Knowing firsthand that MTV didn’t always totally suck asswater really dates you. When I have occasion to mention how, once upon a time, that justly-reviled network actually played some seriously cool shit, I half wonder if I’m coming off like my grandma used to when she talked about the Great Depression. But it’s true, even before long-running bones thrown to the weirdos like 120 Minutes and Headbanger’s Ball found their footing, MTV broadcast stuff like IRS’ The Cutting Edge and Andy Warhol’s Fifteen Minutes, which often rivaled even the USA Network’s mighty Night Flight for genuinely informative freak-scene value.
One jaw-droppingly excellent MTV show was the one-off special Punks and Poseurs: A Journey Through the Los Angeles Underground. A big mover behind its production was Charles M. Young, who, as sad fate would have it, passed away this week after a standoff with a brain tumor. He’s the guy at the beginning of the video, speaking with early VJ Alan Hunter, and while he looks for all the world like an unreconstructed Little River Band fan, don’t be faked out by appearances. Young was one of the first mainstream music journalists to take punk’s aesthetic merit as a given, and for that, we owe him a debt of gratitude. May he rest in peace.
At its core, “Punks and Poseurs” is a narration-free concert film, but it’s cut with terrific interview footage that explores the changing nature of punk, from insider and outsider perspectives. There’s a lot of great footage with writer/performers Pleasant Gehman and Iris Berry, torpedoing the influx into the music scene of neophyte phonies who just didn’t get it, explaining title of the program. (After this first aired in 1985, a bunch of the new waver/Durannie chicks at my high school—which is to say all the girls who were trying their suburban Ohio best to look like Gehman and Berry—started calling everyone “poseurs,” which was pretty funny.) There’s also a hilarious interview with employees at a store called “Poseur,” which sold punk fashions and accessories—people had to get that shit somewhere before Hot Topic forever banished punk to the mall, no? Also keep an eye out for the kid giving a primer on how to fashion liberty spikes with Knox gelatine.
The performance footage mostly focuses on excellent, high-energy sets by The Dickies and GBH —the latter of whom were quite radical by MTV’s regular programming standards (and British, contra the program’s subtitle, but the concert took place in L.A., so whatever, I guess). There’s also an early glimpse of the excellent and still active Italian hardcore band Raw Power. I harbor serious doubts they’ve ever been spotted on that network again.
Many thanks to upstanding journalist and total fucking poseur Mr. Erick Bradshaw for this find.
Previously on Dangerous Minds
‘Way USA’: Sleazy punk comedy travelogue is the greatest cult video you’ve probably never seen
The time Ian McKellen jammed with the Fleshtones on MTV in 1987
Debbie Harry, Ramones, Nick Rhodes, Courtney Love and more on MTV’s ‘Andy Warhol’s 15 Minutes’