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“Salad Days”: Night Flight talks to filmmaker Scott Crawford about Washington D.C.’s ’80s punk scene
Night Flight recently talked with Scott Crawford, the director of Salad Days: A Decade Of Punk In Washington, DC (1980-90) — now streaming over on Night Flight Plus — which chronicles the story behind the 80s decade’s D.I.Y. punk scene in the Nation’s Capital.
The documentary film takes a look back at the bands — including Bad Brains, Minor Threat, Government Issue, Scream, Void, Faith, Rites of Spring, Marginal Man, Fugazi, and many more — who released their own records though indie labels and booked their own shows, all before the early ’90s “alternative rock” explosion.
Ian MacKaye, Minor Threat (photo by Jim Saah)
Washington D.C.-based filmmaker, music journalist, and graphic designer Scott Crawford founded Metrozine, a fanzine dedicated to the DC hardcore punk scene, when he was a teenager. After college, in 2001, he launched Harp magazine and served as its editor-in-chief for over seven years.
Crawford’s documentary film debut, Salad Days, features exclusive archival photographs, concert footage and interviews with dozens of bands, artists, label owners, fanzine publishers and others who helped mold and nurture DC’s underground community during this inspired decade of music.
Ian MacKaye, Minor Threat (photo by Jim Saah)
Crawford’s Director of Photography Jim Saah is also a native of the Washington D.C. area, and has worked professionally in photography and video for over twenty-five years, shooting for everyone from the Washington Post to Rolling Stone, among other publications and websites.
Saah — who snapped most of the photos featured here — is also an experienced videographer whose credits range from union organizing films to music documentaries, including Wilco: Ashes of American Flags.
Crawford’s Kickstarter campaign raised nearly $55,000 from 980 pledgers back in 2012, which helped to get the film produced.
Night Flight asked Scott to tell us about his own “salad days” and what led up to filming this historic documentary film:
NIGHT FLIGHT: Let’s go all the way back to the beginning. Tell us a little about your background and how it all started off.
You grew up in the the D.C, area, right?, and you went to Albert Einstein High School. Seems like you were always interested in music, and writing, and had a keen eye for art and design.
SCOTT CRAWFORD: Yes, I grew up in Silver Spring, Maryland. It’s a suburb of DC and where I lived was very close to the DC border so it was easy to jump on on a bus or metro and get downtown.
I was just one of those kids that was “all in” when it came to whatever it was I was interested in at the time. I read everything I could on the hardcore punk scene and bought records every weekend, pestering the local indie record store staff to clue me in on what was happening at the time.
Void (photo by Jim Saah)
NF: We’ve read that you founded your own fanzine at age twelve. Was it a punk rock zine? What were some of your favorite groups when you were a teenager?
Crawford: Yes, I started a fanzine called Metrozine (issues have been archived at the University of Maryland. It started off as just a local zine, but then quickly expanded to cover what was going on around the country in other hardcore punk scenes.
I interviewed folks like Jello Biafra, Hüsker Dü, DOA, etc.
Faith (photo by Jim Saah)
NF: After high school, you studied advertising and design at Montgomery College in Maryland, in the early 90s, and then worked at JazzTimes before you founded Harp Magazine in the early 2000s. We remember seeing copies of that mag, which was more focused on alt-country and indie bands, isn’t that right?
It sounds like you were into a lot of different musical genres.
Crawford: Yes, Harp was really the culmination of almost twenty years of trying to make a living out of publishing a magazine. We had a great seven year run. I started the magazine out of my basement and was the editor-in-chief and art director.
I worked with writers I’d admired since I was a kid, interviewed just about everyone I ever respected and scored exclusive photo shoots with people like Tom Waits, Neil Young and others that are notoriously camera shy.
Unfortunately, my “partners” pulled the rug out from under me in 2008 and the magazine shut down unceremoniously. I think I’m still paying off the therapy bills from that experience.
Rites of Spring, March 1985 at Food for Thought (photo by Bert Queiroz)
NF: What made you decide to do a documentary about the punk scene in D.C.? Were you a part of the “straight edge” punk community?
Crawford: I suppose it came about much the same way started a magazine did for me. I knew I had stories to tell and knew how to tell them. I was still in touch with many of the people that I grew up with in the DC scene and so I reached out to them for advice and learned along the way. It was truly a transformative experience.
As for straight edge, while I never drank or smoked or did drugs as a kid, I was never part of any “straight edge” club or clique. Plenty of my friends did any or all of those things and it was never really an issue. I think that could be said for the DC scene in general.
Sean Finnegan of Void, Newton Theater, 1983 (photo by Jim Saah)
NF: What did you decide would be your overall approach to documenting the scene?
Crawford: As much as I wanted to cover every band and every little detail of what happened in the 80s, I knew that just wasn’t possible. I think when I realized the movie wasn’t going to all things to all people, it helped me focus on telling the stories that I experienced and make the film a reflection, in some ways, of my coming of age.
There are dozens of films that could be made on the subject and still not cover everything. I tried to present some of the bigger themes and paint a picture of the city during that decade.
Ian MacKaye in Salad Days
NF: You started the project in 2011, right? Tell us about the origin of the film’s title, Salad Days, which actually comes from a speech at the end of Act One in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, but I know it’s also a song by Minor Threat, Ian MacKaye’s band before Fugazi.
Did you ever get the chance to see them back in the day (’80-’83), or was that before your time?
Crawford: I never got a chance to see Minor Threat. But the song always struck a chord with me, especially throughout the rest of ’80s as the scene continued to evolve.
