#372: The Descendents

September 12th, 2014

Before a crowd of every aging punk in Chicago, the band lined up and tried not to tell the Houston story.

They hemmed and hawed, drummer Bill Stevenson of the Descendents and All alternately cackling at and begging off from my shouted request to tell “the best story that didn’t make it into the movie.”

“Let’s just say when Bug fucks ‘em, they stay fucked,” bass player Karl Alvarez finally concluded to the crowd.

Stevenson and Alvarez and the other eight or so men lined up in directors’ chairs on the stage at the Vic Theatre are connected to the Descendents, the greatest punk band that didn’t quite make it.

If you’re familiar with the name, you’re nodding right now. You’re picturing an all-caps name in a sans serif font and a logo doodle of a young punk with spiked hair and thick, square glasses. You might be humming a few bars of “Suburban Home” or wondering where you might have put your copy of 1982’s “Milo Goes to College.”

You’re picturing yourself when you were young.

The crowd at the Vic’s Brew and View there for the Riot Fest-sponsored late show of “Filmage: The Story of the Descendents/All” was picturing itself young too.

The crowd was full of aging punks, a couple young ones of course, but majority 30s or up, dragging on the old Bad Religion shirts and Chuck Taylors for a night with the band. Hairlines well past temples and tattoos starting to fade to dark blue, they came out at $18 a pop to see the 10:30 showing and midnight Q&A.

The old punks shuffled into the theater, their pilgrimage almost religious.

The documentary detailed the rise of the Descendents from a few California boys’ fishing trips in the 1970s to the almost made it punk act of the 1980s. Although Bill Stevenson was and remains the power behind the act, it’s most known for lead singer Milo Aukerman, the spectacled frontman who alternates his time between hardcore pop punk pioneer and research biochemist.

When Milo’s off sciencing for DuPont, the band plays as All. When Milo’s off sciencing, the band takes a hit.

This last point was smacked home when one of the audience members who had just watched a 90-minute documentary about the struggles All has felt trying to fill the Descendents’ shoes took it upon himself to yell “Where the fuck is Milo?” during the Q&A.

The current and former band members lining the stage answered the question politely, then moved on.

The Descendents are the name that gets you through a conversation with the old punks, a crusty shibboleth to get you a nodded “Right on” from the angry gray man who corners you at a party to talk music.

All is the band even less known. It’s the trivia question, the cautionary tale. It’s the band just as good as the other, the music snobs say, but the one that never quite found the magic.

The Flying Burrito Brothers. MC5. KRS-One. Moby Grape. Music is filled with the unsung, bands and acts so vital to a genre, scene or tunes as a whole, but mostly unknown past the aficionados.

Maybe the movie will help the Descendents/All get their due. Maybe they’ll get the fame and fortune they deserve all the time, not just when Milo’s there.

Aging punks shuffled to a late show on a cold weeknight to see the band that makes them feel young. That’s something the band can be proud of.

Even if they never did explain the Houston story.

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See the movie

See me this weekend, when I’ll be reading at That’s All She Wrote

(There will be beer)

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