I never thought the Decline movies would be reissued. How great! I wrote this years ago, recalling the LA punk scene in the early 1980s.
…And then The Decline of Western Civilization came out. “Everybody was really buzzed about it,” he remembers. It was a documentary about the Los Angeles music scene, shot two long years earlier. “All these people I knew were saying, ‘I know I’m in it, I know I’m in it! I was right in front of the cameras.’”
Funded by Slash Magazine and Records, featuring a blow-up of Darby Crash’s lolling grimace on the one-sheet, the Decline screened for a time exclusively at the Fairfax Theater in Los Angeles. The punk reputation for destruction and mayhem led police to position themselves, at least for a time, outside the theater in riot gear. It was a movie theater experience that rivaled the best of rock shows.
By the time the film emerged, both Slash Magazine and Darby Crash were dead. Darby had returned with a new haircut and overdosed on heroin. Slash (with a drawing of Darby and his new haircut on their final issue) folded when its impulsive editor moved to London, leaving readers like me with the most provocative communique a dying periodical could ever muster:
just because we won’t be on your back for some time does not mean you ought to take it easy, get all passive drinking beer on the back porch letting the surrounding mellowness get to you. The time is crucial, you don’t have that much longer to start a band, write a manifesto, invent a religion, blow up a city block or kidnap The Clash before volcanoes pop up on Rodeo Drive, new minorities redefine militant terrorism and Haile Selassie comes back to earth on the back of a winged lion. By then it will have become near impossible to leave your mark on the world, but in the meantime amateurs still have a chance.
Most indelibly, The Decline enshrined on celluloid the uneducated mumbles of a kid named Eugene. This aphasic was interviewed throughout the film on philosophical concerns. He was a punk. In retrospect, this was the only point where the film appeared to poke fun at its subject, a tendency that full-on dominated its campy sequels. It was hard to spot this at the time. Instead, impressionistic bullies came to the Fairfax nightly and walked away quoting Eugene like Lucretius. The film became a primer on how to behave.
The clubs started to close, the Starwood, the Fleetwood, the Cuckoo’s Nest, the Chinatown clubs, the Whiskey. They closed in the Inland Empire too, local music venues like the Ritz, the Rialto, the On Club. The reason was always the same. Club patrons had been seen “urinating, fornicating, and defecating” in nearby yards…