[Abby’s Road] From the Ridiculous to a Little Less Ridiculous

Or: Films I took Seriously Back in the Day – a new AR series.

Firstly, excuse me for not showing up two weeks ago. My brain wasn’t allowing me to write. It happens.

This year marks my 20th year out of high school. While I’m not celebrating it per se, I am thankful for everything and everyone in my life since I walked the naïve halls of W.H.H.S. In this the age of Facebook and Google+ one need not stray far from the comforts of home to meet up with friends from the old days. Despite electronic contact with those I haven’t seen for two decades, I was pretty bummed to miss my reunion last weekend. Instead, I drank some wine here in Munich, fought my way through the six hour time difference and had (very) early morning chats with some beautiful people from my youth, live via satellite. Viva la Skype!

I was lucky to have gone to a pretty stellar public school. It still is. My neighborhood was suburban, middle to upper middle-class, largely white and, well, mostly boring. It still is. Everyone I knew, aside from a divorce or an alcoholic parent now and again, was pretty well adjusted. Perhaps this is why I was completely transfixed by Penelope Spheeris’ “Suburbia” (1984) in my 9th grade year. Introduced to it by someone whom I’ve not been able to find and reconnect with over the years (Chanen O. where ARE you?), we rented it so many times that the dude at Mr. Willie’s Video would see us coming and have it waiting on the counter. Aside from the music and (some of) the clothes, it was a complete 180 from what I knew, and that was magical to me at the time. I recently revisited this dandy. And what a dandy it is.

Set in Southern California, Spheeris chronicles the days and nights of a group of punk rock runaway teens, The Rejected (“TR”), the perils of squatting in an abandoned house and surviving away from the toxic environment of their biological families. Though it’s a piece of fiction, I have to believe that much of it was based on Spheeris’ own experiences (or those of kids she knew) as she wrote and directed the 1981 documentary “The Decline of Western Civilization” which I didn’t see until my early 20s. THAT, my friends, is a must-see look into the bands and fans of the punk rock music scene. “Suburbia” not so much.

The cast of characters is a tragic one. They’ve been abused, molested and neglected and have the scars to prove it. They will show them to you and tell you about it later. As a viewer, the potential for feeling any real emotion toward the family they’ve forged with one another, especially after bringing a younger brother of one of TR’s newest members into the house, is squashed to luke-warm status by terribly melodramatic dialogue and the WORST. ACTING. EVER. Aside from the line, “My old man’s gonna be back soon and if we’re still here he’s gonna shit Twinkies,” the best performance is not by a 20 year-old Flea (“Razzle”), but the pet rat he wears on his shoulder throughout the duration of the film. Flea is a close second, however.

Theatrical prowess of all involved in this particular piece of cinematic gold notwithstanding, its themes come up in films throughout space and time: Teen alienation. Music. Being misunderstood. Throw in a damaging, twisted family life and you have “Suburbia.” At the end of the day it is a heartbreaking story. To be honest, I feel quite guilty for romanticizing it a bit when I was a kid. I was never TR gang material. I was more of the suburban Chicagoan, John Hughes-y variety of reject, if anything.

Happy weekend.

[Abby’s Road is a Knox Road feature published every other Friday.]

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