For about as long as I’ve been seeing shows at 924 Gilman (May 2015 was my first show), they’ve been talking about a documentary surrounding the scene directed by Corbett Redford, a Gilman regular. Turn It Around: The Story of East Bay Punk finally premiered at San Francisco’s Docfest on Wednesday at the Alamo Drafthouse. And it was definitely worth the wait.
It was the first showing at Docfest, so it was followed by a Gilman-inspired after party at DNA Lounge. Of course I had to be at both.
For some reason it didn’t cross my mind that Green Day, who produced the documentary and are the most successful band to come out of the Gilman scene, would be at the premiere. But lo and behold, when I entered the Alamo Drafthouse, who’s standing right there, chilling in front of the will call tickets? Tre Cool. Of course. Who else.
I’ve met him two times previously, but it doesn’t stop getting exciting/nerve wracking, so I kinda yelled at him, “Can I bother you for a picture?!” It was a little awkward, but he was a good sport at least.
“We look great.”
When I made it in the theater, I found my friend Kairi and then immediately started jumping up and down, freaking out about the fact that I just met Tre… again.
The Alamo Drafthouse was super nice. I’d never been there before, but it was fancy and I liked it. You can order food, like real dinner food, directly to your seat. I’ve never seen that before.
Even just the opening credits were enough to make me squeal with excitement. It was all cartoons depicting the Gilman scene.
This was my two year anniversary of first moving to Berkeley, and I’m celebrating by watching a documentary about the scene that drew me there in the first place. It’s seriously the best.
I fangirled so hard at every new face on the screen. Some because I love them musically/professionally, some because I know them personally, and some a little of both. Larry Livermore, my Green Day boys, Tim Armstrong, Frank Portman, Kamala Parks, Jesse Luscious, Jello Biafra, Jon Ginoli, and so so so many more.
I love this scene so much, it’s kinda ridiculous.
Tim Armstrong was one of my favorite on-screen speakers. He’s such a weird dude and I just love hearing him talk.
Everyone (for the most part) had different titles used under their names throughout the movie, which I loved. For instance, Tim Armstrong’s would say “Operation Ivy” and later “Rancid.” Billie Joe Armstrong’s would say “Green Day,” “Sweet Children,” or “Pinhead Gunpowder.” Larry Livermore’s would say “The Lookouts,” “Maximum Rock’n’Roll,” or “Lookout Records.” Everyone in this scene was involved in so many different bands or projects, so it was pretty clever to include them all at different times rather than pick their most famous project. Many aren’t famous for just one thing.
There were so many great quotes in the movie. I think it was Fat Mike of NOFX who said something along the lines of music coming out of the East Bay being a lot better than San Francisco’s, and then immediately followed it with, “That’s a quote.”
Naturally, this was a music documentary, so the soundtrack was killer. There was so much Operation Ivy and oldschool (1039/SOSH and Kerplunk!) Green Day, plus at least a song or two from every other band mentioned. And there were a LOT of bands mentioned. Every new band discussed was handwritten on the screen. The visuals and graphics were all so cool.
The film started in San Francisco, as it explained that the Bay Area punk scene mostly started in the city. It then takes us across the Bay to where our scene was born.
We start in Oakland and move north through Berkeley, Albany, Pinole, and Rodeo, meeting the musicians who emerged from each city in the East Bay. Rodeo was my favorite for obvious reasons: that’s where Billie Joe met Mike Dirnt, and Sweet Children was born. But it’s the most barren part of the East Bay, so people from all the other areas looked down on it. It’s so interesting getting that perspective.
While I’ve heard the Green Day origin story thousands of times, I really enjoyed the way it was told in this film. Billie and Mike were consistently told they couldn’t play at Gilman by the head of Maximum Rock’n’Roll and one of the creators of 924 Gilman, Tim Yohannon, because they were too pop and not enough punk, until they played a show where they were approached by John Kiffmeyer, drummer for Isocracy. He wanted to play with them, and all of sudden they were taken more seriously and allowed to play the venue.
Then when John Kiffmeyer decided to leave the band for college, he actually directly handed Tre Cool to Mike and Billie as his replacement. They were discouraged after losing who they thought was their key to Gilman, but Tim Yohannon told them that with Tre they were the best they’d ever sounded.
I didn’t know that part of the story. So this documentary actually taught me something firsthand about my favorite band that I thought I knew everything about.
Of course there were a lot of stories that I had already heard, but there’s a reason I wanted to see this movie. I love these stories. They don’t get old. This is what I live for.
I think my favorite story was from Tim Armstrong. Before Operation Ivy was ever a thought, before 924 Gilman became what it is, he hopped on a bus from Berkeley to New York City. He was barely in the city when he saw news of Gilman and Berkeley in a zine and he turned right back around, hopped on another bus and went home.
We wouldn’t have Operation Ivy or Rancid today if he hadn’t gone home. That blows my mind.
I almost teared up a few times, especially when old Green Day was playing. I love those songs more than like 90% of things in the entire world. (Remember that time I saw Sweet Children open for Green Day at the Cleveland House of Blues? I still can’t believe that happened.)
