Circle Jerks Documentary: Keith Morris speaks!
When you’re talking about the roots of hardcore punk, there’s no band to point your finger at but the Circle Jerks. From their abrupt, snotty tunes to their iconic slam-dancing mascot, the L.A. band perfectly encapsulated the sound and image that would spread across the country and create what we now know as hardcore.
If you need further proof of the group’s legacy, MVD Entertainment is releasing “My Career as a Jerk,” a full-length documentary covering the band’s on-again, off-again, 30-plus year existence, complete with rare live footage, interviews and the proverbial “so much more.”
The film premieres later in the month in L.A., and the DVD won’t be released until September, but we here at Noisecreep decided to whet your whistle by calling up iconic frontman Keith Morris, who’s currently fronting the punk supergroup Off! Outspoken as ever, Morris talked about the challenges of making of the documentary, explained why he’s not a bitter old punk and compared himself to Michael Jackson.
What was the biggest hassle in assembling the documentary?
We had to procure rights and get permission and get licensing and do all the legal stuff. I come from the school where it’s guerrilla warfare; you just do it. And when they knock on your door, that’s when you deal with it. When the Circle Jerks were on Mercury Records, we were dropped and not even sent a letter by their lawyer. The way we heard about it was from another band on the label that got a list in the mail of bands that were dropped. They were on it and so were we. So I just figure if the big boys can work like that, why can’t the artists go ahead and do the same thing? But MVD made us go through the proper channels. They weren’t up for seeing what happens down the line. They wanted to protect themselves.
Have you run into anyone yet whose bitter they are not in the movie?
I’m an administrator on the official Circle Jerks Facebook page and I saw a thread on there between Ed Colver — a photographer whose photos are used in the documentary — and the guy who was our first manager. To them, the film wasn’t the full story since we didn’t talk to them. I had to chime in and say, “What the fuck , fellas?” We’re given a very small lump of money, and there’s a lot of splicing and dicing and editing going on, and no one’s giving us that for free. Our budget is small, and we’re crunched for time. We don’t have another two years to go around and talk to all these people. There were people I wanted to have in there, but it wasn’t in the budget. We couldn’t fly to Washington D.C. to talk to Ian MacKaye and we couldn’t fly to San Francisco to talk to Jello Biafra. Eventually, we had to slam on the brakes and say, “This is what it is.”
Watch My Career As a Jerk Trailer
So, by putting together this documentary, are you closing the door on the Circle Jerks? Could there be another reunion, or are you too busy with Off! ?
I’d love to be the bitter old man and tell you that I hate everybody, but that’s not even close. I’m angry, but at the same time, I’m in a new band, and I’ve never been this busy in any point in my musical history. I don’t sit around thinking, “When are we going to put the Circle Jerks back together? I need the money!” Towards the end of the Circle Jerks, we’d tell everyone that we were bros, and it wasn’t that way. But for me to sit here on the phone and tell you this DVD is the final nail in the coffin of the Circle Jerks, I’d be lying to you. The door isn’t slammed shut and maybe one of these days, the people that need to apologize to me for showing a lack of respect will say, “I’m sorry.” In the meantime, I’ve got better things to do.
The documentary is premiering at the Don’t Knock The Rock film festival on the 30th of this month. Are you excited about that?
That’s an all-rock-music film festival, so you’re sort of preaching to the choir there. What they need to do is send it out to these film festivals where there will be a lot of people who are unaware of the Circle Jerks are, and they’ll walk away saying, “Well, that’s the greatest band I’ve ever heard since the Beatles! And that lead singer! He’s more talented than Michael Jackson!”
And then that’s it … jackpot, baby!
I presented this question to the documentary’s director Dave Markey a few weeks ago when I interviewed him: Why do you think the early ’80s American hardcore thing is being shown respect all of a sudden with books, documentaries, etc. Why do you think it’s time has come?
There are a lot of young people showing up at Off! shows, and I think they’re the ones who are pushing it along. They’re interested because they weren’t there to experience it the first time it came around. Personally, I think every genre of music is a mountain, and at the top of the mountain are all the best bands. This isn’t any ego tripping on my part, but the Circle Jerks might be one of the couple dozen bands at the top of that mountain because we did a lot of work. When you do that type of work, there should be a reward. I guess our reward is MVD makes this documentary. But as far as any other answer to your question, I’m drawing a blank. Like I said, the Circle Jerks toured a lot through the ’80s, so I didn’t have any time to sit and think about what we were doing. I’d say I was touring an eight-month minimum out of the year back then.
Well, that I know is true. You guys must have played my hometown three times a year.
We played your town three times a year, and you didn’t even invite us to play in your living room?
I was 14 at the time, so I don’t know how my parents would have felt about that.
Aw c’mon, man. We would have been the soundtrack to your parents’ orgy!
Jesus … that’s gross! If it makes it any better, I do remember a relative of mine selling one of your band members pot.
Right on. That sounds about right.
Watch ‘Making the Bombs (Live)’