Don’t You Wish That We Were Dead (MVD)
By Mike Delano
Of all the late ’70s punk godfathers, The Damned always seemed to be the ones to use the nascent punk sound for its purest purpose: To make great music. Not that there wasn’t a metric ton of great music coming from the scene at the time, it’s just that many of their contemporaries were using punk as a weapon, either to make a political statement (The Clash) or simply to disrupt the social order (Sex Pistols). The Damned, meanwhile, used punk’s snarl and edge as simply another arrow in their quiver. Their mission was to be the world’s best band, so pure punk fury was unleashed when necessary (“Neat Neat Neat,” “Stab Your Back”), but it was never the only trick up their sleeve. There are so many influences and innovations present on those first five albums that it’s clear their ambitions extended far beyond the confines of punk, even though their mastery of punk’s most basic elements helped shape the sound of that music for decades to come.
That ambition and irrepressible energy is captured on the documentary film Don’t You Wish That We Were Dead, which tells the story of The Damned from upstarts in the UK punk scene through their evolution and experimentation over the years. They were a band of “firsts” – first punk single to be released (“New Rose”) and the first band to promote spitting at gigs (much to the chagrin of the Sex Pistols’ Glen Matlock). The film does a great job of tapping into the energy surrounding the band’s creation, born from a scene overflowing with talent and brushing shoulders with young soon-to-be heavyweights like Chrissie Hynde and members of The Clash. And it’s clear from the outset this was never a band lacking in personality, from the glam vampire style of singer David Vanian to live wire drummer Rat Scabies to guitarist Captain Sensible, who is so unfailingly charismatic that he seems just as excited talking about birthing the genre of punk rock as he does reminiscing about cleaning toilets as a teenager.
Anyone who’s anyone in the punk scene and beyond – Lemmy to Ian MacKaye, Buzz Osborne to Jello Biafra – shows up in the documentary to praise these “voodoo scientists” and exalt their “balls out” “true punk.” But while their classic early albums are accurately described as a cup of coffee to jolt you awake, Vanian taps into why the band has experienced decades-long appeal while many of their contemporaries are defined by history solely for their contributions to the punk explosion. “There were messages in the songs, but we didn’t pound you over the head with it,” he says, framing The Damned as forever guided by music first, rather than any other agenda. “This band is in love with so many types of music, we couldn’t have just made the first album over and over. It wouldn’t have been right. We just wanted to enjoy what we were doing and push some barriers.”<Pbr