Oh sure, the Pistols, Clash and Buzzcocks get most of the press as far as legendary UK punkers go, but if we're going to talk legacy, longevity and sticktoitiveness in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, the lovable lads who have made up The Damned through the years surely deserve some sort of reward.
And, quite frankly, their true reward might be the excellent documentary DON'T YOU WISH THAT WE WERE DEAD (a line cribbed from the tune "Love Song" off the sublime 'Machine Gun Etiquette' LP), which celebrates the band and documents the chaotic ups and downs they've experienced over the course of almost four decades together in one incarnation or another.
I'd wager that a majority of today's punk fans have no idea that the original lineup of The Damned – Dave Vanian, Captain Sensible, Rat Scabies and Brian James – were not only the first UK punk band to release a single but were also the first to play New York's CBGB, release an LP and tour the USA (influencing a generation of West Coast punks like TSOL and The Offspring in the process). But while others on the UK (and US) punk scenes flamed out, repeated themselves to the point of self-parody or simply cratered under the weight of infighting and increased expectations, The Damned never seemed to care, jettisoning founding members (like James, who would go on to form the underrated Lords of the New Church with ex-Dead Boy lead singer Stiv Bators), dabbling in psychedelia and goth, and somehow surviving long enough to find themselves celebrating a 35th anniversary tour with Vanian (the charismatic and somewhat mysterious lead singer) and Sensible (bassist turned punk guitar god turned novelty act turned guitar god again) at the helm.
Naturally, this sets up an "us vs. them" dynamic with the nattily attired Vanian and crass but lovable Sensible bashing out the band's hits with hired guns while James and Scabies – looking like a zillion miles of bad road between them – tear through the band's early days with Texas Terri screeching the vocals.
To be honest it's hard not to side with Vanian and Sensible. They clearly seem to be having more fun doing what they're doing and appear at peace with whatever legacy The Damned have carved out for themselves. Though Scabies and James bring an undeniable energy out in one another, you can't help but wish the band members would let bygones be bygones and appear together again for fans to get a taste of that UK '77 energy one last time. (I was pretty envious when my buddy Dave realized he had seen the last gig the original members played together at DC's 9:30 Club, an event marred by Sensible's snide crack about Guns and Roses covering the James penned "New Rose" on 'The Spaghetti Incident' covers album.)
LEMMY director Wes Orshoski does a great job of assembling a group of rock icons – Jello Biafra, Chrissie Hynde, Lemmy (a onetime member of the band), Clem Burke, Jack Grisham, Keith Morris, Duff McKagan, Glen Matlock and Mick Jones to name a few – to wax poetic on what The Damned meant to them, though I would have liked to hear a bit about their political turn on albums like 2001's 'Grave Disorder'. And while I still don't need to know what Fred Armistead (?!) thought about them – or anything – I would have loved to hear Glen Danzig describe how he cribbed Vanian's vocal style.
Even if you've never heard of The Damned I implore you to give this doc a chance. If you watch this thing and don't immediately want every Damned track – from "Neat Neat Neat" to "Eloise" and beyond – on your iPod, iPad, Zune or whatever you listen to music on, well, maybe you need to be reading a different junk culture blog thingie. – Dan Taylor