TURN IT AROUND: THE STORY OF EAST BAY PUNK: A Lesson In Punk Rock History On Gilman Street
Turn It Around is a nostalgia piece for those who lived it, a film for the fans to enjoy and a tribute to the man who set it all in motion.
If you’re in need of a good punk rock documentary, there is definitely no shortage. Some of my favorite movies growing up were 1991: The Year Punk Broke, Live! Tonight! Sold Out!!, The Filth and the Fury and The Great Rock’n’Roll Swindle. In more recent years, I’ve watched The Punk Singer, One Nine Nine Four, The Other F Word, and Green Day: The Early Years with my oldest son, who is the same age now as I was when I first discovered punk rock.
Welcome to another great punk rock history lesson. Chapter: 1980’s & 90s – East Bay Scene and Gilman Street. Turn It Around: The Story of East Bay Punk, directed by Corbett Redford, delivers an entertaining and informative documentary on this important era in the world of punk rock, which has become an important chapter in music’s history – past and present. Executive produced by the members of Green Day, narrated by Iggy Pop and animation by Tim Armstrong of Rancid, this film has an authentic touch to it that isn’t sugar coated with Hollywood bubble gum.
When these bands were hitting the mainstream, I was a young teenager and feeling all the angst that comes with teenage hormones, during the post-grunge era. I remember zines. I traded them with pen pals across the country and made my own. Music was my savior. These bands were loud and I heard them. Even now, present day, these bands still speak my language more so than most other music or pop icons with their lyrics that happen to be just ripe for today’s political climate and the state of the world – so, I’m still listening.
Punk Rock Values – They Matter, Here’s Why
“Punk rock isn’t a sound, it’s doing something you’re afraid of doing”, says Kathleen Hanna of the Riot Grrrl scene and front woman of Bikini Kill, Le Tigre and the Julie Ruin. Iggy Pop echoes her in his narrative: “For those who live it, it’s a conversation with society”, and more often than not it’s an argument presented through art – and in this case, music. That is the very essence of what punk values are – and what this film, Gilman Street and the bands that started out there are about.
The values that punk rock and Gilman Street were founded on were simple: No hate. More specifically the rules were no violence, no racism, no homophobia, and no drugs or alcohol. The value of doing things yourself gave rise to the DIY movement. I was there. But I wasn’t there. I was on the other side of the country with unwashed hair, ripped clothing, making zines, going to shows and feeling passionate about my values with the need to express myself creatively. These were the people giving me and all my peers permission to break the barriers that were set before us.
I’m Telling Tim
About halfway through the documentary, it becomes obvious that this film is not only an homage to the place they got their start but it’s also a tribute to the man behind the scene: Tim Yohannan. Who was Tim? He was the Editor of the infamous Maximum Rock’n’Roll (MRR) fanzine and the founder of 924 Gilman Street (located in Berkeley, CA). He passed away in 1998 but his memory and Gilman Street live on. Today, Gilman Street still runs as a non-profit, all ages, volunteer punk rock club.
There are many different ways to help out – work at the door or stay late to mop the floors. Sure, many of the bands talked about and interviewed are obscure that you’ve probably never heard of unless you were there and a part of that scene, directly. However a handful of these bands made it big and some people who like this era and the music that came from it might enjoy hearing about the more obscure bands – because now there’s a new (old) band to go check out like Spitboy or the Yeastie Girlz.
Old school or diehard Nofx fans familiar with the song “I’m Telling Tim” on the album So Long And Thanks For All The Shoes might already understand the references made in that song but if not, after watching Turn It Around: The Story of East Bay Punk, it will all make sense.
Beat On The Brat And Other Tales
In this case the “brat” would be the nazi skinhead punks that tried to infiltrate the peaceful punk rock vibe at the club. Of all the stories told about Gilman Street in this 155 minute film, this was my favorite. It’s a story involving Tim Yohannan, Tim Armstrong, baseball bats, a new shiny red truck and some nazi skinheads.
Who was the first Gilman Street band to tour? Why did Operation Ivy break up? What inspired Tim Armstrong to get sober? Why was Green Day rejected by Tim Yohannan from playing at Gilman Street? Was Billie Joe Armstrong almost a part of Rancid? How did the Riot Grrrl scene taking off in the Pacific Northwest cross over into the Bay Area scene? All of this and more are answered and addressed in this documentary.
Turn It Around: The Story of East Bay Punk is a nostalgia piece for those who lived it, a film for the fans to enjoy and a tribute to the man who set it all in motion. It’s full of stories that these old punks are reminiscing about from their youth and sharing tips for the DIY savvy kids following in their footsteps.
Complaints and Compliments
Considering the length of most punk rock songs, this documentary runs rather long and probably could have been edited down a lot without taking away any of the importance and impact that this scene, Gilman, it’s bands and Tim had and continue to have. For a punk rock documentary, it could stand to have a little more Fat Mike of Nofx and less Kirk Hammet from Metallica.
Tim Armstrong is not only responsible for the animation in this film, but he and Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong formed a punk group called The Armstrongs. The band also features Billie Joe’s son and Tim’s nephew. The quartet recorded and released a song called “If There Was Ever A Time” that plays during the end credits. I liked the song so much that when the credits were done, I had to go look it up. The song was cut for the film. All proceeds to go to Gilman.
Turn It Around: Conclusion
Turn It Around: The Story of East Bay Punk will be more enjoyed by punk rock fans, bands and people who were a part of the scene. If you’re interested in punk rock or the origins of bands like Rancid and Green Day or if you remember Maximum Rock ’n’ Roll, then sit down and enjoy this history lesson in the punk rock chapter of music’s story.
I think the best thing about the bands who made it from Gilman Street and the East Bay punk scene is that many of those guys are still around and still doing their thing. Sadly, I can’t say the same about the beloved grunge scene from the early 90s. Many thanks to the producers of this documentary and all of the East Bay bands who are still around. I’ll see you in the pit and “if you f*ck up, I’m telling Tim!”
Turn It Around: The Story of East Bay Punk was released in the United States on May 31, 2017. For all international release dates, see here.
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