Welcome back to Sound & Vision, the Rumpus profile series that spotlights the creative talents of those working behind the scenes in the music industry. When people think of punk, cities like London and New York spring to mind immediately. But in the ’80s punk also thrived in Washington, DC against the backdrop of the Reagan administration and the city’s reputation as the “murder capital” of the nation.
As a very young suburban teen, Scott Crawford fell in love with the punk scene, going to all-ages shows to see bands including Minor Threat, Bad Brains, and Fugazi, and documenting his favorites in his own fanzine called Metrozine. Through the ’90s Crawford went on to start two other zines focused on indie music, and in 2001 he also founded a music magazine called Harp. Harp folded in 2008 amid the economic crisis that swept the publishing industry, but its closure created an opportunity for Crawford to revisit his old love of DC punk as a first-time director of Salad Days: A Decade of Punk in Washington, DC (1980-1990). With long-time friend and collaborator Jim Saah serving as the film’s cinematographer and editor, Crawford interviewed musicians, label owners, activists, photographers, and writers to show how DC’s particular take on punk helped to shape independent music and popular culture in the decade the followed, and how its influence persists in today’s DIY music scene. We had a chance to talk about the film hours before its sold-out premiere at DOC NYC, New York’s Documentary Festival.
The Rumpus: Tell me how you first got introduced to the DC punk scene.
Scott Crawford: My good friend’s older sister introduced me—I was not even twelve at this point, so all I knew about punk was Billy Idol. Before I got into punk I was really into the new wave stuff like Haircut 100, Adam and the Ants, really horrible stuff. I already had a fascination with stuff that wasn’t on the radio, so it was kind of natural to fall into this punk stuff. But it also helped that I had a huge crush on my friend’s sister. I was just sit in her room, and she would say, “You have to hear this band, Scream, and she would play me Scream’s Still Screaming, and “Teenager in a Box” by Government Issue, and Minor Threat’s Out of Step. I remember it was so loud, and so fast, and hearing people say “fuck” was so great! From there I started hanging out at the two or three really good mom and pop record stores in town, and they were carrying all this stuff and they were great, turning me on to all kinds of crazy shit. My parents would drive me there on weekends and I would just hang out there and they’d play me all the latest 45’s.
Rumpus: Do you remember your first show?
Crawford: I do! It was in a club—actually it was just an old movie theater—and it was a band called Void.
Rumpus: Was it an all-ages show?
Crawford: Yes. Most of them were—I never had a fake ID. Most of the places that hosted these shows weren’t even bars. They were just holes in the wall, church basements or converted theaters, and there was no reason to keep kids out. I was one of the only kids, and I looked way younger than twelve, but there was no problem. As long as I got home before 1 a.m.—my curfew—my parents let me go on a long leash. Some kids get big into GI Joe, or Harry Potter, or sports. But for me it was punk. Once I started doing the fanzine, my parents saw me pursue my passion for the first time.
Rumpus: When you first started documenting what you heard and saw in Metrozine, whom did you imagine as your audience?
Crawford: In the beginning it was really just like a diary for me—and the writing was horrible, just what I was seeing and hearing. I borrowed freely from other zines—Flipside was a big one, also Maximum Rocknroll, and then there were a bunch of other local zines I loved like Truly Needy and Thrillseeker. But I remember thinking, “Oh, God! This only comes out once a year!” I couldn’t get enough so I thought I’d do a zine myself. I had interviews, record and show reviews, and pictures. I would stand outside of the shows and sell copies of Metrozine to other fans.
Rumpus: At what point did you meet up with Jim Saah?
Crawford: Jim was at many of the same shows. He had a zine too and I remember calling him up and asking if I could use some of the photos from his zine and he was so offended because I was like, “Oh, you don’t have to give me prints. I’ll just cut up your pictures!” He was like, “Fucking kid!” But that was just the spirit of it.
Rumpus: The Washington City Paper once did a feature on you and Metrozine—the feature photo for this interview was taken from that piece.
Crawford: Yeah, they did! I have a funny story about that. The photographer came to my door and said, “Hey, I’m here to take a picture of a punk rock kid.” And I was like, “Yeah, that’s me.” He was like, “Can we gel your hair up? Do you have any safety pins?” So I went in the bathroom and combed my hair as perfectly as I could to make it look super-neat just to piss him off.
Rumpus: Which is in its own way punk. But you’re raising an interesting point here because I notice most of the people in the film—the musicians and the audience—don’t look stereotypically “punk.”
Crawford: DC was really unique that way. You had some dudes with mohawks and stuff, but most of them were just college kids. There was a certain intellectual element there. These were the kids of pretty highly educated parents—suburban kids, private school kids.
Rumpus: Did the bands tour much, or were they concentrated mostly in the local scene?
