DVD REVIEW: THE DAMNED – DON’T YOU WISH THAT WE WERE DEAD
Directed by Wes Orshoski
Reviewed by Shane Pinnegar
9 ½ /10
“We thought there were no rules at all, and that’s what punk was for us – it wasn’t about pigeon holing anything…” explains The Damned singer Dave Vanian at one point in this fascinating, no-holds-barred history of arguably the most creative British punk band, but also the most underrated.
Directed by Wes Orshoski, the man behind the illuminating Lemmy docupic of a few years ago, Don’t You Wish That We Were Dead peels back layer after layer of the band member’s façades, allowing the true heart and soul of the band to be revealed, probably for the first time.
The Damned spearheaded the BritPunk movement – they are credited with releasing the first British punk single (Neat, Neat, Neat) and album (Damned, Damned, Damned) and to tour the States – and influenced thousands of bands, yet they never really broke through and got the respect or sales they deserved, and they remain largely forgotten by many outside of the cult scene. Ironically the very things that set the band apart from the pack – their over the top sense of humour, and their willingness to experiment far outside the boundaries that many other so-called punks declared was acceptable for their kind of music (from Neat, Neat, Neat’s amphetamine-punk, to the 17-minute prog rock epic of Curtain Call, Grimly Fiendish’s goth rock to Eloise’s ‘60s pop goth melodrama, and even the garage psych of their Naz Nomad period) – as well as their strict adherence to what THEY thought ‘punk’ was (the right to do whatever they wanted) may well have led to their marginalisation in the history of rock n’ roll.
And then there was the drama… oh, what drama.
Dysfunction seems ever present in rock n’ roll bands, but none more so than in The Damned. Orshoski takes us through every era of the band, talking at length with every member of the band and many ancillary players, taking us through the early Brian James days, the absurdist and volatile Captain Sensible years, the Vanian-as-vampire era and the ongoing feuding over – of course – money and perceived wrongs, between various members, primarily Sensible and drummer Rat Scabies.
The anarchy that punk is so well known for lived and breathed through The Damned, and boy, were (and are) their interpersonal relations near-sociopathtic at times!
Lemmy (who played bass with the band for a while, toured with them, and guested live here and there right up until his tragic passing last year), Jello Biafra of The Dead Kennedys, along with various members of Blondie, The Stranglers, The Buzzcocks, The Offspring (who famously covered Smash It Up), Depeche Mode and more all pop up with opinions.
Orshoski doesn’t shy from the cold, hard facts of the band today. Various members and ex-members struggle with illness and financial problems. Various members barely know other members they have worked with for decades. Even some punk fans seem to be unaware of the band – hopefully this movie might give them the higher profile they deserve, or at least a boost in some way.
Don’t You Wish That We Were Dead is a love letter to a band which means so much to so many, yet whose major players throughout forty years seem to have so very little love for each other. Band documentaries are rarely this candid, emotional and essential – but then, it’s a rare band whose true story is this complex, anarchic, confusing, compelling and – most importantly – musically essential.
Filed Under: Movie & Theatre Reviews
About the Author: Editor, 100% ROCK MAGAZINE