“Punk’s Not Dead”: Old punkers & their progeny discuss whether or not punk has lost its edge

By on October 5, 2017

In the early 2000’s, filmmaker Susan Dynner was curious to find out if commercially-successful punk rock bands considered themselves “punk,” and whether or not punk had lost its edge.

Dynner attempted to answer some of those questions with her 90-minute plus documentary, Punk’s Not Dead, which we have streaming for our subscribers in our collection of newly-added titles over on Night Flight Plus!

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Dynner’s film takes a wide-angle panoramic view of punk from all sorts of interesting and occasionally odd angles in this self-financed, independent documentary.

Punk’s Not Dead deftly combines vintage ’70s and ’80s-era interviews and excerpts of concert footage with quirky animated sequences and more recent interviews with members of current punk and pop-punk bands, including Green Day, Sum 41, My Chemical Romance and Good Charlotte (oh, good gracious!).

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Some of our favorite segments in the film feature members of the original English punk bands, including the Buzzcocks, the Damned, Subhumans, the Exploited, UK Subs, the Adicts and many more, some of whom were still touring — with mostly original members and new part-replacements — when Punk’s Not Dead debuted in 2006.

There are hilarious segments from ’70s and ’80s-era TV icons like talk show host Phil Donahue and brief snipped scenes from primetime dramas like “CHiPs” (featuring the great actor William Forsythe as Trasher, the lead singer and guitarist of the pseudo-punk band Pain), and let’s not forget that awesome punk-themed episode (“Next Stop, Nowhere”), which we told you about here, featuring everybody’s favorite TV coroner “Quincy, M.E.”

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Read more about Punk’s Not Dead below.

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Punk’s Not Dead also features a lot of candid photos, fliers and home videos, much of it provided to Dynner by members of the bands themselves, a partial list of whom includes: the Adicts, Bad Religion, Black Flag, the Damned, the God Awfuls, Good Charlotte, Green Day, Minor Threat, NOFX, the Offspring, Pennywise, Peter and the Test Tube Babies, the Ramones, Rancid, the Sex Pistols, Social Distortion, Stiff Little Fingers, the Subhumans, Sum 41, UK Subs, the Used, the Vandals, the Vibrators, and much, much more.

Punk’s Not Dead — the title sorta gives away how Dynner ultimately ended up feeling about the topic, doesn’t it? — doesn’t spend a whole lotta time on some of the bands whose stories have been told extensively in other documentaries, including the Sex Pistols, the Clash and the Ramones.

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Some of the newer punk rock bands talk about how they’ve pretty much been accepted by polite society, and how they’re aware they haven’t quite experienced what their progenitor punk forefathers faced when they first dyed their hair shocking colors and pierced their own eyebrows.

It’s definitely not rebellious now,” Fletcher Dragge of Pennywise says at one point. “Green hair is the norm. Tattoos are the norm. Spiked bracelets. Piercings. You know, you’re not scaring your mom; your mom takes you to get it.”

Meanwhile, “American Idiot” Billy Armstrong of Green Day — who were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame a few years back — tells us “I never learned politics from school. I learned about politics from punk rock,” among other priceless punk-ish bon mots.

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Among the interviewees — some of them representing the second and third wave (maybe even fourth?) of punk rockers providing their poignant and occasionally hilarious perspectives about what the term “punk” means to them — include Mike Ness (Social Distortion), Henry Rollins, Jello Biafra (Dead Kennedys), Ian MacKaye (Minor Threat/Fugazi), Charlie Harper of the UK Subs, and Dick Lucas of the Subhumans, but that’s just a half-dozen of the literally dozens of punk enthusiasts you’ll see onscreen.

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There are short segments about the Warped Tour and the skate-punk scene, and interviews with punk rockers opining on how the music they loved from back in the day was pretty much co-opted by commercial brands, like that shopping mall favorite Hot Topic, and by music supervisors and TV execs, too, who peddled punk in TV shows and commercials selling everything from cars to vodka.

Dynner also talked with label reps, managers (including our old friend Jim Guerinot, who manages the Offspring and Social Distortion), and music critics too — including Night Flight contributor Chris Morris — who offer up their opinions about what constitutes “punk” and whether the bands today can continue to fly that flag, or whether the term is nothing more than a corporate marketing phrase that continues to be used long after its sell-by date.

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Washington D.C. native Susan Dynner was inspired in 2003 to document the stories behind Punk’s Not Dead after seeing an advert for an all-day “punk” concert — featuring members of the Sex Pistols, the Distillers, the Damned, X, Pennywise and others — called “Inland Invasion: 25 Years of Punk.”

At age fifteen, she’d started off as a photographer, shooting photos at punk shows and befriending a lot of the musicians in her favorite local bands, like Ian MacKaye of Minor Threat and Fugazi, and members of the Bad Brains.

Her friends in UK Subs and Subhuman have even crashed at her place in D.C. during their lengthy U.S. tours.

While she was working on this documentary, Dynner — who studied film at the University of Wisconsin — co-produced Brick, which won the Special Jury Prize for Originality of Vision at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival.

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Punk’s Not Dead — which was screened at Cannes, with a special after-party appearance by the UK Subs — made its world premiere at the Silverdocs Film Festival in Washington D.C.

Watch Punk’s Not Dead and other Punk documentaries over on Night Flight Plus!

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.