Of course not all of the stories are happy ones. They talked a bit about the fall of Lookout Records, and some people talked about Tim Yohannon’s death. That part was sweet. One woman talked about catching up with him in the mere days before he passed.
Then they talked about Operation Ivy’s last show and their breakup. That killed me. What I would give to be able to be there.
I’ve heard the stories of skinheads vs. punks, but you hear so much in the news today about “the return of the Nazis” that I forgot about skinheads until watching this documentary. The Nazis never really went away. They were just hidden in subculture 20+ years ago.
There were so many familiar faces in the film, especially right before the end credits, and that made me really happy. A few of the younger members of Gilman read the rules on camera, one of which was Luna, the head of the Gilman collective when I started attending meetings two years ago.
I don’t know who runs the meetings anymore. It’s been too long. I need to go back.
There was one familiar face that I screamed at myself for when I saw his name onscreen:
I DIDN’T REALIZE JEFF FROM GILMAN IS TIM ARMSTRONG’S BROTHER. WHAT THE HECK LINDSAY WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU YOU’RE SO DUMB.
The documentary more or less ended in 1994 with Green Day’s signing to Reprise Records. They discussed the whole “What is selling out? Didn’t they deserve to make money?” thing, and offered a lot of really interesting perspectives. I understand why certain people from Gilman wanted to keep the punk scene underground, but I also agree that bands deserve to make money if they work hard enough. Why do something you hate when you can be paid to do what you love?
Apparently the loudest voices that want to yell “Sell Outs” are actually fairly well off and don’t rely on their music for making money, so I found that really interesting.
There were also some discussions on what is and isn’t punk, and the film told the viewers that even if we missed the 80’s and 90’s in Gilman, we didn’t miss punk. The same magic can happen again anywhere at any time, and we won’t know we’re witnessing it for years to come.
The movie was really well done. I think people who don’t know anything about Corbett Redford might have had some concerns because this was his first film, and it’s such an important topic to so many people, but he did a phenomenal job and everyone who knows Gilman knows he’s the right man to make this movie. I want to rewatch it already and own it on DVD like now. I absolutely loved it.
It was almost three hours long, but it didn’t feel like it. Every minute was enjoyable, and it flew by.
After the film there was a Q&A with Corbett, Larry Livermore, and someone else from the Turn It Around crew whose name escapes me.
“Gilman to me, it is vital, it is alive.”
“If you’re watching a punk documentary and they tell you ‘You missed out,’ turn that shit off.”
The After Party
Four bands played the after party at DNA Lounge: The Hammerbombs, Pathogens, Kamala and the Karnivores, and Love Songs. All of the bands are from the Gilman scene, whether it was 20+ years ago, or today.
Chelsea and Ryon, director and producer of Bleeding Audio, were at the after party networking with others in the music industry for their own documentary. They wanted to try to find a way to get in contact with Tim Armstrong because he produced the Matches’ “You [Don’t] Know Me” and would be an awesome addition to the documentary.
Chelsea told me she had heard rumors about an Operation Ivy reunion.
“If I left and missed their reunion, I might kill myself.”
There weren’t enough people there, and that’s one of those things you can’t just do in secret. They would have a lot of hype if they were ever to reunite. She said she could see it happening at Riot Fest maybe, because they have a tendency to reunite bands and see them off on their final shows. Last year I saw Motion City Soundtrack’s final show at Riot Fest, but they also got the Misfits to reunite for the festival. I could see it happening there.
Can we have a moment of silence for the fact that I’ll probably never see Operation Ivy live? Please reunite for me. Please.
Of course she also asked me about the film.
“Did they just snub L3?”
“It ends in 94! Different scene, different scene.”
But this is exactly why we’re getting Bleeding Audio. We need both documentaries.
The East Bay just has the best punk scene. I love it so much. Fight me on that.
Pathogens were really awesome. I didn’t realize Cinder Block of Tilt and Jesse Luscious of Blatz had a band together. They’re both serious forces to be reckoned with, so seeing them front a band together was crazy. The two of them sharing that stage… Amazing.
“I can’t tell the difference between Nazis and hipsters. I don’t know who it’s okay to punch and who it’s okay to make fun of!” —Jesse
Kamala and the Karnivores were also great. I saw them at the Lookouting and loved them there. Also they’re all female, so that makes them the best.
“We’re punk rock because we fucking say we are!”
They called three “victims” onstage to play tambourines with them for this slow, kinda weird song. But I dunno, I liked it. I like pretty much anything that can be described as “weird.”
“Ya know how with bands like Op Ivy, everyone jumps onstage with them? We have to coax you.”
We all snuck out before Love Songs went on. It seemed like most people had the same idea, as the venue was clearing out. We were tired, and it was looking like no Op Ivy reunion. Boo. Maybe one day.
I know every music scene thinks what they have is special, and I’m sure to an extent it’s true. But this is my scene. This is the scene I grew up idolizing, and I grew up in Florida, thousands of miles from Berkeley. The Gilman scene has always been magical in my eyes, and this documentary perfectly illustrates that to anyone who watches it, whether you’re already familiar with the scene or not. I loved it and I can’t wait to watch it again.
Featured image by Corbett Redford
The rest of the images by me