The Damned: Don’t You Wish That We Were Dead

DVD_DontYouWishWeThatWereDeadSeminal punk rock legends who didn’t become icons

The Damned never get their due. Though present at the start of the UK punk movement, they never became icons like the Sex Pistols and the Clash. Despite having released what’s considered to be the first UK punk rock single, “New Rose,” and the first full length punk LP, Damned Damned Damned, their legacy remains one known mostly by music aficionados, and their music by fans. But over the course of their forty years, through numerous musical and personnel changes, the band’s output has remained surprisingly transcendent. The fractured relationships, legal rifts and innate tensions of working together for four decades hasn’t dimmed the music’s resonance, nor the band’s live appeal. Even when that live act only includes two original members. This is the story of a marathon, rather than just an initial sprint of brilliance.

Weaving together archival footage with interviews with the band, their contemporaries and those they influenced, the documentary tells several stories at once. At its heart is the story of the Damned as a seminal influence, whose chaotic, satirical style overshadowed their messages, and whose career failed to garner the lasting headlines of bands who wore discontent on their sleeves. That failure haunts the band members to this day, with drummer Rat Scabies sarcastically wondering if the Damned “were just also there” while the Pistols and Clash were changing the world. Interviews with Chrissie Hynde, Steve Diggle, TV Smith, Clem Burke, Chris Stein, Glen Matlock, JJ Burnel, Billy Idol, Dave Robinson and others testify to the Damned’s place in punk rock history, while Ian MacKaye, Jello Biafra and Buzz Osborne testify to their influence.

Unsurprisingly, the intra-band arguments often centered on money (particularly Scabies’ purchase of the band’s early albums out of a bankruptcy sale) and bad behavior. Forty years of on-again, off-again groupings seems to exposed all possible conflicts. What’s amazing is that through all the turmoil, the band outlasted their peers and successfully navigated transitions from punk rock to goth to prog-rock to new romanticism. They may not get the commercial placements of the Clash, Buzzcocks or Ramones, but the live clips show them still to be a potent stage act that’s beloved by their fans. This three-years-in-the making documentary played the festival circuit and select theater engagements before debuting on DVD in May, 2016. It’s a great watch for both die-hard fans and anyone interested in punk rock history. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

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