'Hard Core Logo' Chronicles Life At Rock's Bottom

New flick explores underside of punk genre with tale of fictional band's reunion tour.

You're excused if the name Hard Core Logo doesn't ring a bell.

That's because, until recently, the "legendary" punk-rock band of that name existed only in the minds of Canadian filmmaker Bruce McDonald and the Canadian novelist who invented the group.

Now the fictional band that has taken that name is on public display in McDonald's recently released faux-documentary, "Hard Core Logo."

"I always wanted to do a documentary about a band on tour," 39-year-old filmmaker McDonald ("Roadkill," "Highway 61") said, citing the seminal 1967 Bob Dylan tour film, "Don't Look Back," as inspiration.

"Hard Core Logo" is a slice-of-life road tale about a group of local rock heroes banding together for one last go 'round. At the center of the gritty, sometimes painful story are HCL singer Joe Dick (actor/musician Hugh Dillon), on-the-rise guitarist Billy Tallent (actor Callum Keith Rennie), drummer Pipefitter (actor Bernie Coulson) and bassist John Oxenberger (actor John Pyper-Ferguson).

The 92-minute film, which is based on Michael Turner's 1996 novel of the same name, opened in New York and Los Angeles last month. It is scheduled to open Dec. 4 in Berkeley, Calif., Boston, Detroit, Houston, San Francisco, San Jose, Calif., and Seattle.

McDonald said he and his production team had a great time coming up with the mock history of the band, which included creating a fake bio and discography for an HCL website. That included such never-recorded albums as HCL's 1978 "debut" EP, Son of a Bitch to the Core, featuring the songs "Sally Is a Popular Girl" and "F--- 0ff America."

Where the genre-defining, 1984 "mockumentary," "This Is Spinal Tap," mocked the pomposity of big-time rock 'n' rollers, McDonald said that in "Hard Core Logo," he was hoping to explore the seedier underside of the music biz, to view the rock world from a less lofty perspective.

"Spinal Tap is a great send-up of what it is to be in a band at the top of the world," McDonald said, "but every town has a band like HCL. They're local heroes who've toured a bit and gotten some local notoriety and have never gone beyond local-hero status. Most of the musicians I know are like that, and this is kind of a salute to the f---ing thousands of bands, the foot soldiers of rock 'n' roll."

The film follows the Vancouver, British Columbia-based quartet as it embarks on an ill-fated mini-tour of Canada at the urging of irascible singer Dick. The mohawked, ur-punk leader of the group arranges for the unlikely reunion to pay homage to mythical punk-legend Bucky Haight, whom Dick claims has been shot and rendered a paraplegic.

After a Haight anti-gun fund-raiser that features a cameo from former Ramones leader Joey Ramone, the group sets out on a low-rent tour that finds the aging band's nerves fraying and egos clashing as the gigs draw fewer fans. Tension mounts further over Tallent's pending flight to join L.A. mega-band Jenifur.

"I could definitely relate to some of it," Ramone said. "It didn't necessarily reflect the world of the Ramones, but I've talked to a lot of people who said they could relate. It has a realism about it, yet it's a pretty sick movie."

Ramone said he recognized in HCL bandleader Dick the archetypal, "know-it-all" character many bands cope with every day.

The film includes authentic-looking club footage of HCL performing original songs, such as the punk ballad "Blue Tattoo" and "Rock 'n' Roll Is Fat and Ugly," as well as their "signature" rave-up, "Who the Hell Do You Think You Are?" (RealAudio excerpt).

On the accompanying soundtrack, Dillon, leader of the real-life Canadian punk group the Headstones, performs a majority of the songs, with Canadian rockers Swamp Baby. Included are HCL's other signature track, the bile-spilling "Something's Gonna Die Tonight" (RealAudio excerpt), and the Ramones song "Touring."

"That song just really fit the movie," Ramone said of "Touring," which falls into the time-honored tradition of rock 'n' roll road songs, a theme that fits in perfectly with the bickering, name-calling and equipment-smashing of HCL.

"I think as far as the accuracy of a reunited band on the road, touring in a van, not a bus, and not getting along, my musician friends have been very complimentary," McDonald said. "In fact, most of them say it hits a little too close to the bone."

McDonald said he felt part of what makes the film hold together is that the character he plays -- himself -- obviously loves the band despite all its flaws and its seemingly unenviable position at the bottom of the rock food chain.

Far from trying to keep the film's bogus premise a secret a la the "big surprise" in the 1992 film "The Crying Game" -- "HCL" has its own surprise ending -- McDonald said he relishes the reactions he's gotten from the film's cooked-up history.

"It's fun to play around with all the fake mythology, because it keeps making it harder to decide what's fact and fiction," McDonald said. "I've had kids out there who've seen the movie write me saying they're in an argument with their friend who says the band isn't real and they just know it is."