“You can always grow something here, because nobody’s looking,” says Ian MacKaye in the opening sequence of “Salad Days: A Decade of Punk in Washington, D.C. (1980- 1990).”
That’s the thing about D.C.; it’s a small, yet deeply significant setting, and that’s what filmmaker Scott Crawford aimed to highlight in making the film. “It was always: take yourself seriously, take the music seriously, and give it everything you’ve got,” he explained in an interview with MTV News.
Undeniably a movement fueled by youth, “Salad Days” highlights several influential bands-- Minor Threat, Bad Brains, Fugazi, Teen Idles, VOID, and others-- all essential in sparking a homegrown musical revolution. Crawford, a D.C. native who grew up deeply entrenched in the local hardcore scene, examines the political and socio-economic environment that spawned a new generation of ideology. Suddenly, being “punk” didn’t mean drugs, aggressive behavior, and over-the-top antics. It was so much more.
Featuring interviews with key players like MacKaye, plus Dave Grohl, Henry Rollins, and more, “Salad Days” is a sharp exploration into what made D.C. punk tick, and how it continues to inspire.
MTV: The term “Salad Days” is a Shakespearian reference to youth. Why do you think youth was such an important factor in this movement?
Scott Crawford: The term usually refers to someone lacking experience in life, but who’s also reaching a creative high point. When I first started going to shows, I was twelve. This was 1983-84. I was probably the youngest there, but it wasn’t that unusual. So I do think that the music is something specific to youth.
MTV: Experiencing this scene at such a young age, can you recall a specific moment you felt, ‘this is something I have to be a part of?’
Crawford: As a twelve-year-old, one of the first bands I saw was VOID, a band with an insanely energetic live show that teetered on falling apart. The feeling of that night and the sensory overload-- the volume, the crowd violence, the smell of sweat and smoke-- that came with it, for me, was intoxicating. I was hooked.
MTV: How do you think the setting of Washington, D.C. affected the way these bands came together?
Crawford: That was really one of the things I most wanted to explore in the film. I think [it was] the backdrop of government; you know, the most powerful man in the world living right down the street from you. Also, a lot of these kids that were in these bands, their parents were in the media, or lobbyists, or lawyers, or politicians. So these types of issues were being debated and discussed in these kids’ homes.
I think that type of debate and these weighty issues were something that these kids grew up with. And of course, it’s going to play a role in the music, because they were thinking in ways that a lot of other kids wouldn’t. You really saw that by the ‘80s, when a group called Positive Force was really able to have a foothold and produce monthly shows in order to benefit some particular cause.
It was really a big part of the community here. If you were playing in a band at that point-- which I did-- the expectation was that you would play a Positive Force show, and you would be educating yourself about these causes. I can remember countless shows where there would be movies beforehand, or footage while the bands were playing. It was pretty serious stuff for a bunch of teenagers, but it’s very much a part of the culture [in D.C.].
MTV: In D.C., punk wasn’t self-destructive; it was cool to be “straight edge” (drug and alcohol free), to support feminist issues, class issues, race issues, etc. Why do you think the scene remained so positive?
Crawford: These are a lot of the things I really wanted to get across. Those bands in L.A., New York, Boston-- that was some really amazing music happening at that time. But yes, a lot of it was very destructive, and there was a nihilistic edge to a lot of those punk bands. Even from the very beginning, that just wasn’t part of the scene here.
Obviously, D.C. is a very politically conscious, socially aware town, but it always seemed to me that it was constantly evolving. There was still plenty of crazy stuff going on, but it just never had the same vibe as in other cities. I guess some of it had to do with what I said before, which is that a lot of these kids came from political backgrounds. You know, Ian MacKaye’s father was a writer for The Washington Post. It was just part of the fabric.
D.C. was never about trashing the bathrooms, or destroying the one place we had to go see bands. You would always read about stuff like that from other towns, but it never made sense.
MTV: Besides their political backgrounds, what else did these bands have in common?
Crawford: I think starting with the Bad Brains, there was really an emphasis on being able to play your instrument, and play it well. With Minor Threat-- I mean, they were teenagers-- you listen to a song like “Out of Step” and it’s incredibly advanced in terms of musicianship. It’s insane, it’s so good.
I think being able to put everything you’ve got on the line, every night you play, and taking it seriously. There weren’t a lot of joke bands from D.C. There were other bands across the country at the time, I’m not gonna name names, but they were doing joke stuff, and that’s not something that ever got any traction here.
MTV: What are some contemporary bands you feel carry the torch of what D.C. punk was really about?
Crawford: Priests, These Arms Are Snakes, Ex Hex, Office of Future Plans (in current rotation).
"Salad Days" opens April 17 at IFC Center in New York.