There are a couple things I love most about life; travel, movies, and cinema. Luckily for me one often leads to another. Performing music has taken me to places I would never have had the opportunity to visit otherwise. And my love of movies has introduced me to some music I may never have gotten into. Here are my top 5 Life Changing Band Documentaries.
Fugazi was a band I had always heard name checked but I was only really familiar with ‘Waiting Room’ after downloading it off Limewire in my late teens. Instrument, a documentary about Fugazi, the seminal DC post-hardcore band formed by former Minor Threat vocalist Ian MacKaye, totally changed my outlook on music. I was in a punk band at the time, and after seeing Fugazi perform in Instrument what I was doing, while fun, felt really dumb and pointless. I wanted to do more. Luckily my time in that band was short lived and while my next band was nothing like Fugazi, Instrument and Fugazi definitely influenced me to push the envelope creatively.
The Pixies were only a small blip on my radar one late night when I was flipping through the cable stations at my girlfriend (now wife’s) parents’ house in the late 2000s and first saw Gouge, a documentary about Boston alt rock band Pixies. While not a feature length film, this British made-for-TV documentary shone a light on the band, exposing a side I had never seen before. At the time, I only really knew them since Where Is My Mind plays at the end credits of my favorite film, Fight Club, but Gouge opened my eyes to the brilliance of what I now consider one of the most overlooked bands of all time. Gouge sunk the hooks of Black Francis & Co deep into me, where they remain to this day.
3. The Devil & Daniel Johnston
I, like most of the world’s population, was blissfully unaware of Daniel Johnston before I saw a trailer for The Devil & Daniel Johnston on some DVD I had rented. The trailer painted a picture of some sort of tormented, unknown genius. What I saw kind of disturbed me, almost frightened me… I knew I had to watch it. I rented it and loved it. I rented it again. I dove head first into Daniel’s music. I rented it again. I finally bought it. TD&DJ tells the story of Daniel Johnston, the self-promoting singer-song writer who struggled with mental illness but went on to achieve cult status. With an arsenal of emotional, heartfelt tunes in his back-catalog, Daniel Johnston is the world’s most overlooked artist and this is your chance for a peak into his world.
2. Color Me Obsessed
I had heard very little of The Replacements when I was browsing Amazon Prime for something to watch and stumbled across this documentary (which none of ‘the Mats’ would participate in). Even if I don’t particularly like a band, I will still watch their documentary, just because I find the stories interesting, and I figured this would be the case with Color Me Obsessed. But dang it if the movie’s title hasn’t come true – The Replacements are now one of my all time favorite bands. The film follows the Mats’ storied career from local punk heros to alt rock legends, shying from the spotlight they so deserved all along the way with first hand accounts of friends, family and the countless others their music influenced.
1. Westway to the World
My first exposure to the Clash was when a high school classmate gave me The Clash – The Singles on CD because he didn’t care for it. I had heard of The Clash since I was really into The Ramones and The Sex Pistols but hadn’t heard them yet, so I was very anxious to check them out. And to be honest, at first, as much as I wanted to, I didn’t really like the album either. I gave it a few spins and then it basically gathered dust. But later on that year MTV aired what they called ’25 years of Punk’. Punk music videos, interviews with current punk bands, a documentary on Green Day’s Dookie album and Westway to the World. I was totally taken in. The film encapsulated so much more of what the band were than what a lousy singles collection could. I had seen the live performances, I had witnessed the genius of Strummer, the vision of Jones, Simonon’s style and the massive drumming chops of Topper. I had to get on board. The Clash are now my favorite band of all time. Close friend and film maker (and Jones’ former bandmate in Big Audio Dynamite) Don Letts did well to craft this, the only documentary that mattered. 😛
Let’s face it, there is a METRIC BUTT TON of band docs out there to enjoy. Here’s a long list that, while not life changing for me, are still worth watching. Check them out, maybe they can change your life.
American Hardcore, The Lesser Lights of Heaven, Do You Remember?, Refused Are Fucking Dead, Filmage, Sound City, Muscle Shoals, Running Down a Dream, The Filth & The Fury, End of the Century, Rattle & Hum, A Band Called Death, Anvil, Beyond the Lighted Stage, The Kids Are Alright, Back & Forth, Punk Rock Eats It’s Own, We Jam Econo, Kill the House Lights, Our Distance
Were there any documentary films at altered your life’s musical path? Sounds off in the comments.