I liked the fact that the title evoked a time in ones life—so even if you weren’t familiar with the song, it was clear the film was about a particular period.
I first met Ian when I was twelve, and I interviewed him for my fanzine while he was worked at a record store.
Scott Crawford and Dave Grohl
NF: Did you know Dave Grohl from his D.C. days too?
Crawford: Yes, I met Dave when we were both teenagers. I’d occasionally get rides from him and his bandmates in Mission Impossible on the way to DC (they were coming from Virginia). He was always one of the funniest guys in the room and clearly one of the best drummers in town.
We stayed in touch over the years and when I told him I was doing Salad Days he said, “how can I help?”
Bad Brains at 9:30 Club, 1983 (photo by Malcolm Riviera)
NF: How about Bad Brains? They were before your time a little bit, weren’t they? Did you ever get to see them back in the day?
Crawford: I saw the Bad Brains in the mid ’80s, but witnessed HR for the first time when his solo band (HR) played at the Wilson Center in 1984. He was unreal — though much of their set was reggae, they did have a few hardcore numbers and he would just explode onstage.
Regardless of the music he was playing, he was always an incredible frontman.
Bad Brains, 1982 (photo by Malcolm Riviera)
NF: There was another band back in the 80s, Positive Force, and we’ve got the documentary Positive Force: More Than a Witness streaming over on our Night Flight Plus channel, and we wrote about it on the blog. Seems like both of your movies were made around the same time, Robin Bell’s coming out in 2014, and yours too.
I’m sure there’s differences in the approach to telling the story of the D.C. punk scene, what can you tell us about that?
Crawford: Robin Bell did a great job with his film and I admire him for bringing the Positive Force story to life. Mark Andersen is a man who I have great respect for and have known since I was kid when first moved here to attend college. He’s done a lot for DC and continues to do so today.
The whole story of Positive Force and their work continues to inspire me.
Henry Rollins, Black Flag (photo by Jim Saah)
NF: So tell us a little about the critical and fan reaction to Salad Days. You’ve won some awards at film festivals, haven’t you?
Crawford: The reaction to the film was overwhelming. It played in over 125 theaters domestically and over a dozen countries. We sold out every major city we screened it in worldwide.
We won the “Audience Award” at the Noise Pop festival in 2015 and “Best Documentary, Best in Show” at the 2015 Asbury Park Film Festival. All of it took me by surprise, honestly. I thought we’d be lucky to play it at a local VFW hall.
Black Flag (photo by Jim Saah)
NF: Let’s see, after Salad Days, you’ve been busy on a few more projects, including your book about Washington DC’s hardcore punk scene, Spoke: Images and Stories from the 1980s Washington, DC Punk Scene (the large-format coffeetable-style hardcover packs about 150 photographs, mostly black-and-white, alongside short oral histories of twenty-five local bands formed between 1977 and 1989), and a still-forthcoming documentary about one of our favorite music mags of yore, CREEM, which we’ve been looking forward to now for a few years.
What can you tell us about those and are there any other projects you’ve got in the hopper?
Crawford: Yes, my next film is Boy Howdy! The Story of CREEM Magazine, a documentary film about the heyday of CREEM magazine in the 1970s Detroit. It’s a magazine that inspired me to start my own, so it’s a very personal story in that sense.
We’ve interviewed quite a few artists for so far, from Thurston Moore, Alice Cooper, Wayne Kramer, James Williamson, Chad Smith, Handsome Dick Manitoba, Chris Stein, Lenny Kaye and dozens of others. Editing will start this summer.
Crawford sorted through hundreds of photos, live videos, flyers and zines for inclusion in the film, and interviewed dozens of the participants who helped create the local music scene in the 1980s (musicians, photographers, DJs, activists, and writers), including:
Ian MacKaye (Minor Threat, Embrace, Fugazi, Evens, Dischord); Henry Rollins (SOA, Black Flag, Rollins Band); Dave Grohl (Scream, Nirvana, Foo FIghters); John Stabb (Government Issue); Pete & Franz Stahl (Scream, Wool); HR (Bad Brains); Joe Lally (Fugazi); Kenny Inouye (Marginal Man); Dante Ferrando (Iron Cross, Gray Matter, Ignition); Jeff Nelson (Minor Threat, 3, Dischord); Mary Timony (Helium, Wild Flag); Alec MacKaye (the Faith, Ignition, the Warmers); Fred Armisen (“Saturday Night Live,” “Portlandia”); Dave Smalley (DYS, Dag Nasty, All, Down By Law); Steve Niles (Gray Matter, 3); Monica Richards (Strange Boutique); Bruce Miles Hellington (9353); Jon Wurster (Superchunk, Mountain Goats); Jenny Toomey (Tsunami, Simple Machines); Boyd Farrell (Black Market Baby); Bobby Sullivan (Soulside); Jason Farrell (Swiz, Bluetip, Retisonic); J. Robbins (Government Issue, Jawbox, Burning Airlines); Kevin Seconds (7 Seconds); Mark Andersen (Positive Force founder, author of “Dance of Days”); Mark Sullivan (Kingface); Tonie Joy (Moss Icon); Shawn Brown (Dag Nasty, Swiz); Jim Spellman (High Back Chairs, Velocity Girl); Steve Hansgen (Minor Threat, Second Wind); Brian Baker (Minor Threat, Dag Nasty, Bad Religion); Jon Spencer (Pussy Galore, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion); Mark Robinson (Unrest, Teen Beat); Amy Pickering (Fire Party); Skeeter Enoch Thompson (Scream), and Fred “Freak” Smith (Beefeater, Strange Boutique).