Remembering ‘The Decline of Western Civilization’

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The Decline of Western Civilization

Directed by Penelope Spheeris

Screenplay by Penelope Spheeris

1981, USA

My friend George is THE authority on music, in my opinion. He was the guy that turned me on to bands like King’s X and The New Amsterdams – whose album Worse for the Wear is my long drive anthem – and helped me navigate the waters of the noise genre. One day, he shows me a documentary on the L.A. punk rock scene of the late 70’s / early 80’s. I witness young people choosing to live in squalor and grown men shouting nonsense into a microphone.

And the energy of it all was infectious.

George had previously introduced me to heavy punk through another documentary by Todd Philips called Hated in the Nation, about the “great” GG Allin. That movie was more about one man; this movie is about a movement. And the poster child of that movement? Darby Crash.

We watch the lead singer run all around the stage, on top of equipment and into the crowd, shouting what sounded like baby gibberish at first. After researching it a bit more, I found the actual lyrics to be quite impressive. Why couldn’t he just sing normally? It’s all about the energy, I say. Inner emotions are expressed by shouting them right into your face; you can’t avoid it and you can’t shut it out. You WILL listen; they WILL have their voices heard.

Director Penelope Spheeris would, much like Todd Philips, go on to produce some classic comedies, but for me, she will be known for this piece of work. Sure, Wayne’s World makes me feel good, but Decline makes me feel everything. I better update my Spotify playlist soon.

– Bill

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