Chicago’s got punk history, of course. Just ask Joe Losurdo, director of You Weren’t There, a state-smashing documentary on the local punk scene in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Of course, facts aren’t everything. There’s got to be some drama, too—and maybe a rousing chorus. That’s why Losurdo’s knee-deep in Sacrificial Youth, a punk musical he’s written and directed. He’s trying to finish up the movie with a little help from his Kickstarter friends, and he talked to The A.V. Club about the story, the music, and, of course, nostalgia.
The A.V. Club: When you say “punk musical,” that doesn’t inspire much confidence. What’s the movie actually about?
Joe Losurdo: It’s about a modern suburban kid who’s playing in a hardcore band and is very obsessed with this old-school idea of “the scene.” He’s basically almost a Civil War re-enactor, in that he’s a true believer. A friend of mine described the movie as a punk-rock Jesus Christ Superstar, and it’s kind of like that, but it’s more about someone with a Christ complex rather than being Christ.
AVC: And it’s a musical?
JL: It’s a musical, but there’s dialog. Not everything is sung.
Basically, it’s centered around this teenage kid, and he may be the chosen one, but chosen for what?
AVC: The movie’s set in the present and stars a bunch of teenagers. How do you, as a slightly older dude, stay active in the scene yourself?
JL: I play in a band. We don’t play that often, but I’m still in a hardcore band. It’s very fair-weather, though. We’re all old, and we play when asked. That’s pretty much it.
I’m still friends with guys in bands, but it’s a young man’s game, especially if you’re not on the pulse. Some of the actors in the movie are actual teenagers, though, and I’d ask them, “Do kids even say this anymore?” They would say, “No,” and I’d say, “Well it’s my movie, and I can do whatever I want.” [Laughs.] They thought it was really funny.
These kids today seem a lot smarter and more savvy than I think me and my friends were. It’s kind of funny that these kids are into what we were into at 16 or 17 when they’re 13 or 14, and by the time they’re 16, they’re into The Seeds and obscure ’60s garage bands. They’ve outgrown it. Finding that out really renewed my faith in the youth of America.
AVC: How did you cast the film?
JL: We held some auditions, but it was mostly through word of mouth. One of the characters is a friend of my niece. He’s 18, and his friend who was a little younger, 16, plays the guitar player. The main character’s a little older, though. He’s playing a teen, but he’s in his 20s.
It was really important to me to get guys who could play their instruments. It drives me insane when you’re watching a fake band on TV and you can clearly tell they don’t know how to play their instruments.
AVC: This will be your second punk project. Is that your oeuvre: punk films?
JL: It’s funny. I know I’m running the risk of pigeonholing myself, but I think after this I have the punk rock out of my system. I just wanted to do a narrative after the documentary, which was really hard. I was so naïve and thought that a narrative would be easier. It’s ridiculous.
It’s funny, though, because there are several people who were in You Weren’t There who contribute to this in one way or another. They’re in there as actors, or musicians playing on some of the tracks.
I think the whole idea stems from the fact that I always felt like really good, old-school hardcore, like Bad Brains or Minor Threat, the songs reminded me of really fast show tunes. It was the arrangements of the songs and the way they were structured. If you made it slower and threw some horns on it, it would basically be a show tune, because these guys were selling it. So I thought it would be interesting to see if I could do this genre.
AVC: Are you using those Bad Brains and Minor Threat songs in the movie?
JL: It’s all original material. I think I wrote like 22 songs, and I’m using most of them. The music is pretty varied, though. It’s not all straight, super-fast hardcore. I think that, except for a few people, most people would lose interest in that.
AVC: The movie’s already made, right? What’s the goal of this Kickstarter campaign?
JL: I’m just trying to get some money to pay for studio time to mix the music and do some production work, and post-production. Even if we don’t raise enough on Kickstarter, I’m still going to finish the movie. It would be nice not to completely bankrupt myself, though.
AVC: And once the movie’s done, then what?
JL: I’m really bad at that kind of stuff, as far as shopping a film around and all that. I was just going to ask every filmmaker I know what I should do, and I figured I’d get 50 different answers. We went to a couple of film fests with You Weren’t There, and I met a lot of filmmakers who were insanely impressive with how they worked their films. I don’t know how they do it. That’s almost like a full-time job, putting all your focus and energy into working something like that. I do have a couple of people who have expressed interest so far without it being done, though. It’ll come out in some form.
AVC: Is this a movie for kids now, or for kids from the ’80s?
JL: I wanted it to be a teen movie. I really did. Hopefully some kids will get into it. The reaction’s been pretty good from younger people.
I was calling it “the anti-Glee movie” for a while. I just felt like youth culture’s so dominated by the most horrific crap. I can’t even believe that’s the biggest thing around. It seems so saccharine and toothless. It tries to act like it’s kind of, “We’re the outcasts and the nerds,” but I wanted there to be some youth-culture film that didn’t condescend to kids. We’ll see what happens, though.
AVC: To play devil’s advocate: What makes you think ’80s hardcore is still interesting to the youth of today?
JL: This is why I kind of felt like it was okay: I used to own a record store, Hi-Fi Records, for 10 years, and I know kids who are 16 that know more about old hardcore than I do. They play in bands and make their own new music, but it’s in the style of older music, I guess you would say. I don’t hear many new musical styles. Even in the hippest new indie bands, I can name check a couple of bands that sounded like that 30 years ago or were in that style.
The movie’s not really a comment that older is better, though. The main character’s more into the idealism of the old scene than the music. It’s very fabled, and there’s lots of revisionist history, and most people who were there would tell you it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. People have these rosy ideas of what it was like, but you forget the context. The only reason that music meant so much to so many people then was because of how much everything else sucked at the time. You had to really want it. If you were interested in anything remotely different, even if it was liking weird movies, you really had to make an effort to see it, especially if you lived in the suburbs.
Now, things like You Weren’t There are on the Documentary Channel June 4, I don’t have cable, so I have to go to someone else’s house to watch it. But it’s exciting nonetheless.