Paul Rachman’s work in film and music videos made a huge imprint on me, before I even knew who he was. During the late-’80s few hardcore punk bands had music videos, so if you were up late enough to catch a Bad Brains, Gang Green or Suicidal Tendencies video during the last hour of Headbanger’s Ball or on Night Flight, it was a rare lightning bolt that cracked open your world in under three minutes. Rachman was responsible for both the Bad Brains and Gang Green’s videos and has also worked with Joan Jett, Pantera, Kiss, Alice in Chains, Temple of the Dog, among other top shelf artists. He also filmed Mission of Burma’s farewell shows in 1983, which were infamous in Boston music folklore.
Rachman has a deep list of credits on his IMDB, which you should peep, but for any HC enthusiast, you’ve seen his work on the adaptation of Steven Blush’s book American Hardcore (2006). If you haven’t seen it, download Crackle and watch that shit immediately, before reading any further, because it’s essential viewing. American Hardcore, the book, made noise in the HC scene, creating a larger dialog about if hardcore really had an “endpoint.” For narrative’s sake, choosing to put a period at the end of HC’s first wave made sense, as the book didn’t tell the story of hardcore present. Some people got heated about that, myself included, but Rachman’s adaptation and presentation was excellent and a blueprint for the slew of hardcore docs to follow.
His next work is titled Lost Rockers, and is a documentary that “peeks under the dusty rug of music history and tells the stories of great forgotten musicians.” It is currently available in book form, once again penned by Steven Blush. Look for Lost Rockers, the film, later this year, but for now here’s a bit on Paul Rachman’s work and one of the craziest shows he’s ever attended.
How’d you end up working on that infamous Mission of Burma video Live at the Bradford?
Well, I’m from New York, but I went to college in Boston. I went to Boston University from ‘78 to ‘82. I stayed up there a little bit after that, mainly because of the whole hardcore thing. While I was up there… the first couple of years it’s really punk and everything and new wave is happening, you know, ‘78/’79. Then in ‘79, I see … I remember seeing David Lynch’s film Eraserhead. Like, holy fuck, movies could look like this?
This is so fucked up. This is great, you know? That really got me into the whole indie film thing. I spent the summer of 1980 in Berkeley, California. I broke up with this girl and my roommate—my first roommate from BU was spending the summer in Berkeley, and I went out there. That summer, punk rock explodes in San Francisco. It was right after Jello Biafra ran for mayor, and it was like every night there was a show at The Mabuhay Gardens or whatever, and it was like, Suburban Lawns, The Dead Kennedys, The Tubes—it was all this very San Francisco punk thing. Everything was about music, you know? I come back to Boston that fall and I see Black Flag. I was like ‘holy fuck!’
After seeing Eraserhead and hearing Black Flag, I’m like fuck, this is … I’m in, you know? In 1980, I get a new roommate, Alec Peters. Alec became the promoter in Boston—the hardcore promoter. He was doing all the shows, you know. I mean, Al Barile from SSD really started the shows at the Gallery East. All the other shows going on were APP: Al Peters Productions. Everybody started playing for him. But back to after seeing Eraserhead and Black Flag, I wanted to make films, and I bought a Super 8 camera. I also started to volunteer at these… it was the dawn of cable television in the suburbs. Boston, didn’t have it yet, but all the suburbs, and these are suburbs that are 15 minutes away started getting these cable studios. I started volunteering and I had all access to all this equipment and editing, so I learned how to edit. I had access to all this like three-quarter inch equipment, so I started bringing the equipment to punk shows, and my Super 8.
So the cable access station was part of your way into things?
I just start shooting this stuff. I wanted to be part of it (hardcore). My roommate’s the damn promoter! All these touring bands are staying on my floor in my apartment and house after that. I’m able to like, hey man, can I come and shoot you guys? They all said yes, and some of the stuff would air on like Arlington cable systems. Nobody was seeing this stuff. Some people were, but it was very low brow, you know? As things move on, by the spring of ‘83, I remember Mission to Burma announced that they were going to have their final shows.
By ‘81, MTV starts, and you start hearing the whispers of what this is going to be. I want to make music videos, but I didn’t really know how. Besides, I’m just shooting all of this stuff, and some of it is being edited, these live shows, and being put on, you know, Norwood cable systems or Arlington cable systems, that kind of thing. In 1983, Mission to Burma announces its last show, and Alec had been getting bigger, and he’s doing these bigger shows at the Bradford Hotel ballroom, which probably held over 1000 people. He does these shows for Mission of Burma, na all ages show and an evening show, and it was packed.
What I do is I quote unquote borrow the mobile van from Arlington cable systems, or maybe it was Norwood cable TV or I forget which town I was volunteering at at that point. This is like a… I don’t know, $60-100,000 mobile van with like a deck and equipment and four cameras and shit, and I park it behind the Bradford Hotel. I unload a lot of equipment backstage, and I’m shooting it. Drew Stone was one of my cameramen. I shoot the show and it was insane. It was the infamous show where Negative FX plays, there’s like, you know … and the song cuts off.
