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HARD CORE LOGO – Goin’ Down the Road … punk rock style (article)

Transcript from a Hard Core Logo article from "id"Magazine (Guelph, Ontario, free magazine), October 17 to 30, 1996, Volume 5, Number 25 - Contains a few quotes by Callum

Rock’s Heart of Darkness
Bruce McDonald’s Hard Core Logo


(cover story)
This IsnotSpinal Tap
Bruce McDonald’s Hard Core Logo journeys into rock’n’roll’s heart of darkness



Hard Core Logo … a brief history

Joe Dick (Hugh Dillon)
Billy Tallent (Callum Keith Rennie)
John Oxenberger (John Pyper-Ferguson)
Pipefitter Bernie Coulson

the core: Joe and Billy met at the age of twelve while both were facing charges as juvenile offenders.
formed: 1977, when Billy met John at a psychiatric clinic
initially disbanded: 1990, on the verge of signing a major deal
reunited: 1995, when Joe stages a benefit for childhood hero and punk legend Bucky Haight


HARD CORE LOGO – Goin’ Down the Road … punk rock style.
by Michael Barclay

On the surface Hard Core Logo is the story of a Vancouver punk band from the early ‘80s who reunite in 1996 for a tour of Western Canada. Somewhere on the Trans-Canada, things begin to go horribly wrong as old tensions surface and threaten to tear the band apart.

There are many elements of the story which could be seen as ripe for parody. Punk rock, especially now that it’s been commodified by the mainstream, has been overdue for a cinematic spoof since Penelope Spheeris skewered the early ‘80s L.A. hardcore scene in The Decline of Western Civilization Part I. Its mandated exclusivity and attachment to adolescence makes the notion of aging punk rockers a hard one to fathom, hence the public apathy over this summer’s Sex Pistols reunion.


The absurd notion of piling into a van and driving for days across the western plains to play loud, obnoxious music has many comedic elements as well. But most of all, when four boys trapped in 35-year old bodies try to cling onto something they did when they were 15-20 years younger, they set themselves up for mockery. Rob Reiner’s seminal 1983 rockumentary This is Spinal Tap, spoofing a fictional ‘70s metal band, covered this ground already.

Callum Keith Rennie, who plays Hard Core Logo guitarist Billy Tallent, wants to distance this film from the realm of parody, and Reiner’s movie in particular. “I think it runs a fine line in places, but for the most part you see very believable characters… It may be similar to Spinal Tap in that it’s a documentary about a fictional rock band, but that’s where it ends.”

Hard Core Logo director Bruce McDonald (Roadkill, Highway 61) plays himself in the movie, as part of a film crew documenting the band’s final tour. He has termed the film “Spinal Tap’s mean little brother,” and Hugh Dillon, who plays singer Joe Dick, likes that just fine. “I like that, because it’s a mean little fucking movie. That’s the reality of it, ‘coz it’s a shitty mean little world out there sometimes.”

Bright Lights, Small Mind

Joe Dick and Billy Tallent have known each other all of their adult lives, and form a classic rock’n’roll partnership that’s existed from Jagger and Richards to Strummer and Jones to Cobain and Novoselic. Their history, their music and a homoerotic undertone has bound them over the years, but this time around there’s a twist on their love/hate relationship.

Billy Tallent has been playing in a superstar grunge band from K.A., filling in for the regular guitarist while he’s in rehab. He agrees to do the final Hard Core Logo tour while awaiting word on whether or not he’ll become a full-time member of the L.A. band. This brings up jealousies and suspicions among his former bandmates; by accusing him of becoming “Billy Fucking Hollywood” at their expense, they hide behind the veil of “punk integrity” to fire shots at their guitarist. The last temptation of Billy Tallent underscores the movie with the possibility of escape; in every restaurant scene, an AM radio is playing the ‘60s hit “Where You Going, Billy?” by sugary B.C. pop band The Poppy Family.

Like fundamentalist punks, Canadians have always been quick to condemn those who leave the fold for the bright lights. “That’s how those guys are going to see it,” says Rennie of the band’s reaction to Billy’s success. “But he can’t just sit around in a band going nowhere. When you’re 36 years old, you don’t want to be the manager of a record store, if you’ve been playing in a band that long… If the band is like a family and it’s a dysfunctional family, it’s no place to be if you want to go straight, have a healthy lifestyle and be creative.”

Bernie Coulson – who in real life bears an eerie resemblance to his character, the drummer named Pipefitter – shares a similar perspective. “There are more ways these days to be creative,” he says, “rather than sticking your head in a blender full of crystal methadrine!”

No matter how the band’s ill-fated tour turns out, Billy Tallent has options in life, something the rest of his band does not. John Oxenberger, the quiet bassist, is a simple man who writes obsessively in his diary to distract himself from his unnamed mental illness. Pipefitter is happy to be “back with the boys,” says Coulson, “even though he knows he’s been screwed. He knows the whole thing’s a joke, but he’s just glad to be there. He’s enjoying some glorified moments in hell.”

Joe Dick has been living inside his stage persona for so long that he doesn’t know what else he should be doing. He’s both a romantic idealist and a complete idiot. In the course of the film, the charismatic frontman manipulates and lies to his friends – and in one powerful scene, his childhood hero – in order to keep the band together.

