July 12, 2015
by John Keegan
Salad Days is an absorbing, fond and rocking documentation of the Washington, DC punk scene in the 1980's. It starts with a close, small group of beltway brats high on the Ramones, Iggy and The Clash getting wind of the fact that anyone could start a band. It ends with Dave Grolh leaving DC for Nirvana in Seattle. The film twitches chronologically through the evolution of the scene, the key bands and the major voices.
Most of the early adopters were kids - still in high school. This factors into the scenes foundation; the passion and the comradery, the youthful misogyny, the pit, the dead end jobs, the violence and eventually, the bemusement and or disillusionment of the first wave with their unrelenting successors in the next wave. Ian MacKaye, Jeff Nelson and Dischord Records are central to the story and all get plenty of air time. The video clips of gigs by Teen Idols, Minor Threat, Scream, Void, Fugazi, Dag Nasty, Bad Brains, Government Issue, Rites of Spring, Fire Party and a rash of others are raw and raucous.
There are a number of interesting subtexts. All are less than common knowledge to the casual fan and make for compelling viewing. The cause and effect of straight edge culture and its relationship to the Minor Threat song of the same name is explored. The often problematic cross-pollination with skinhead culture gets a few minutes. The broadening of approved lyric topics is tied to the move toward what became known as Emo. The video of MacKaye weighing in on the topic of emo at a show is a great catch. The changes heralded as the mid-80's Revolution Summer and the increased ties of the scene to the political movements of the day has deep cut interest.
Salad Days tells an enthralling and entertaining story. If you lived and loved these days and the music associated with it in real time, then Salad Days will flip your memory switch and, perhaps, add post facto context. If you like you punk with a dose of psycho-social commentary, than Salad Days will give your synapses a variety of parlor games to play. If the only tune you dug from this scene was Fugazi's Waiting Room, than the film makes a solid argument for a revved up night of audio archeology.