Of course—it’s legendary.
The all ages show was so intense. Negative FX comes on and the stage just gets invaded and the house manager cut the power off to the whole place. Everything goes dark, that’s why it goes to snow.
That’s how I filmed that show, and then Ace of Hearts put it out and by ‘83 Alec gets squeezed by the promoters in Boston, you know, like Don Law (the main promotion company in Boston) and everything. He’s getting too big, and it’s like, you know, “screw this guy, we’re not going to have another guy doing shows with 1000 kids. If it’s going to be that many kids, they gotta play for me.”
He doesn’t get his permits anymore, he gets squeezed out. He starts managing Gang Green.
I think Don Law still runs Boston that way, too. We dealt with that in the ‘90s as well.
Gang Green’s first record —before even Alec manages them—I remember around ‘82, we were waiting for The Bad Brains to show up at a show. They were like three hours late, and we’re all waiting at the parking lot of the Channel—this is a big club in Boston. All the kids are just hanging out in the parking lot. The Bad Brains aren’t here. It’s just like, you know, it’s like a tailgate party, you know?
Curtis from Taang was there. Gang Green had just done their first recording. They played it in Curtis’s car—Curtis had this cool Camaro or something. Curtis decides, I’m going to put your record out. I’m going to start a label. That was like the birth of Taang Records.
That’s insane… a fucking Camaro…
Gang Green are notorious. I mean, they start as the three piece kind of skateboard band when they’re high school kids, but by the time they do their first album, you know, the lead single is “Alcohol.” It’s all about drugs and drinking. They go from being a cool, young skate band, to this notorious band of trouble wherever they go. Chris Doherty was just living life to the fullest. I mean, it was a constant quest for beer and drugs and girls, no matter where you went. It was 24-7.
I go on a bunch of Gang Green tours. Circle Jerks would take them out. I think they did one with the Chili Peppers at one point—This is all early 80s, you know, to about ‘85. I think late ‘83/’84 we do a West Coast tour that was just intense, and we had a huge part at the Tropicana Hotel in Hollywood, West Hollywood, which was a notorious rock and roll hotel. It got torn down. There was a monster party there. Everybody came. All the bands, you know, the Chili Peppers were there, Flea was there—everybody was there. That’s where I shot some of the footage that’s in the “Alcohol” video, this black and white footage. Brian, the Gang Green drummer jumps from the roof into the pool. It was just crazy.
I moved back in New York in ‘83, really concentrating on trying to become a music video director, and I’m editing, I have access to editing equipment. That’s when I actually get to edit all the footage I’d been shooting for two years—The Bad Brains “I Against I” video, the Gang Green “Alcohol” video. All that stuff gets edited and starts playing late night on MTV and stuff.
I keep on going on these tours every so often, but you know, Alec and the band, they’re just living it to the fullest. It’s like every day of their lives is just about … it’s about just scamming their way through life, you know? I went on a few East Coast tours and a few West Coast tours. I never really went across the country with Gang Green. The Florida tours were notorious, because, we would go down there, we would sneak into Disney World. We’d just sneak into all these places. We’d go to like a Denny’s or like a coffee shop and we’d leave without paying—everything was a scam, and the cops would be after us sometimes, because of some fucked up thing that was going on. It was always about more beer, where can we buy drugs.
I had all this equipment with me. I can best be described as like a stowaway on these tours. They’re my friends, I want to go out on the road. I really want to shoot footage and stuff. That’s really my purpose in life. I was really serious about that. Stayed focused on that. But, once you’re on that train, man, it’s just intense. You’re on tour, there’s a show every night, everybody’s in a van, and there’s always trouble.
Is there any Florida story that really stands out? One that just seems surreal when you look back on it?
We’re on tour and we play in Orlando, and Florida is always kind of… Southern Florida, Northern Florida are two different beasts. Florida is like a weird state. Half of it is really southern, the other half is just all these northerners who live there. We play in Orlando at this place called the Electric Avenue or something—it’s since changed its name. We’re on our way to the West Coast of Florida, you know, Tampa/St. Pete’s. That’s where the show is the next night.
These smaller shows would sometimes pop up on the road, like these backyard shows, you know, or an afternoon show somewhere. You would do those if they were on their way. You needed to make as much money as you can. There was a show that was booked in this place called Land O’Lakes, Florida, and I think this is like the greater, greater suburbs of western Orlando, or maybe it’s further out. It’s really called Land O’Lakes.
We go there, and this, if I remember correctly, I think they were getting a couple thousand dollars for the show. It was the biggest payday of any of the gigs, any of the club gigs, so it was like of course the band’s gonna do this.