The ever-contemplative John Oxenberger notes in his diary that the band consists of thirtysomething men who still call themselves names they gave themselves at age sixteen. He never had a punk handle, and wonders if “maybe I never had a real self to throw away like those guys.” He speculates that Pipefitter has even forgotten his real name, a casualty of the rock’n’roll life.

When asked if Pipefitter has indeed lost a grip on his sense of self, Bernie Coulson laughs heartily and replies, “I just think he forgot his brain in a dumpster! He didn’t forget his name, really, he just forgot which he’s going somewhere on the road.”


On the Road

Hard Core Logo is the final instalment in Bruce McDonald’s rock’n’roll trilogy. In 1990’s Roadkill, the road is a metaphor for the continuum of life, a place where the three central characters go on spiritual journeys ending in both death and rebirth. 1993’s Highway 61 portrays the road as the ultimate escape, as freedom from small towns and small minds. In Hard Core Logo, a remake of Roadkill by a director who’s moved beyond that film’s charming amateurism, the road is an escape from reality because the main characters don’t know what else to do with their lives. It brings them both life and death, and the further they travel on their final tour, the further they descend into madness.

Travelling the rock’n’roll road is hard to understand unless you’ve done it. Part of the reason why Hard Core Logo is the only movie to get it right is because Hugh Dillon, whose dayjob is personifying rock’n’roll as lead singer of the Headstones, and Callum Keith Rennie were given the chance to change the film’s dialogue to make it more authentic. Dillon also brainstormed the film’s controversial ending.

“I gave Bruce a lot of ideas in terms of how to make it real,” Dillon explains, “as opposed to how the book went and the first draft of the script. I talked to Bruce about road stories and playing in the band, and certain things Callum and I would do – because we’re friends in real life – we knew more about real rock and roll than what was in the script.”

The book the film is based on (Coulson calls it a “punk rock bible”) was penned by Vancouver author Michael Turner, who played for many years in the Hard Rock Miners. McDonald and first time screenwriter Noel S. Barker have basically lifted Turner’s premise and rewritten the story, but the fact remains that the story and legend of Hard Core Logo has been created by people who write what they know, which is why it’s one of the best movies about rock and roll ever made.

Dillon modestly agrees. “It’s not glossed over, it doesn’t have a shiny little stupid message. I think I speaks for more than rock’n’roll. I think it talks about relationships and desperation. “It will be a cult movie for quite a period of time, because it’s better than most rock’n’roll movies I’ve ever seen. And I’m pretty much a cynic when it comes to rock’n’roll.

The Good Fight

He has every right to be. As a man in his early ‘30s (the same age as Joe Dick) who plays in a band whose star is rising (as opposed to declining), Hugh Dillon brings a lot of personal perspective to the role. Like Joe Dick, Dillon is a master actor at rock and roll theatre, with a stage persona that personifies the hard-drinking, hard-talking, no-bullshit, testosterone stereotype of a true blue rocker? He didn’t have to do a lot of research to get to the core of Joe Dick.

“I’ve been playing in the Headstones for years. You play hard, you work hard, you drink hard, whatever. You don’t give a shit. It’s something that’s second nature to me now. That’s who I am. That’s the way it is. Everyone’s got a different way of doing it. Mine’s pretty straightforward.”

“I like rock and roll because we answer to ourselves and that’s it,” he continues. “With rock and roll I think, people will tell you the truth. What you see is what you get, more or less.”

In the film, the contemplative John tells his journal that he’s most honest with himself when he’s with the band. The road brings out his truest self, one that’s been filtered through the strains of countless tours of duty, and the people with whom he endured that experience provide him with a blanket of security. In conversation, Hugh Dillon likens a band to a hockey team (“nobody bullshits, or we fight”), and Callum Rennie considers the bond between touring musicians as being like a gang: “Whether or not you’re in a disagreement two minutes before, when you walk into a place everybody’s taking care of everyone else.”

In reality, the band is more like a group of soldiers, the most time-weary and absurd form of male bonding. At one point in time they thought they were fighting against the complacency of the mainstream society around them, but each time they went back on the road they lost a bit of themselves. By the time they broke up, they’d forgotten what they were fighting for.

When time and circumstance bring them back together again, Joe is clinging to this self-glorified past, Billy is coming back to sever himself from his past, Pipefitter’s along for the ride, and John eventually loses his mind as he watches his past self-destruct in front of him.

Dillon denies that the band’s self-destruction comes with their chosen occupation. “There are guys on Bay Street in Toronto who witness self-destruction every day as well. Self-destruction is a part of human nature, it’s just more dramatic in rock’n’roll performance.”

Hard Core Logo is very much about rock’n’roll and performance, but to limit it to just that is akin to dismissing Apocalypse Now as another Vietnam movie. The issues of lost dreams, stunted adolescence, construction of self, performance and loyalty bubble under throughout the whole film; by the time they all surface and blow up in the startling conclusion – much like the surreal denouement of Roadkill - many issues still open to discussion.

This could be seen as a cop-out, but the rest of the film hasn’t provided any easy answers either. The story of four anti-heroes on the road to hell compels us, repulses us, and excites us, but what frightens us the most is what it might tell us about ourselves.

In the same magazine, there's also a Hard Core Logo ad


Tags: .genre: article, actor: hugh dillon, director: bruce mcdonald, film: hard core logo, misc: headstones, year: 1996
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