More than Bing Crosby: Spokane's punk rock scene exposed in film

Jan 8, 2012

"I wonder what Bing (Crosby) would think about this film. He was a pretty hep cat so he might dig it."

Thirty years ago, Spokane was home to a small, passionate group of punk rockers. Artist David Halsell was part of that scene. (Studded leather jacket. Mohawk. Member of a band that threw up on people).

Now he and several other ex-punk rockers have made a documentary based on interviews with 30 musicians about that alternative music scene in their hometown.

The movie opens with a montage of memories about the Inland Empire.

"It is physically isolated...We're surrounded by The Rockies to the East and the Cascades to the West. And the vast nothing of the Palouse to the south of us. There are no big cities between Seattle and Minneapolis. Spokane was it," Filmmaker Heather Swanstrom says.

Halsell stopped by the KPLU studios recently to talk about his documentary feature-length film, "SpokAnarchy!" that plays at Seattle's SIff Cinema Uptown on Jan. 12 and at the Grand Illusion in February.

On the definition of punk rock:

"My definition of punk rock is doing what you want to do. It's thinking for yourself. It's questioning any sort of beliefs that are thrust upon you. The genre itself, it changed and mutated through time so what someone would consider 'punk' in 1988 was not the same as in 1980."

On Spokane and the rock music scene of the '80s:

"It was a very conservative place and it was a culturally-isolated place. There were no places for people to go see live music except for a big stadium show. There was not any original music going on. And that was one of the things that really set (the band) Sweet Madness apart. They were one of the first ones trying to play original music in bars."

The small Spokane punk scene included bands like PP-Ku, Doubtful Nonageneraians, Cattle Prod, TFL, The Moo Cow Orchestra. (There's a movie soundtrack available on CD and red vinyl).

On the reason behind making the film:

"There are no stories about the small-town punk scene."

The movie's tagline is: Where were you in '82? So, where was he?

"I was in an experimental kind of performance noise outfit. A lot of crazy stuff happened. It was an audience abuse unit. We did things. We covered the audience in plastic. We beat on metal garbags cans. We ate Top Ramen and drank red wine and then threw up on the audience."

The name of Halsell's band:

"An 425-pound Yorkshire sow."

The punk rock music venues:

The Armory, just a big old brick box. People would rent whatever places they could. There was Cheney where Eastern Washington University is. We were able to rent the City Hall meeting room, which was right next to the police which was kind of an ironic thing."

There was also an old auto-body shop called Moe's:

"They had a stage made out of flatbed truck and at one point it was also rickety plywood on milk crates. Some of the kids built a half-pipe for skateboarding and this was literally right above the audience and stage. So they put up some chicken wire to keep skateboards and or people from falling through and they would skate while bands were playing and it had a circus feel to it."

On the eclectic mix of punk rock bands:

"Because it was so small here were bands that were very different who would play the same shows. There’d be a quirky artsy experimental thing going on with a New Wave synthesizer act and then a hardcore punk band playing afterward."

On the film changing Spokane's reputation as just being about Bing Crosby:

"I wonder what Bing would think about this film. He was a pretty hep cat so he might dig it."

Upcoming event:

There will be a "SpokAnarchy!" soundtrack Record Release Party at RADAR Hair and Records, 2724 1st Ave S. in Seattle at 8 p.m. Jan 14th, 8 p.m. (A portion of the proceeds from the show will go to help out Betsy Hansen, a stylist and musician who is fighting cancer.)

Artscape” is a weekly KPLU feature covering Northwest art, performances and artists. The feature is published here on Sundays and airs on KPLU 88.5 on Monday during Morning Edition, All Things Considered and on Weekend Saturday Edition.