Better Than A Thousand at The Wetlands, NYC, Photo: Traci McMahon
If you type "Straight Edge" in on YouTube, one of the first things that pops up, and has for quite some time, is the cringe-worthy "Straight Edge Commercial." There are basically two versions of this, each featuring iconic and not-so-iconic SE figures reciting the lyrics to Minor Threat's classic tune as the song and other HC songs play in the background, while a pre-pubescent young edgeman gets very righteous with you. I'm sure you've seen it (and if not, well, it is below). It's like the preview for an after school special smashing into a trailer for an MTV reality show...fast paced and faux-dramatic, but leaves you realizing you can't get back the past minute of your life which you just wasted.
There are actually two versions of this classic commercial, one focuses on one young straight edge dude from New Jersey named Bob, who talks about why he is straight edge and his crew, etc. The other version features an equally young yet even more baby-faced straight edge kid standing hard in a white Wide Awake t-shirt. And that's me.
I'll preface this story by saying that if I knew back in 1997 when I was asked to appear in this that it would years later result in a running joke amongst my friends and probably most straight edge dudes in general, I probably would have given a UC-style "no thanks" and moved on. But at the time I had no idea, and well...it exists, it's odd, and I figured the back-story might be interesting. It also could have ended up much worse, but I figured I'd at least talk about how it even ended up. Here goes.
In April 1997, Better Than A Thousand, WarZone, Floorpunch (one of the best times I saw them), and In My Eyes (their first tri-state show) played the Wetlands in NYC. I had just turned 15, but looked like I was barely 12. I went to the show with Ryan Dougherty (yo!), and I remember sitting in his car as we came out of the Holland Tunnel and almost instantly seeing HC kids all over. We were there pretty early and a lot of people were just hanging out on the side street, so we did the same.
Floorpunch at Chatham Church, NJ, Photo: Traci McMahon
Matt Summers and Matt Smith saw me and said "Yo Gordo there are these dudes here filming some commercial on straight edge, they need a young kid who actually knows about it, we said you'd be perfect." At the time I guess I was seen as the "little" kid who had his head in the game more than any other little kids. Plus I was a psycho when it came to shirts and records and just straight edge hardcore in general. Anyways, I felt a bit like a poser since Porcell was standing like three feet away as this was all going down, but it sounded fun, and before I knew it there was a boom mic over my head and this little film crew was asking me about The Teen Idles.
The crew was from Washington Square Films and they were basically two grown up punk dudes (plus camera guys) in their late 30s (I think their names were Jeff and Mark) that had known about straight edge in the eighties. They seemed very grown up and professional, yet still somewhat "hip." They asked me a bunch of basic questions about straight edge and why I was straight edge, and explained that they were being hired by the Partnership For A Drug-Free America to do an annual campaign for the Partnership about young people saying no to drugs. Kinda like the egg in the frying pan/"this is your brain on drugs" concept, but actually effective. Since they knew about straight edge growing up, they thought this would be a cool angle. They definitely were in the loop enough for me to realize they wouldn't do some exploitational/sensational thing, and they even seemed to have a good time just hanging out at the show.
Anyways, after a bunch of questions and talking, they seemed happy with what they got from me, and asked me if I wanted to be in the actual commerical. They told me that there would be two different commercials - one with me, and one with another kid from New Jersey named Bob (whom I didn't know). They said that as the real young kids, we would be the focal point of our respective commercials while they mixed in live footage and other people talking, along with the lyrics to "Straight Edge." It sounded kinda cool.
They said they were a little dissapointed because this kid Bob didn't really have any records or fanzines or anything they could use in the commerical. Well, Summers was standing right there and said to them "this little fucker has a lot of records and zines, go to his house and film!" Looking back, Summers kinda served as my agent that day. Summers, if you are reading this: I owe you a cut of what I got. Anyways, they wanted to know if they could drive out to my house, I said yes, and they said they'd see me next week. After that, I went inside and got destroyed during Floorpunch.
The following week, Jeff and Mark showed up in a van with all sorts of equipment. My parents thought it sounded safe enough and let those guys load all their shit into the house. The plan was to kinda film me in "my element," which was a typical obsessive compulsive hardcore kid bedroom meticulously covered in all sorts of paraphernalia. They started getting some lighting set up but pretty quickly seemed bummed on the situation. That, and they probably felt a little creepy filming a young boy in his bedroom? Whatever it was, they basically said they didn't think they were gonna capture what they needed in the setting, and wanted to know if there was a record store we could go to to film. Locally, there wasn't anything good, but I told them that Double Decker (the first original location) in Allentown might be cool. They told me to bring a box of straight edge records, and off we went.
We got to Double Decker, and I'm sure that Jamie, the owner, thought it was the absolute cheesiest idea in the world, but he said it was ok with him (if you know Jamie you can imagine this - if you don't, think critical/snide HC kid turned record store owner). The original Double Decker location was cramped and dark. So we ended up shooting outside, and these outdoor shots are what appear in the commercial - mostly me walking and reading a copy of Hardware that was at Double Decker. It was getting dark, and they still realized they needed more indoor footage with records and stuff in the shots.
In My Eyes at Coney Island High, NYC, Photo: Traci McMahon
As we drove home they asked me if I could come into Hoboken the next week to a spot called Black Cat Records, which they described as a very cool atmosphere. Dan Horner (Over The Line guitarist) said he would drive me, and I'm pretty sure he thought he was gonna be in the commerical. I let him keep thinking that to confirm my ride, and told Jeff and Mark I'd see them then.
