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Punk’s Not Passed

It was Black Flag squatting in a dilapidated church. Darby Crash muttering his classic “puzzled panther” musings. A coked-up Ozzy cooking an egg, or the infamous scene of W.A.S.P. guitarist Chris Holmes chugging straight vodka from his swimming pool as his mother looks on. Director Penelope Spheeris’ iconic Decline of Western Civilization series of documentaries were fly-on-the-wall portraits of [...]
Kevin J. Elliott

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It was Black Flag squatting in a dilapidated church. Darby Crash muttering his classic “puzzled panther” musings. A coked-up Ozzy cooking an egg, or the infamous scene of W.A.S.P. guitarist Chris Holmes chugging straight vodka from his swimming pool as his mother looks on.
Director Penelope Spheeris’ iconic Decline of Western Civilization series of documentaries were fly-on-the-wall portraits of the Los Angeles’ subcultures in full bloom—and in mid-decay.

But for the longest time, save the occasional midnight screening or happened upon bootleg VHS copy, the Decline films and their raw portrayal of the burgeoning punk and metal scenes were never given their proper due in the age of the DVD. That’s all about to change with the Shout! Factory re-issues of the entire trilogy, filled with hours and hours of extras giving Spheeris a closure to her work. There were no copyright issues or finagling with bands wanting a chunk of change in their twilight years—it was simply a matter of Spheeris feeling instinctively unnerved at watching her life pass before her. It was footage she couldn’t handle watching.

Speaking with a very confident and still invigorated Spheeris, it was apparent she knows her arena as a filmmaker. Despite being responsible for hits such as Wayne’s World, Black Sheep, and, to a lesser degree, The Little Rascals, it’s the Decline films that have become her calling card and life’s work. The only way to convey her enthusiasm about her upcoming visit to the Wexner Center to introduce the landmark first film is through our brief, but enlightening conversation.

Growing up around a lot of cultural shifts, during The Decline of Western Civilization, you were in your mid-30s. Were you a part of that scene? What drew you to document that particular punk scene in Los Angeles?

I had been going to those punk clubs. I was definitely a part of the scene and I knew most of the people in the movie before I decided to make a movie. I was older, but I think I was still working out my childhood issues and I saw their childhood issues and decided to make a film about it.

Speaking of childhoods, I truly feel that the film shaped the way I appreciate music and what I appreciate, so that’s a really good answer.

Good. That’s good to hear.

I guess the same question is relevant for The Decline of Western Civilization II: The Metal Years, which was made seven years later. Were you equally attracted to the metal scene in Los Angeles, or were you just playing the role of documentarian?

I’ll have to be honest with you. I was going to those clubs too. I wouldn’t have made that movie if I wasn’t a part of that scene as well. I’m ashamed to admit that I was a part of that scene.

You shouldn’t be ashamed. I think in a lot of ways, those first two films were blueprints for their respective scenes, or genres. Especially The Metal Years, where putting a band like London up against clips of Ozzy and Kiss posed an interesting juxtaposition.

I haven’t talked about this much, because with these re-releases I didn’t want to watch any of it. I was forced to watch this again. I couldn’t handle it. But when I look at them I see so many aspects of attitude and style and trends that are still prevalent to everyday life. When I filmed them, they were unique.

Just the jargon even, the language… the word “headbanging” for instance. I love the part when the audience members are explaining to you just exactly what “headbanging” entailed.

Yeah. I think that was eventually a cemented part of our culture with the “Bohemian Rhapsody” scene in Wayne’s World. At the same time, it kind of killed the authenticity of something that was once an honest part of a culture.

I didn’t want to even touch Wayne’s World and just focus on the Decline films, but I do think that for you, Wayne’s World may have been this zenith of punk and metal—like your ironic raspberry towards what was then considered “alternative.”

I think I got to do Wayne’s World because of The Metal Years. There wasn’t anyone else who was a director in Hollywood who knew anything about that music either way. Plus I knew Lorne Michaels. It changed my life. I kind of wished I hadn’t made it only because I could have made the films I wanted to make but then I would’ve been broke. But yeah, it pokes fun at a lot from my past.”

For me, seeing the original Decline was a sort of cultural gauntlet. I was 13 and watching from a dubbed VHS copy. Did you have the foresight when you made it that it could be that type of landmark for that scene and that music?

Well there was a guy in Singapore the other day who asked me how the kids in the third Decline could have seen the first Decline since it wasn’t available, but you just explained it. What happened was, even though it wasn’t available it became an underground contraband and established it that way.

Is there any kind of subculture or counter-culture that you see currently that is vital? Something that you would like to expose or document? What is IV?

The answer to that and I’m sure you’ll understand, is that today everyone has a camera. I hate to say the subject matter because of that, because anyone can go and make that movie now. But somewhere deep down in the bottom of the hard drive of one of those movies is the beginning of Decline IV. I’m looking forward to doing it and people are always for it.

Spheeris will introduce the original Decline of Western Civilization on Friday, October 23 at the Wexner Center at 7 p.m. Parts II and III will screen on Saturday, October 25 at 2 p.m.

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Curbside Concerts brings live music, hope to those in need

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Can’tStopColumbus took a quick pause when the pandemic shut down the world and asked two questions:

  1. Are we sure we're solving the needs of everyone in our community during this time? 
  2. Are we not just coming up with ideas based on our own experiences?

Our elder community was one of the major demographics to have stricter socially distancing guidelines suggested to them. Holidays and birthdays went by without hugs from grandpa or grandma’s cookies.

