I didn't learn everything about Boston hardcore in one high school study period, but what I was told then is still true. Instead of quizzing me on the empirical chart we were studying, an upperclassmen spotted the anarchy pin I was wearing, which I found that summer at Salisbury Beach. He asked me what Boston bands I liked. I rattled off a few local thrash metal bands before he cut me off.
"Do you have This Is Boston, Not LA?" he asked.
Of course the answer was no, I didn't even know what the fuck he was asking me. Boston's famous indie record store Newbury Comics released the comp in the early 80s to document the flourishing hardcore scene. It featured virtually every notable local act aside from straight-edge trailblazers SS Decontrol, who I later found out were the most important band in the world, and their brother band DYS.
The older punk’s lesson ran through all of the bands on the album, from Jerry's Kids and Gang Green, who were the best and fastest on the album but sucked now, to the arty Proletariat and the sarcastic FU. It all made perfect sense to me. This was Boston, FUCK LA! I already hated glam metal and anything related to the Sunset Strip, so a giant middle finger formed in my head aimed towards the City of Angels.
I never thought I’d receive another lesson about Boston hardcore almost 30 years later—from a New Yorker. Filmmaker Drew Stone, who was lucky enough to witness the birth of hardcore in Boston while attending Emerson College in the early 1980s, has a new movie about the Boston scene called All Ages. Over the past three years Drew worked with executive producer and found of The Gallery East Duane Lucia and Boston radio personality Katie Goldman to complete the xxx All Ages xxx. I talked with him about the film, which will hopefully introduce a whole new generation to the aggression and influence of Boston hardcore.
VICE: You've said that All Ages isn't about Boston hardcore, but rather a story about a group of people. So, what’s the story?
Drew: It's a film about the community and the culture and not about the guys in the bands. The film takes place from 1981 to '84 and covers the first wave of Boston hardcore. It deals with the environment of society at the time, finding places to even have all ages shows, straight edge, and how people communicated then. It's an interview based film with lots of never before seen photos and footage from that era. While I was making it I never thought that that it was "my" film, I always felt that it was "our" film, so to speak. It's a film I always dreamed of making.
As a kid from New York City, what were your initial impressions of Boston's shitty part of town The Combat Zone? Did it really look like the cover of Get It Away or was it clean compared to NYC?
Having grown up in New York City in the 1970s, the Combat Zone in Boston was nothing I didn't see before on 42nd street, which was pretty decadent at the time. Boston was just another city that had its sleazy run down pornographic part of town. My first impression of Boston as a freshman at Emerson College studying acting was like many other kids at the time: Let's have fun and get crazy! Boston was and is a great college town that always has a vibrant music scene.
Was Choke actually hard or just the first one to dance aggressively among a room fully of skinny punks and girls pogoing?
To give credit where credit is due, Choke was one of the first guys in Boston to take it to the next level as far as aggressive slam-dancing goes. He and a few others started the whole punching and kicking style that eventually evolved into people "Kung Fu Fighting" on the dance floor!
Did you debate using subtitles for Springa and other cats with thick accents?
[Laughs] They aren't that bad.
One of the most striking scenes in the film is when the Boston crew are walking through downtown for the Kids Will Have Their Say cover, and a group of black kids approach them. Al Barile looked pissed off. What was it like being a skinhead back then in Boston?
Well for starters, the only people that were shaving their heads then were Marines and psychopaths. So, if you shaved your head back then you were looking for trouble. When a few of us shaved our heads in 1981 it was met with much confusion and distain by most of the populace. Even though there were not a lot of black kids in the scene, it was pretty much multi-ethnic and racism was not tolerated at all. I cannot recall a single issue of racism in that era involving the hardcore scene. To this day I like to think that hardcore in general strives for racial equality.
The SS Decontrol footage comes off as more powerful and threatening than any documentation of Minor Threat, did they have any sense of humor or was their version of straight edge was as militaristic as it seemed?
In my experience Minor Threat, The Bad Brains, and SS Decontrol were all incredibly powerful. As I said in the film regarding SS Decontrol, "Those were our guys and when they played it was extremely, extremely powerful. They were so great early on and they delivered the goods." They were dead serious with their message but there is always room for a few laughs and I remember some very funny moments. Springa was a very funny guy back then. The balance between Al "Lethal" Barile and Springa is what made that band great. Different people bring different things to the party and that's what makes the whole.
What was your biggest struggle and triumph with the film and who was left out that you wished was a part of it?
My biggest triumph with the film was reconnecting with people that I had not seen years. This film chronicles a scene that took place in the early 80s when we were all teenagers, and many years later I reconnected with people in their 40s. It was pretty much, "So how was your life? Was it a good life?" That was the biggest joy for me regarding the project. That said, there are a few people who have mutated beyond all recognition in those ensuing years and were not the same people who I was "in the trenches with" all those years ago. Some people just want to forget that time of their lives and never think about it again. But for the most part, people were extremely enthusiastic about being involved with the film.
If you had to sum up Boston's contribution to hardcore what would it be?
The early Boston hardcore scene was a focused and intense group who helped contribute to create a roadmap that a lot of bands and scenes today take for granted. The music and dancing was more aggressive than anything else around at the time and the straight edge ethos was ratcheted up to a near militant level. It was a very short-lived yet influential time in many people's lives that inspired them through adulthood.
The film is available to purchase on DVD at their official site allagesbostonhardcore.com