Crawford: Often they’d do like eight or nine local shows, and then implode, and then maybe a year later they’d put out a record. That contributed to a certain mythology—there’s this band and they’re fucking great but you can’t see them anymore because they’ve already broken up and live on only in their recordings.
Rumpus: It’s fascinating how that works, and now amazing bands from decades ago get also get newly discovered through various cult reissue labels and documentaries like Salad Days. Do you think the bands being in constant flux contributed to or detracted from their success?
Crawford: Unless you were in a huge band like Black Flag or something you were not making any money—and even then you were sleeping on floors. Not even the label owners made money. For example. Ian Mackaye had like three part-time jobs while he was running Dischord for the first couple of years. No one was thinking there was going to be this huge payoff financially. It was all about the music. The community just kept growing, and people were invested in keeping it alive.
Rumpus: Throughout the ’80s you were deeply immersed in the DC punk scene as a participant and an archivist, but then you moved on to other zines and magazine projects documenting the indie music scene that followed. Had you maintained an archive of the punk stuff all along, or did you have to reconstruct it from scratch to tell the story we see in Salad Days?
Crawford: I lost a lot of stuff in various moves, but luckily I was still touch with a lot of people from the scene and I knew I would have access to videos, fanzines, and other artifacts. When my magazine Harp folded I came to Jim with the idea of doing the documentary. It took some convincing—he thought maybe it was too ambitious—but there was huge interest.
Rumpus: In addition to interviews with folks who helped to create the DC scene and were at its center—people like Ian MacKaye and Henry Rollins—Salad Days also includes the perspectives of others like George Pelecanos, Fred Armisen, and Thurston Moore. What led to your decision to include those voices?
Crawford: It was important to me to show how far reaching this music really was. In Pelecanos’s case, he’s a DC native so he experienced it first hand. Even though he was a casual observer of what was happening at the time, the music made an impression. It shows up in several of his books as part of the backdrop of the city in the ’80s.
Rumpus: Salad Days was crowdfunded via Kickstarter. When the film reached its goal, the Black Cat in DC hosted a party featuring DC punk legends Dag Nasty (the original line-up), Government Issue, Black Market Baby, and Kingface. Soulside are now planning to reunite for shows this month in conjunction with the DC premiere of the film. That’s really exciting—can you tell me a little more about how these shows came together?
Crawford: When we kicked off the Kickstarter campaign two years ago, we had an amazing lineup of bands get back together for the weekend and the spirit in the room was so amazing. Here we are almost two years later to the day, and I wanted to invite some more bands to come and celebrate. Soulside was always a favorite of mine—and haven’t shared the stage in over 25 years, so I think it’s going to be a pretty special weekend. Moss Icon was always an intense live band and remain so today. Who knows, I may even plug my guitar in and join them onstage for a song or two. Or maybe another band could show up and play. Wink.
Watch Dag Nasty play at the Black Cat in support of Salad Days:
Rumpus: One final question: Your film is called Salad Days after the eponymous song by Minor Threat, which is explicitly anti-nostalgic. You’ve also said in previous interviews that you don’t intend for this film to take a nostalgic tone. What’s wrong with nostalgia?
Crawford: Nothing’s wrong with nostalgia and that’s certainly a fun part about watching this film, or even just listening to the music you grew up with in your car; music that’s made such an impact on you. It feels good and it gives you goose bumps. But I just don’t want people to think I’m somehow saying this was the best that DC had to offer or that the best days are behind us. Jim’s son now plays in a punk band—he’s part of a whole new generation. My kids are still too young to play. I hope they will, but I also worry that they’ll grow up and become Republicans.
Salad Days will next be screened at the AFI Silver Theatre in Silver Spring, Maryland December 19th– 22nd. If you’re not in the DC area, you can still see Salad Days at other upcoming screenings, and in the meantime you can enjoy the film’s trailer:
Want more DC punk? In 1985, Metrozine and the legendary local punk label WGNS teamed up to release a 7″ compilation called Alive & Kicking featuring unreleased tracks by DC-area bands Gray Matter, United Mutation, Marginal Man, Beefeater, Cereal Killer, and Mission Impossible (featuring then 16-year-old Dave Grohl).
Here are two of the tracks:
1. Gray Matter’s “Walk the Line.” iPhone/iPad users click here.
2. United Mutation’s “Sensation Fix.” iPhone/iPad users click here.
Also, Dischord Records has just released Fugazi’s First Demo. The record includes eleven songs recorded at Inner Ear Studios in 1988, when the band had performed only ten shows. Here’s one of the tracks:
Fugazi’s “Waiting Room.” iPhone/iPad users click here.
First photo: Void (Credit: Jim Saah.)
Third Photo: Rites of Spring (Credit: Bert Queiroz/PR).
All other images courtesy of Scott Crawford.
This interview has been edited and condensed. If you’d like to recommend someone for “Sound & Vision,” drop Allyson a line here.