On Thursday evening, the Art Theater of Long Beach treated contributors to Southern California’s 1980s punk scene to a special screening of Filmage, a rock documentary exploring the history of Southern California pop/punk pioneers the Descendents. Directors Deedle Lacour and Matt Riggle brilliantly capture the birth and evolution of this seminal punk band, whose work blazed career paths for a throng of commercially successful bands (Green Day, Blink 182 and many more).
Rare photos and video footage, animation and a who’s who of the Southern California punk scene humorously document the story of an awkward, mop-haired kid and his nerdy cohorts trying to find their way in the sleepy beach town of Hermosa Beach. Their highly caffeinated, flatulent hijinks and love for fishing fueled their unlikely ascent into Southern California’s burgeoning hard core punk scene, where they were accepted and celebrated among the scene’s darker, more political bands. Their first album Milo Goes to College, a universally recognized punk masterpiece, matched the power of their Black Flag and Circle Jerk peers, yet defied the scene’s musical conventions with melodic sensibilities more in tune with the Beatles or their local power pop mentors The Last.
Watching a young Stevenson, a self-described “bother” to his neighbors and power pop icons The Last, lead the Descendents to prominence and his own status as one of the world’s best rock drummers is a heartwarming story of naiveté and unadulterated drive. Eschewing the anti-LAPD, anti-establishment ethos of their punk peers, he and his fishing buddy Frank Navetta (guitar), mailman Tony Lombardo (bass), and aspiring scientist Milo Aukerman pounded out songs about hot dogs, coffee, girls and FISHING. Regarding their 12-second song “Wienerschnitizel,” Stevenson humorously recounts that he thought it was a good song and it represented the direction that music should be going.
The Descendents’ history is a complicated one with Milo leaving for college after the release of the Milo Goes to College and Stevenson leaving to join Black Flag for 3 years and five albums. Milo returns after college and a road-worthy Stevenson leaves Black Flag with the promotional and production skills to take the Descendents to a national audience. Three studio albums, some line-up changes and thousands of road miles distilled their power and refined their unapologetically adolescent themes. Milo’s desire to save the world through science (“I never thought of music as a career”) led him to graduate school. At a cross-roads, Stevenson replaces Aukerman with a procession of three different singers to form All, a musical extension of their desire to live life to the fullest in their own sophomoric, perverted way. An outstanding band, All has always been accused of not being the Descendents.
The meat of this movie is Stevenson’s unequivocal drive, carrying the band for the sheer enjoyment of doing what he loved or lack of anything else better to do. Years and years of touring with glimpses of success culminated with warming up for the bands they influenced for $300 per night. His heartfelt explanation of the song One More Day from the Descendents’ 2004 album Cool To Be You illuminates both his musical genius and the emotional pain of caring for his ailing, estranged father who despised every moment of it. Stevenson’s ability to survive two life-threatening conditions a few years ago, a pulmonary aneurism “the size of a bratwurst” and a brain tumor “the size of a tennis ball,” and to reform the Descendents demonstrate the power of music to overcome all challenges. The history of the Descendents and All is riddled with fortuitous events that brought colorful, talented personalities into the band and their company. In a twist of fate, the surgeon who saved Stevenson’s life was a Black Flag and Descendants fan. The movie shows photos of the surgeon at a Descendents’ show 20+ years earlier. Stevenson’s significant medical bills inspired Aukerman and mates to play a few shows, which led to the realization that Milo could be a part-time rocker and a full-time scientist. According to Stevenson, “all we had to do was book some shows.” Festival audiences around the world have beamed and the Descendents continue into a fifth decade.
Filmage is appearing at film festivals around the world in hopeful preparation for public release. A second screening of Filmage happens tomorrow at the Art Theater of Long Beach for fans lucky enough to win tickets in a special lottery drawing.
Lead-Editor/co-producer James Rayburn and Director of Photography/editor Justin Wilson. (Elise Thompson)
Punk rock historians and “We Got Power” founders Dave Markey and Jordan Schwartz; and Nip Drivers/Down by Law/Brujeria bassist Pat Hoed (Elise Thompson).
Descendents/All label and tour mates The Chemical People. Left to right: Ed Urlik, Dave Naz and Jamie Pina (John Collinson).