Then and now: footage of Descendents |

Then and now: footage of Descendents

I lived in SoCal in my 20s and was lucky enough to get to see all the punk bands that are now considered classic. Dead Kennedys, Circle Jerks, The Vandals, Suicidal Tendencies, Butthole Surfers, Pillsbury Hardcore, Eyeball Bucket, The Dickies, Black Flag, Firehose … that’s just a short list.

(Note: One of those band names is totally made up. See if you can figure out which one. Win prizes!)

One of my favorites was a band called Descendents. They were playing out a lot in those days, so I got to see them often. The shows were typical of punk shows of the day; loud and chaotic, with flannel-clad bodies hurling all about with people jumping on your head at unexpected times. In other words — awesome. These shows happened in little clubs, halls or whatever place they’d rent to play in on a Friday night. Think basement, rather than auditorium. It was music up close and personal, and I loved it. I loved it so much that I thought, hey, wouldn’t it be cool to have some video of this?

Of course! I’ll shoot video of a Descendent’s concert. I had never done such a thing before. Sure, I’d shot my share of video. Holidays, birthday parties, Easter egg hunts and, most recently, several hundred hours of skateboarding on the backyard ramp. But a concert? Brilliant! Then I can watch the Descendents any time I want.

The family video camera was technically my dad’s, and getting his approval for such a mission would be a no-brainer. As in — if I think he’ll agree to let me take his camera to a punk show, I clearly have no brain. So my plan would have to involve sneaking my dad’s expensive, electronic equipment out of the house and taking it to a place where it was almost certain to get broken or stolen. Another consideration was the size. In 1986, when this tale takes place, video cameras were huge. You had to wear half of the VCR on a strap over your shoulder and the camera itself was about the size of a Buick. This was not a stealthy GoPro mission. This was, hey, look, somebody brought a big fragile thing to a gig, let’s go dance next to it or maybe on it. Still, I considered these minor obstacles to getting live footage of my favorite band.

So, on two different occasions I brought the family camera to a slam-dance-rich environment, and both times it went well. No breakage, good footage. Success. Whew.

Now then, moving forward about 30 years.

A few months ago my brother sends me a link to a trailer about a Descendents documentary in production. Cool. I check out the trailer and see that it’s the real deal, a professional production including interviews with punk luminaries like Keith Morris and Dave Grohl talking about how much they also love the Descendents. The trailer also includes a bit of vintage ’80s video of the band in concert, kind of like the stuff I remember shooting all those years ago. I email the filmmakers and tell them (in even greater detail than above) that I also have some old footage. I describe it and tell them that if they want it I’ll happily donate it to the cause. Yes, I still have copies of all that old footage because I keep stuff.

A few days later I get an email back from the producer/director that says, basically, we already have the footage you described. Huh? He goes on to say that they pulled it off a VHS tape in the drummer’s collection. It was labeled, movies from Barry Smith.

Of course! I had sent the band a copy way back then! I totally forgot about that until now, but of course I’d do such a thing. I was a fanboy with follow-through. And wait, of course, of course! That vintage footage that they used in the trailer? There’s a reason it jogged my memory, because it’s my vintage footage!

Last week I get another email from the director saying that the DVD is about to be released and if I’ll send them my size they’ll send me a T-shirt, poster and copy of the DVD. Oh, and I’m also getting a credit in the film.

A credit in the film!

There’s a moral to this story, and it’s this: You should never take other people’s things without asking. Unless it’s your Dad’s video camera, and you really, really want to.

“Filmage: The Story of Descendents/ALL” is coming to DVD and Blu-ray soon. Barry Smith’s column appears Mondays. More at