This whole time I remember not really telling any of my friends at school, because the whole thing sounded pretty fucking goofy the more I thought about it. Secretly I figured it could be awesome, but I knew there was potential for absolute weirdness. Regardless, that next Thursday, Horner was driving me to Black Cat at something like 7am with a big box of straight edge records, zines, and shirts in tow.
We were driving around trying to find the joint, and we start to drive down this street that is kinda blocked off with orange cones and caution tape and stuff. I look closer and see that a sidewalk is blocked off and there are people running around with equipment. I'm wondering what the hell is going on, and then I realize this is the film crew outside of Black Cat. They are here for me? What the hell? We park, and when we walk up there is a legitimate film crew, craft services, production assistants, make-up, the whole nine. I think they even had those movie set chairs. Whatever they were, I'm sitting there and people are walking to work while trying to catch a glimpse of my dumb ass sitting there in a Wide Awake shirt. They must have thought I was the next Corky Romano or something. It was surreal.
The record store ended up being a let down, it was mostly overpriced punk cds and cheesy licensed-type punk shirts, typical trendy city fare. It took a while to get set up, but what was cool was that I got to cover this one whole wall with my records. I remember covering up Johnny Thunders, Ramones, and Generation X cds with SSD, Minor Threat, and Youth Of Today LPs...it was like, "yeah, that stuff is cool, but not today!" I recall being embarrased as a cute girl put make-up on me, meanwhile I think Horner still expected a lead role, and they basically told him to stand in the back and read something (you can actually see him - an indecipherable figure - standing behind me in the commercial). I think he was pretty bummed.
For hours on end Jeff and Mark asked me a lot of the same questions we had been through before, except we did it over and over and over. Due to the fact that I wasn't and still am not some grandiose and high falutin' straight edge type, I think a lot of my answers were kinda low-key for what they wanted. It also got to the point where they started to basically tell me, "say this," and a lot of what they wanted me to say was kinda cheesy and "canned." Of course, it seemed like these were the parts that made it into the commercial. I'd love to see the outtakes, I'm sure at one point I say, "I'm straight edge because you know, I can't be smokin' and boozin' and still truly love JUDGE."
At one point they took us to lunch and we saw Tim Singer walking around looking really angry, that was kinda cool. Finally after asking me the same questions 600 times they got what they needed, filmed me and my records, and told me they'd call me with news. Never once did the camera even go near Horner and I think he was even annoyed they didn't give him more gas money.
Porcell with Shelter at The Stone Pony, NJ, Photo: Traci McMahon
A couple weeks later Jeff called me and said I was welcome to come into NYC, as they would be filming Ray, Porcell, Dave Stein, Ken Olden, and a bunch of other people who are in the commercial. I forget why, but I couldn't go. I also remember thinking that if they didn't need me, I would feel a little silly walking in and just sitting around like some little wanna-be child actor or something. My heart also sank a little as I had no idea how what I said came out, and the idea that some of these people were supporting roles to my lead seemed really odd.
I did see Ray and Porcell a few months later though and they seemed to think the whole thing was pretty cool and said they were psyched to see the finished product, so that was reassuring. The other funny thing was that very soon after we filmed my part, I heard that the other kid Bob stopped being straight edge like a week after they filmed him. I don't even know if he stayed in hardcore or what.
About a year went by, and all I ever heard from Jeff is that there were some approval issues from the Partnership. Long story short, it turns out that the Partnership For A Drug Free America is basically created and funded by big business including Phillip Morris, Anhesier-Busch, etc. They saw the commerical and said, "Cool, the idea of this little nerd not doing crack, PCP, ecstacy, mushrooms, marijuana...we like. But just cut out the part saying he doesn't drink or smoke cigarettes." Well, Jeff and Mark weren't having that. They told the Partnership that it was no drug, no drinking, no cigs, and they wouldn't change it. The Partnership said they would need some time to decide. I was pretty shocked it could go down like this, but it was cool to see these dudes had taken a stand.
About another year went by, and out of the blue Jeff calls me to let me know that ultimately the Partnership said to edit it or they wouldn't show it. Mark and Jeff said "fuck you" and kept the tapes. He said this was a major move because the Partnership was going to air the shit out of this commerical as its campaign centerpiece, and there was even talk of a Superbowl slot (I found this hard to believe and still do, but that's what he said). Nonetheless, he said they jerked him and Mark around and ultimately he and Mark were happy with what they created and would not change it. He said he would send me a finished copy of all versions.
A couple weeks later I got the video in the mail, and made sure nobody was around when I watched it. I had no idea what I was about to see. Over two years had passed, and I definitely didn't look like I did when I was 15. My initial feeling watching it is pretty much what it is now: semi-embarrasing but kinda funny and somewhat well executed. The fact that they zoom straight into my retina in the first two seconds is a tad unsettling, but at least they don't totally butcher me.
I thought Bob's version was kinda goofy, but I'm not sure mine was/is any better. Slowly the video got out, my friends had fucking heart attacks from laughter, friends that didn't know anything about straight edge had even bigger heart attacks. It was and still is a good laugh if nothing else. A few years back when I was in law school, friends showed friends who showed friends and it was a pretty good on-going giggle.
Most people today wouldn't even recognize that it is me, and I typically don't point it out. But if you were wondering who the hell is telling you about pure living at an extreme close up angle...well now you know. - Gordo DCXX
Sunday, September 28, 2008
Posted by DOUBLE CROSS at 7:59 PM