Blu-Ray: ‘The Decline of Western Civilization’ Spotlights Punk Rock’s L.A. Ascension

 

TheDeclineofWesternCivilization

For those few not in the know, The Decline of Western Civilization is a seminal documentary directed by Penelope Spheeris. The project takes an in-depth look at the 1980 Los Angeles punk scene as seen through the eyes of such bands as Black Flag, X, The Germs, Catholic Discipline, and Circle Jerks.

The Decline of Western Civilization Blu-ray is now out via Shout! Factory, and the disc is loaded with special features. There’s just way too much extras to list, but here are five reasons why The Decline of Western Civilization Blu-ray is worth a look:

Dave Grohl and Anna Fox at Decline of Western Civilization Commentary Recording
Dave Grohl and Anna Fox at Decline of Western Civilization Commentary Recording

1. Dave Grohl Provides Audio Commentary 

Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl provides one of the Blu-ray’s audio commentaries, and he delves into how the soundtrack to The Decline of Western Civilization influenced him as a youth. Grohl also recounts visiting his cousin in Evanston, Illinois and watching his first punk rock show at The Cubby Bear.

Grohl also talks about how his own purchase of a Dan Armstrong guitar was inspired by his appreciation of Black Flag member Greg Ginn. He also praises Darby Crash’s (The Germs)  gift as a lyricist. My favorite Grohl moment was his “what the f**k” reaction when Crash played with a pet tarantula.

The other audio commentary track is headed by Penelope Spheeris and her daughter Anna Fox (she helped Spheeris in putting the Blu-ray together).

2. Insightful Musings From Exene Cervenka and John Doe 

Spheeris’ 10 minute interview with the band actually starts off with the director donning a black leather jacket which reads “F**k off and die.” X vocalist Exene Cervenka offers her insightful take on the afterlife (which was inspired by her own sister’s passing). John Doe, who gives the smallest of tattoos to Spheeris, also gets philosophical as he explains how the best tattoos are often rooted in memory.

Towards the end of the interview, Doe also explains why he’s pretty open minded when it comes to a critic’s review of X’s music: “I have to admit they’re not crystal clear in their design. There’s a lot of room for interpretation so whatever they come up with is cool.”

3. Henry Rollins Interviews Penelope Spheeris

Though it runs just a little over five minutes, the interview is a pretty telling one, as Spheeris talks about how after the success of Wayne’s World, she was pigeonholed into directing even more commentaries. Her creative heart and soul lives with the three Decline of Western Civilization films. “Once I got to understand really what the punk rock philosophy was all about,” said Spheeris. “I’ve embraced it over the years and still live by what I believe the rules to be.”

4. An Extended Interview With Darby Crash And His Girlfriend

Darby Crash’s innate charisma, even when fans are drawing on his face during a performance,  is one of the more memorable aspects of Spheeris’ documentary. The Blu-ray includes a 15 minute plus interview with Crash and his girlfriend, most of which has them cooking eggs in their apartment. Parts of the conversation were featured in the documentary, but there’s a healthy share of eye opening material in this segment (including Darby’s non-plussed descriptions of all the injuries he’s sustained). Darby’s girlfriend also delves into their encounter with a dead painter!

5. Brendan Mullen’s Love For Punk Rock Shines Through

Music promoter and nightclub owner Brendan Mullen is front and center for two special features. In an Extended Interview (8:37), Mullen waxes poetic on a rooftop with the Los Angeles skyline as his backdrop. Though he begins the interview a bit hesitantly and fumbles his words, his love for punk rock is crystal clear as he talked about the struggles Black Flag and The Germs had in booking gigs. He also succinctly explains why New Wave band, when it came to making ends meet, had a bigger advantage over punk rock acts. Mullen’s eloquence is also on display with “Tour of the Masque” (7:56), as he walks around the boarded up venue (which he owned) that hosted a slew of punk acts. During the segment, he reminisces about some of the more memorable moments of The Masque’s two year run (which includes the disembowelment of a cow!). “It got pretty bizarre and decadent in this place at points,” recalled Mullen.

“It will close as an underground legend , a cultural artifact that maybe will be able to be remembered for a few more months,” said Mullen about The Masque.  “Or maybe it will be remembered in year.”

Mullen, who died in 1989, is also known as an early supporter of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The group’s track “Brendan’s Death Song” is a tribute to their late friend.

Penelope Spheeris, in the audio commentary, also recounts hanging out with Mullen a month before his passing (and she gets understandably emotional while talking about her dear friend).

Greg Ginn - "The Decline of Western Civilization" (Shout! Factory)
Greg Ginn – “The Decline of Western Civilization” (Shout! Factory)

*** The Blu-ray also includes Never Before Seen Performances from FEAR (“We Destroy the Family, No More Nothing, Waiting for the Gas, Fresh Flesh), The Germs (“Lexicon Devil,” “Let’s Pretend”), and The Gears (Elk’s Lodge Blues)

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