You Weren’t There
Remembering Chicago’s Punk Scene
What strikes me most about You Weren’t There: A History of Chicago Punk 1977-1984 is the feeling that I was almost there. The similarities between the punk scene that began to stir in Milwaukee by the end of ’77 and the topic of Joe Losurdo and Christina Tillman’s documentary (out on DVD) is striking. In both places, punk grew from the enthusiasm of a few people well placed in radio and record stores, oddball bar owners willing to gamble on an off night and a small but intense group of misfits and malcontents drawn by the allure of something different from the commodified boredom of ‘70s pop culture. And being a punk was risky: taunts of “faggot,” beer bottles, even blows were hurled at us in Milwaukee and Chicago.
One striking difference: Chicago’s early punk scene was racially integrated. Milwaukee’s was not.
Aside from unearthed still photos ad video of Naked Raygun, the Effigies and other bands, You Weren’t There is built around a series of fascinating interviews with survivors of the scene, including musicians such as Steve Albini, but also lesser known artists, club owners, DJs, bouncers, fans and fanzine editors. The telling thing is that the sources don’t all remember everything exactly the same way and offer different interpretations of the past. For all of them, it was a bracing experience to stand in opposition to an increasingly dim society. One of the points brought up by several participants is that punk was, in some way, more fun early on before it adopted its own uniforms and attracted bandwagon jumpers.