That’s huge money for back then!
We go to this area, and it’s very kind of, I don’t know, half country/half suburbs, but kind of Florida weird, you know? We go up this long driveway and there’s this other neighborhood, more spread out houses and there’s like a cemetery. There’s a big pond, apparently that had gators in it. It’s kind of the boonies of northern Florida. This was a known place, because other bands had been playing there. It had been heard of. I know the band had heard about gigs, but there was no specificity about it. We get there and it’s a combination of some kind of older people, not that much older. I mean, we’re in our 20s so it wasn’t like they were 50-year-olds.
Maybe they were like 30-year-olds, and a bunch of kids. A lot of kids, and small kids. It was kind of like a neighborhood. It seemed a little bit bigger than just a backyard show, a backyard hardcore show, and it was actually in the front yard. We go there, and sure enough you start seeing… you would go to these shows and there was always some kind of like Nazi punk or you know skinhead.
There was always a couple kids at a show that had the skinny suspenders, the Army boots and the tight faded jeans, you know, some of them might Sieg Heil on the stage—it was always like an extreme minority. It was always like a few kids like that, but when you went to a show and you saw more than six of them, all dressed the same, and you show up to this show and there’s like a bunch of skinheads with the red suspenders over the white t-shirt or white beater, and the tight, really faded bleached jeans, and the big Army boots, then you know that it’s like this racist, white supremacist thing. I remember showing up and being kind of freaked out, and Al was kind of freaked out, and it was like , “Oh, this is fucked up, but they’re paying $2000.”
There’s plenty of beer, it’s this front yard party. There’s a decision of like, let’s not take out all the equipment, and I’m not gonna shoot. I’m like, I’m not taking my film cameras out. I’m not gonna shoot. I just didn’t feel right about it. It really is something I regret. I should have shot, because it would have been so incredible to see this. It was daytime. It wasn’t at night. This is during the day.
It was really like a mini hate rally. They had plenty of booze and they had speed. Somebody in the neighborhood was making speed, so sure enough Chris Doherty and everybody was like, “We’re going to do all your speed!” All these kids are cranked up, you know? They’re intense. They’re like speed freaks. You can’t really talk to those people, you know what I mean?
It’s just really sketchy. I remember the sound system was really shitty, some shitty band opened, and there were a ton of girls, and the girls are really into the bands. All this shit was just not feeling right—we’re going to get trouble here. Remember, Gang Green is all about getting into trouble. They’re just fucked up and they’re going to do something stupid and they’re going to try to steal something or say the wrong thing and somebody’s going to get beat up. That’s what I’m thinking the whole time, you know?
Traveling with Gang Green is traveling with dynamite. I was talking to Alec about this the other day, and he reminded me that Black Flag had been there before, a few weeks before or couple months before. They tried to leave without playing.They wouldn’t let them. They stole the keys from the van, I don’t know what they did, but they prevented them from leaving until they played.
So, Gang Green plays and everybody is Sieg Heiling, and it really is like a fucking hate rally. We were out in the middle of nowhere. You walk out into the street and there were like cops in the neighborhood. We were thinking, “Where the fuck are we, and what’s going to happen? I think the band used the first band’s drum kit, the guitars came out, the sound, and Gang Green I think carried a very small PA on that tour, but they wouldn’t take it out. It was all about, if we have to get out of here fast, we should just be ready. Then the beer ran out and I think some of the girls went out to get more. Chris was always flirting with the girls, and many times the wrong girls. And pissing off the boyfriends,—it’s just constant tension in these situations? I think the house … there was two houses near each other and one of the houses was getting trashed by kids and people were complaining and somebody was fighting. I mean, it was just chaotic. It was kind of a Nazi compound or something.
I mean, it wasn’t really a compound, it wasn’t like there was a flag and it was like a cult, but it was definitely a community of like-minded people who got together Sundays and they were racist for sure, and they dressed the part. After the show it was … they were crazy for Gang Green t-shirts. I think the band sold almost all the t-shirts. Everybody … they had money, man.
The cops show up to the party, and it really is like, these cops probably come to this thing every weekend or something, you know, and they’re trying to see if there’s trouble. It was weird because the cops were pretty familiar with the locals. They seemed much more suspicious about who the bands were who were there, because they came up and right away, I think Al, had seen the cops pulling up on the driveway, and he was like, “Okay, we gotta get out of here.” One of the cops came up to Alex— I was already in the van and something about Mass plates—you know, where are you from? We’re leaving, how do we get out of here? We’re kind of lost. The cops told us how to get out of there, and we just went. In a way it was good that the cops showed up, because there really was a feeling of keeping us there to hang out.
Nobody got beat up. There was a lot of speed. I’m sure the band got a lot of free drugs. Drank all their beer. Sold a lot of t-shirts. Gave them a short show, you know, and but yeah, it was just insane.