Tuesday, March 24, 2015

My Take On The Excellent Documentary I'm Now: The Story Of Mudhoney

What makes I'm Now: The Story of Mudhoney (2012) so extraordinary for even casual fans of the band is that the film somehow also effortlessly and almost accidentally tells the story of how the U.S. major labels discovered indie rock and then dropped the ball entirely.

Directed by Adam Pease and Ryan Short, I'm Now: The Story of Mudhoney (2012) is a joyous, funny, and enthralling rise-and-fall-and-rise doc about the band that sorta defined grunge long before Nirvana got lucky and became household names. Perpetually seen as the underachievers of the Seattle scene, Mudhoney really did hit the big time, relatively speaking, before any of their Sub Pop brethren. The film so expertly chronicles the appeal of the 1988 to 1989 wave of Sub Pop acts that one gets a crash course and a reminder that grunge didn't begin and end with Cobain and his crew.

Equally successfully I'm Now: The Story of Mudhoney (2012) recalls the tactics that the Sub Pop label so perfectly used to get their sound some attention beyond the Pacific Northwest. Perhaps the first time I ever heard of Sub Pop was in 1988 reading issues of NME or Melody Maker 'cause it seemed that this scene happening on these shores was being covered better by those across the Atlantic. That era seems to coincide in my mind with the Sub Pop Singles Club in the same year or so. That was when I first started to know people actively into the scene, even if I still knew more people via The Record Co-Op who were into collecting Sarah or Creation records. But still, it was apparent that the Sub Pop Scene was a reality and the fandom around the label's acts was real and growing.

In that early era, there was a misconception that grunge was this sort of heavy, sludge-y rawk akin to the stuff the Blue Cheer cranked out. And while there was a lot of that then, there were other bands adding humor to the proceedings (Mudhoney, Tad) or pursuing new melodic styles (Soundgarden, soon to be on SST and then A&M by early 1989).

To the film-makers, and Mudhoney's, credit, Mark Arm here in this film not only works in a reference to Australia's Scientists but he does so in order to set the record straight on where the word "grunge" came from and where it got used long before Sub Pop started up.

What follows in the longest section of the film is the "formation" sequence where the band's origins are explained along with nice little bios of each member of Mudhoney. Along with Mark Arm, guitarist Steve Turner, drummer Dan Peters, and original bassist Matt Lukin recall the sort of roundabout way that the band came together. To hear them all tell it, it was really a case of Arm and Turner bonding in Green River, and then the rhythm section sort of falling into place. Lukin, a pure delight to hear in this film, serves as the sort of comic voice of the picture while Peters takes on the role of the unlucky guy who was almost in Foo Fighters when they got signed to Geffen and who was almost in Screaming Trees when they got popular.

What I'm Now: The Story of Mudhoney does so well is define these 4 original members of the band as unique personalities and totally unlike certain stereotypes of the grunge scene prevalent in that era. An unfortunate side-effect of the success of Nirvana was that Kurt Cobain sort of ended up defining the scene for many in this country. A better example of the diversity of the scene is shown here in the story of Mudhoney. There's a lot more humor in the stories here than one would expect and while Adam Pease and Ryan Short have done a fantastic job of telling the story of this band, they've done an even more remarkable job at perhaps inadvertently debunking the idea that the grunge scene was all serious and humorless.

The other fantastic thing that this film does is connect the grunge scene to the earlier hardcore scene, thanks largely to drummer Dan Peters' hysterical anecdote about playing a Dead Kennedys record in school for his classmates.

You know, growing up in D.C. in the Eighties, and working at 3 record stores in the era, one could be forgiven for thinking that punk began and ended with harDCore. After all, there was no one here that seemed to be writing about grunge and, judging from those articles in the UK music press, it was apparent that the grunge stuff was a reaction against the dogmatism of American Hardcore, especially D.C. hardcore, in some way. I mean, you'd listen to almost any early Sub Pop single and go: "Yep, these dudes are high!" So much for straight edge, eh?

Can you even imagine "Touch Me I'm Sick" being considered as a song title by any Dischord band in 1988? Of course you can't. And while the song still pummels with Stooges-like abandon, it seems remarkably harder and more concise than a lot of the other stuff from that era from the West Coast. The recording and release of that cut, thoroughly detailed in I'm Now: The Story of Mudhoney (2012), is seen now as the birth of the whole grunge scene. That I first read about it in the UK press, not Rolling Stone, ought to tell you a lot about the mood at the time.

But I'm Now: The Story of Mudhoney (2012) is, miraculously, not just a look back at the glory days of that era. Where the film succeeds is in telling of the major label feeding frenzy following the blast of Nevermind (1991). The story is then as much about that process as it is about Mudhoney. As the band navigates the era and eventually signs up with Reprise the film actually gets funnier thanks to the anecdotes about certain Reprise executives. And for these reasons I so thoroughly recommend this film 'cause there is just so much here to absorb about the era when indie went mainstream.

But, more than anything else, I'm Now: The Story of Mudhoney (2012) is the story of 4 friends who formed a band and got signed and went home to Sub Pop again. Remarkably, replacement bassist Guy Maddison seems to be taken as just as much part of the Mudhoney story as original bassist Lukin.

I'm Now: the Story of Mudhoney (2012) is as much the story of these grunge legends as it is the story of the decline of the American recording industry. Tracing the career of Arm and associates from a hip indie label, to a major, and then back to the hipper-and-wiser indie label, tells a viewer so much about how Nirvana changed things, at least as far as American indie was concerned, and so much about how mainstream corporations are clueless about what's "cool" at any one time. Miraculously, Mudhoney did put out so much great music on a major label and that seems now to be the sort of thing that could only have happened so easily in that post-Nevermind (1991) era.

Fans of grunge and indie rock should make sure that they seek out I'm Now: The Story of Mudhoney (2012) as soon as possible. Adam Pease and Ryan Short have managed to tell more than one story here and I highly recommend this film.

More details at www.MudhoneyMovie.com