You probably know Dave Markey, the SoCal wild child filmmaker, from his teen trash one-two punch Desperate Teenage Lovedolls and Lovedolls Superstar, or maybe from his non-Courtney approved documentary, 1991, The Year Punk Broke. He's also made music videos for Mudhoney, Sonic Youth, Meat Puppets, and many others. Reality 86'd is the fabled and, until recently, unseen film in Dave's canon that has had many a punk nerd wriggling in sweat over the years.
At the time, Markey was playing in Painted Willie, the band opening for what would be Black Flag's final tour. Shot in the first six months of 1986, many thought the documentary was a Holy Grail-like vision inside the LSD and weed-fueled last days of the most pioneering American punk band of all time. Unfortunately, the release of the film was squashed in the early 90s by Black Flag guitarist Greg Ginn for unknown reasons. Maybe he was upset that the film showed he wore sweat pants not only in public, but on stage as well. Maybe he was embarrassed by the scene where he shares a roach with Flag roadie Davo Classen and handles his high like a 15-year-old. Whatever the reason, other than a few snippets on YouTube the film was tucked away for over two decades.
Then, a few weeks ago Markey just plopped Reality 86’d onto the internet for every nerd to see in all its lawless glory. I was sort of confused as to why he decided to just throw it up there after all this time, so I decided to get in touch with him and find out.
VICE: Why did you decide to release the film now, after so many years?
Dave: It literally sat in my closet for 20 years. I held it tight, but everyone in the film had a copy of it. I have received at least a thousand e-mails over the past couple decades from people the world over begging me for a copy of it. I was recently inspired by an article on downloading by Henry Rollins in the LA Weekly, in which he was calling out Greg Ginn on his non-payment of royalties, and the fact that everything is now on the net for free.
Does anyone besides Greg Ginn have issues with the film being out there?
I got in touch with everyone who I still was in contact with from this film and tour and informed them that I planned on uploading it, and they were cool. Chuck Dukowski was especially very encouraging. Henry had always said it was a shame that people couldn't see this. At one point in time Rollins wanted to release it. I'm not sure what Greg Ginn's problems are with it. Probably the same problems he had with the band, which were ongoing from day one. You would have to interview Greg Ginn, but good luck getting anything from him. I have my theories, and they all have to do with the ugly side of the music business and ego.
So Greg Ginn has seen the film?
First thing I did upon the completion of it in early 1991 was offer Ginn the film for distribution, knowing full well that I would not be paid by SST for it. I just wanted to get it released. I went down to his office in Long Beach and sat with him and we watched the entire film together. And then we played music for a couple of hours! That was the last time I ever saw him. He said he needed a few days to think about it. Then he called me and said, "You cannot release this movie. If you do, I will stop you." Just like Tony Fucking Soprano! It has been wrongly reported that he walked out on the film in its only public screening in1991 at the Cinema Café in Hollywood. That's not true, he wasn't at that screening.
Was there anyone on the tour who objected to being filmed?
Well, since I was a part of the tour, no one really objected. It did get a little weird at times because having the camera allowed me to skirt some of the more labor intensive parts of this tour. You see, the bands were also the crew and we had to load in and load out and set up that massive P.A. each and every night, night after night, for six months. But we ended up having fun whenever we could and formed a camaraderie. Henry did give me and my band a hard time—as he did with most of his opening bands—but then again he wore the band's T-shirt for months in a row. It was a strange trip.
Did you leave anything out of the film due to respect of others?
It's been so long since I edited this and looked at the rough footage, that I honestly don't remember. I don't think I shot anything that would have been in question, outside of a few people smoking pot. The scene with Joe Cole on the grave still freaks me out in light of his passing five years after this tour. Joe was a great friend.
Is there any chance of it ever getting a commercial release?
As far as I'm concerned the film is released, although it's just for viewing purposes at the present. I'd imagine it would take some sort of revelation by one man in order for this to be available commercially. And I don't really see that happening.
The one thing that struck me about the film was how primitively psychedelic it was.
It does have a weird look to it, doesn't it? Perhaps it was an extension of the psychic energy of the 13 people on this tour. Or maybe it was the cheap tele-cine from the super 8 film. I remember we would do LSD regularly just to stay awake and drive to the next town. In a way you can say this could be seen as a nihilistic version of Kesey's Further Tour.
The mountain footage in the film seems particularly fucked. Where was that? Colorado?
That was the top of the Rockies. Most of us on the tour would try and enjoy the days off and break up the monotony of the road by getting out and seeing and experiencing nature. Even if it meant singing John Denver songs in the process. There's a shot of Davo jumping peak to peak. If he landed wrong he would have surely died in a horrible fall.
Where is Davo these days?
Apparently in Tempe, Arizona running a pool cleaning service. I haven't spoken to him in over a decade since his self-imposed exile. I miss him.
I saw this tour when I was 13. I lived in Trenton, New Jersey and saw gigs at City Gardens. I always thought that place was a total craphole, and then I watched the film last night and thought "That place was a palace compared to these dumps! They were probably psyched to be there!" I know Black Flag were already seasoned veterans of this kind of stuff, but how did you feel at the time, playing places where the marquee was under ads for prime ribs and peep shows?
It was unreal to be a part of this tour and a part of SST, hence the title of the film. It was an honor and a pleasure to be there everyday, no matter what dump we were playing. For me, growing up in LA and worshiping Black Flag since 1980, it was more than a dream come true. I mean, if you told me in 1981 that I would eventually go on the road with Black Flag for half a year I wouldn't have believed you. If I didn't have this document I would probably wonder if it ever happened.
The one thing I remember from that Black Flag/Gone/Painted Willie show was a lot of mohawked dudes not liking Gone walking around in Grateful Dead shirts. Did this cause some problems at certain shows on the tour? I think by '86 most of the fans were getting used to Black Flag's process of weeding out. It was a little more intense in the years previous to this tour. The backlash from the hardcore set started the minute Henry's hair grew in like what, 1982? Much of Black Flag's mid period and later work was a response to that, like side two of My War. Then again, I don't think a lot of that stuff has aged well, and for me the early stuff is really the best Black Flag material. So maybe the punkers were right! For me "punk" was never a set of rules or a fashion thing, like it was for so many. Of course Black Flag themselves were taking cues from so many bands too, whether it was Flipper or Redd Kross or The Dead. The real anarchy was in the music.
Where do you think this film falls in the history of underground music and/or punk rock? What kind of a statement do you think it makes about that music at that particular time in history?
I don't know, that's for other people to figure out. I myself have a hard time sitting through it. Parts of it are embarrassing. But I have to roll and realize this is fucking history. No one can deny that. You can see how this music would influence Seattle and the so-called "Grunge" scene a few years later. It was the pilot light for that whole scene. I don't think anyone would disagree.
Stylistically, where does it fall in your filmmaking?
Well, it does represent some sort of change for me there. Again, I'm not sure what exactly. But it did change me, at least for those six months in 1986. I don't think this film is like anything else I ever made.
There’s a scene in the film where someone is seen leaving a house with an anvil case. Everyone seems stoked to see him and high fives him before he gets in the van. Who is he and what was in the anvil case?
That’s Mitch Bury who was the road manager, and that was his parent's home in Adams, Massachusetts. His anvil case was always with him and usually it was filled with tour itinerary and cash.
The reason I asked was I read somewhere that Ginn always toured with an anvil case full of grass. I was just wondering if that was the case in question. Come on… you can tell us!
Well, I don't recall Mitch being a stoner at all and I never saw weed stashed in there. Perhaps Ginn had one, but I don't remember seeing it. That's what the cargo vans were for.