the debonaire owner of the Rathskeller who, absent a working trachea, used to ask me “HOW OLD ARE YOU?” with his electronic voice box, and my friend Mr. Butch, king of the Kenmore Square hoboes.
Some of the music is better than it gets credit for, too. DYS and Deep Wound, for example, have some great songs. I remember hearing the first DYS record in the olden days and thinking it was so bad that I never even listened to “Wolfpack,” or not until 20 years later. When you don’t pay attention, good things pass you by real quick.