Out of the need to fill that missing love in the life of American seniors, the idea of Curbside Concerts was born. Anyone is able to jump on the Curbside Concerts signup page and request a concert for an elder, sick people not able to leave the house, or a simple celebration.

Sending a concert telegram is free, and you can also leave a message for a loved one and suggest what type of tunes the organization-selected Columbus-area musician.

So far, the feedback has been inspiring. 

“People cried. I cried. We cried. It was beautiful,” said Zach Friedman, one of the service’s founders and creators. “We had a powerful idea on our hands, and the amazing power of the #Can'tStopColumbus community to scale it and bring it to life.”

To date, Curbside Concerts has had over 50 volunteers. Their job is to drive around a Columbus musician and their equipment with trucks provided by Ricart Automotive. It’s a road trip around the Columbus area, delivering concerts to those who may just need their spirits lifted. It’s like a non-depressing version of Inside Llewyn Davis.

Support has come from all ends of the Columbus creative community, including The Columbus Foundation, Greater Columbus Arts Council, Streetlight Guild, and What? Productions. Through these organizations, musicians are able to be paid for a route that usually lasts five to six hours. 100 percent of the donations they receive on their route also goes to the musicians.

Friedman is asking people to keep requests to older audiences.

“Working with local musicians to perform curbside at people's homes is the vehicle or medium, but the real thing we are doing here is connecting those to older people they love, with an authentic and emotional experience to send love over,” Friedman said.

We found out pretty quickly how much as a collective that we take live music for granted. Live streams have been a temporary, dulled-down replacement. You realize how long people have been robbed of the experience when you see a musician pull up in a pickup truck, set up in five minutes, and serenade neighborhoods with songs like “Lean on Me” and “What A Wonderful World.” It starts off with a message to one house and then resonates down the street, like the citizens of Gas Town rushing to The People Eater for even a drop of water.

Photos by Zak Kolesar

For most people, it was their first taste of live music since mid-March. While we may want concerts to return as soon as possible, its productions like Curbside Concerts that display the emotional power of music.

To request to send someone a concert, follow the link here: https://sendaconcert.herokuapp.com/request

To volunteer for Curbside Concerts, follow the link here: https://www.signupgenius.com/go/9040b45abaa22a4fb6-curbside

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Arts & Culture

Live music allowed again in restaurants and bars: how will these establishments respond?

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A major step forward in the return of live music in Ohio took place over the weekend. The Ohio coronavirus guidelines were updated to reflect the new COVID-19 Dine Safe Ohio Order.

The order outlining the guidelines on live music in restaurant and bars is as follows:

Musicians and bands may perform in restaurants and bars as long as the individuals who are performing maintain social distancing of at least 6 feet from all other people including, but not limited to, fellow performers and restaurant and bar patrons and staff.

DJ's are included along with musicians and bands in the order.

Something that was on the mind of a lot of musicians with the reopening of restaurants and the indefinite closing of large venues was how restaurants and bars were going to respond to the immediate venue demand. Places like Woodlands Tavern that already have an infrastructure for live music will have no problem complying with the updated order, but will restaurants and bars that depended on jukeboxes before pivot to a live music model?

With a lot more space available in restaurants due to capacity cuts, does this leave more room for a live music set up? Or will restaurants have to get rid of even more tables if they want to make room for a performer?

The thought of live music in a venue setting is alone enough to get excited about. How these places that now have the ability to host live music execute freeing up space for a band to set up or a DJ to bring his rig in while practicing social distancing is what makes this situation a tricky one.

Not being able to get down in a MojoFlo Soul Train line will be pretty tough, but it’s a tradeoff we’ll have to accept for the return of live music.

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Arts & Culture

(614) Music Club: Sarob

Julian Foglietti

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Every week (614) Music Club teams up with your favorite local artists to build a playlist of what they’re listening to, and what’s inspiring them. This week’s playlist is brought to you by the R&B artist Sarob.


Photo by: Wyze

Tell me about some of the songs you’ve selected.

"The first one is Sobeautiful by Musiq Soulchild. So every week with my vocal coach, I have to learn a song. And I've been trying to figure out how to do vocal gliding. Which is not a strong point for me, and I remember hearing that song and being like, OK, this is it. The song is just beautifully written and composed, so when you add the technique to it, it’s just great. The other song was Workin On It by Dwele, who is one of my favorite artists of all time. Workin On It uses this J Dilla beat that just feels really timeless."

Have the past few months changed the direction or mood of the music you're creating. 

"So I have been making stuff here and there, and then I'll go into something creative for like two days. I'll just be making like a bunch of songs and then I'll stop for two weeks, not even want to look at a microphone or anything. I mean, it's a lot more inward, so I’m learning how to better communicate the things I'm experiencing, and set the scenes for people and talk about what is going on. Also not having my band has been a challenge. I’m more of a thinker, I play the keyboard, and I can build a song, but I’m not the most gifted musician so having to build a lot of it on my own is tricky."

Do you have any plans or releases coming up? 

"Yeah, so I had a song Pleasures U Like that was made for my last album, but it didn’t quite fit the story of the album. So I just forgot about it until recently and I finished the vocals just before the lockdown, and now I’m releasing it on Bandcamp as part of a fundraiser for The Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio. All of the proceeds from the song are going to go to support their Pandemic Emergency Fund, and it just felt like a good way to do something that would impact everything going on."

Sarob's Playlist

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