Spokane, WA is about as unlikely a place I can think of to have developed a thriving punk scene in the ‘80s. The city is about 300 miles east of Seattle, right on the Idaho border. Yet as the newly released DVD SpokAnarchy! shows, there was a very vibrant punk community in town during those years. But it was self-contained. In fact, even I though lived in Seattle, and knew a lot of local musicians, nobody was talking about Spokane. It was just off our radar I guess. The folks at Carnage and Rogue Films have produced an excellent documentary about the punk scene in Spokane 30 years ago with this movie. As the subtitle asks, “Where where you in '82?” I kind of wish I had spent some time in Spokane back then, because there was some great music being made there.
The film opens with some establishing shots of the city, and the endless prairies that surround it. A number of off-camera voices talk about the what life was like in the area back then. The most memorable description for me was “It’s the world’s largest hick town.” Such a sweeping generalization of a city is kind of hard to swallow, but these were the guys who were getting beaten up because of their haircuts, so the bitterness is understandable.
The broad strokes of what went on in Spokane are pretty similar to what was happening all over the country at the time. A small community of like-minded people developed, who were drawn together by the music. Bands would form, fanzines sprang up, and there would usually be a record store that everybody hung out in during the day. At night they would go to the shows.
The other side of the coin was “The Man.” Much like hippies in the ‘60s, punks were considered outright threats to the community. Clubs that catered to the music were shut down on the flimsiest of pretexts and getting beaten up by rednecks was a regular occurrence.
In the early '80s, the main punk club in Spokane was a converted garage shop, Moe’s Body Shop. Everybody just called it Moe’s, and it was evidently a pretty cool spot. It was a place where people could just hang out. Although just about every interviewee mentions that there was plenty of sex and drugs going on, nobody was getting hurt. They may have been hurting themselves with the drugs, and so much casual sex, but it’s not like they were burning down the neighborhood.
One night when the club was closed, some guys broke in. The night manager was there, and they beat him nearly to death. The thugs then stole all of the equipment. This was a shoestring operation, and the theft was a major blow. The newspaper coverage of it basically took the side of the hoods. Rather than detail the horrible facts of the case, the article ridiculed the punks and their music. The attitude was that they had it coming.
When Moe’s went under, a club called 1-2-3 Arts sprang up and acted as a community center for a lot of kids who had no place else to go. They lasted for a couple of years, and by that time most of the first generation of punks had hit the magic age of 21 and could go to bars. This was in the latter part of the decade, and by then, the bars had become somewhat more receptive to hiring punk bands, and things cooled out considerably.
But the magic had kind of evaporated by then. A lot of musicians realized that if they ever wanted a shot at anything resembling a career, it was not going to happen in Spokane. Consequently, a number of them moved. Even more devastating was the arrival of heroin. It destroyed a lot of lives, and this part of the film is the saddest, as various people discuss friends who succumbed to the drug and are no longer with us.
The film features over 30 interviews with both individuals and bands. Two of the band interviews are with Vampire Lezbos and Social Bondage. The guys are all drinking beer in a living room and seem to be having a great time reminiscing. There are too many individual interviews to list here, but one of the funniest is told by a guy who goes by the name of Bink Olney. He describes one of his favorite onstage antics as “Trying to puke ramen noodles on the audience by chugging salt-water.”
Besides the interviews, there is live footage from a number of bands, including Vampire Lezbos, Ze Krau, Silver Treason, Totally Fuckin’ Lit, and Sandy Duncan’s Eye. My personal favorite has to be the defiant Terror Couple’s “This is Spokane, Fuck L.A.” There are also some primitive videos, such as “Noisy Boys” by M’NA M’NA. This is introduced by a blow-dried George Michael-type guy and looks to have been aired on a public access program.
The ‘zine situation in town was pretty strong also. The first of these was called Spokane Sado, which looks to have been pretty cool. A couple of articles that flash by are “How to be a Punk” and “Are You Stupid? Just Answer These Questions.” I wish I could have seen the questions though. Another article I would like to read is headlined “I’d Fuck Stevie Nicks.”
One of the more interesting revelations comes toward the end of the 80-minute movie. As bands are discussing leaving town and booking their own tours around the country, they discover something interesting. In comparison to other similarly sized cities, what they had in Spokane was much stronger than what they thought. Comparatively speaking, it turns out that the punk community in “the world’s largest hick town” was far bigger than that of many others. The film ends on a sort of bittersweet note. Some remember those days as magical, others call them “the bad old days.” One thing is certain though, those years will never be forgotten by the people who were there.
Even though Spokane is at least figuratively in my back yard, I had no idea that there was such a cool punk scene going on there at the time. SpokAnarchy! is very well done and actually transcended the topic of punk rock for me. I think this film will appeal to anyone who has ever been ostracized for sticking to their own beliefs. It takes guts, especially when a whole town is gunning for you, and the newspaper applauds your attackers.
Bonus features on the DVD are outtakes, extras, and a slide show. The extras portion is basically just more outtakes, but all of them are pretty amusing, and worth watching, as is the film itself.