In the new documentary SpokAnarchy!, filmmakers capture Spokane’s ’80s punk scene and the tribe that coalesced around it. Here, co-director and editor David W. Halsell, who was there to take his beatings with the rest of the Eastern Washington miscreants, took a few questions about the documentary, available on DVD and showing at the Grand Illusion through Thursday.
SW: You refer to a lot of booze-induced bisexuality in the scene. Did that eventually get sorted (I didn’t say straightened) out? Did most people sober up?
Bisexuality was kind of the “in thing” in general in the early ’80s, but unfortunately there was some predatory and/or exploitative sexual behavior in our little scene as well. Not a lot of people wanted to address that in the interviews, but we felt if it was left out, it wouldn’t tell the whole story. I think most people in the scene had some concept of being freaky bohemian libertines, so there was a lot of lifestyle experimentation going on. Remember that the scene was so small, anyone unusual or oddball gravitated to it, so there were some unscrupulous people as well as harmless hedonists.
Did the scene take a bigger hit from the shutdown of the original club that served as its epicenter, or from the infusion of heroin a few years later?
One of the things we tried to get across in the film was the cyclical nature of such a small scene—that a club closing or losing a few key players for whatever reason changed the landscape significantly. The hard drugs did make a steady creep inward, and was really devastating to a lot of people. But one of the things about being in a smaller town is that if you want anything to happen, it’s all DIY all the time. So when things went awry, people just started over again from scratch, with new venues, bands, or what have you.
Have things changed? Can a Spokanite dressed in irregular clothes walk down the street now without risking at least one punch in the face?
I haven’t lived there since 1986, but it seems like things have certainly improved. There’s generally more more cultural exchange; part of that is due to grunge, the success of the Makers, and indie rock, but also the Internet and the general normalizing of the fringe. It’s probably easier to be a weirdo in any small town these days, but Spokane is still a pretty conservative place.
A friend who in the film told a story about getting called “Faggot!” by rednecks on a regular basis had the same thing happen last summer while taking a photo of one of the SpokAnarchy! billboards that were up around town. Some things never change!