Wednesday, September 10, 2014

DVD Review: I’m Now: The Story of Mudhoney

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2014
Images from the Internet

I’m Now: The Story of Mudhoney
Produced and directed by Ryan Short & Adam Paase
King of Hearts Productions
102 minutes, 2012

Let me say it now, and get the shock over with. Grunge. There. Grunge. Oops, again.

Are Mudhoney grunge? Well, depends on who you talk to, of course. For example, Mudhoney vocalist Mark Arm was in a Seattle band in the late ‘80s called Green River (still have my copy, with the insert and press release, I may add). They arguably started the sound. In Seattle, anyway. Like punk in New York, everyone was denying they were punk left and right during the time, but love to be included in that scene now.

In my opinion, grunge is actually older than that, dating back to a bunch of SST-era bands. I mean, Dinosaur Jr. was grunge, along with a bunch of other longhair groups that tend to get clustered into the hardcore genus due to the time and the label, but those longhair bands were into experimental and heavy guitar sounds that many previous punk groups had turned its back upon.

No, grunge did not begin and end with neither Seattle nor Nirvana. I still get bugged when I hear that Nevermind caused the “year that punk broke.” I like the band, but they were not punk, any more than the Beatles were rock’n’roll on Sgt. Pepper’s. It was something else. But before Nirvana, who absorbed so much of the Seattle energy and press, followed by Pearl Jam, there was and is Mudhoney. This is not fair.

I don’t know if it’s accurate to say there would be no Nirvana (the movement, not just the band) if Mudhoney weren’t who and what they were, but they were a definite force that shaped and honed for what Seattle would become known.

This documentary tells their story with the full participation of all members of the band, past and present, which is hardly surprising since they produced the thing. But this is not just a fluff, vanity piece. There is actually some depth to the thing. Sure, with the rare exception about a brief mention about drug abuse, they seem to just get along like fleas on a dog, the doc does show some of their downs and bad choices, as well as how they have lucked out on more than one occasion.

Perhaps it is because they were the ones who made the thing that they were able to get some heavy hitters to talk about the group, such as (in part) Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth), Kim Thayil (fellow grungites Soundgarden), Tad Doyle (TAD), and Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament (Pearl Jam; Eddie Vedder only appears in a live clip of an MC5 cover of “Kick Out the Jams”). No one from the Foo Fighters, however, I noticed. Is this a case of what is not said is saying something? There is also a clip of Nirvana, and there is a definite slam against Courtney Love’s causing them to get kicked off Reprise, but none of the women-led Seattle bands are represented. In fact, the only adult females you see are Kim Gordon and Megan Jasper, of the Sub Pop label.

As much as this is Mudhoney’s history, it is also, in part, a story of their label, Sub Pop. The label’s creators, Bruce Pavitt and Jonathan Peneman, are also heard from here, I should add. Sub Pop, whose first single-band release was by Green River, came close to folding before Mudhoney took them on the road to some success. Of course, Nirvana helped, but it was Mudhoney that put them on the map. There were other important Sub Pop releases, such as by Babes in Toyland and Elliot Smith, but the focus here is of course and rightfully so on Mudhoney.

There is a bit of unspoken irony in the story of Sub Pop in that many bands they introduced didn’t fit into their Indie World (Mary Lou Lord reference there), and went on to major labels – including Mudhoney – and had a hard time reconciling their indie independence with the big boys’ “formulas for success.” With the knighthood of Nirvana, Sub Pop, too, joined with Warner Music Group, where they were hard pressed by the new management.

The documentary presents the present and past members of Mudhoney as engaging, relaxed, independent in band direction (showing chutzpah to the big studios by doing it on their own and pocketing large sums of recording funds), and being relatively sober of mind if not body (there is an awful lot of booze consumption shown).

But hey, this is their party and they can present any frontage they want, and this one is quite a fun and funny face. Even as a band I don’t follow, the way Mudhoney are represented here shows quite a bit of honesty, including calling some of their own albums as not up to snuff, and blaming mostly themselves (and Courtney) for their occasionally sloppy work; they also justly take credit for their rightful place in grungeworld.

Mixed in with the band and guests interviews, there are also film clips from third-party sources such as old b-films (including the Russ Meyer one from which the band takes its name), live performances and interviews (MTV, for example). The film covers much from the beginning, through their rise, signing with the majors, a slump leaving the majors, and re-signing with Sub Pop (where Mark Arm now works in the distribution area), then back to touring when they want(/need).

The two extras are a music video for the song “I’m Now,” and a 13-minute short called “Fresh Socks,” which features behind-the-scene clips of interviews, travelogue, backstage and onstage antics from a recent tour in Europe, Japan and Brazil. One stop in Belgium is especially telling, as they mock a stoic and distracting Kurt-wannabe in the audience.

If you’re into the whole Seattle scene – well, the male end of it as there is no mention of the riot grrrl aspect at all – I can wholeheartedly recommend this. If you’re more like me and are casual at best, it’s still a well-crafted document/press release that is enjoyable all the way through.

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