Subcultures are inherently gnostic. Something magical happens when otherwise isolated people bond over a common aesthetic interest that exists outside of conventional norms. Individuals who previously languished in confusion and loneliness connect and become groups. These groups expand and become scenes.
Anyone who has put their blood, sweat, and tears into underground music knows just how closely guarded information in these scenes can be. Whether the reason is as extreme as criminal activity or as petty as a simple wariness of posers, the innermost circles of the underground will not hand over their secrets to interlopers without a fight.
This is what makes the work of Penelope Spheeris so important and unique. Years before bringing Wayne and Garth to the silver screen for the first time in the original Wayne’s World, the revered filmmaker was tapping into the darkness just below the surface of youth culture with The Boys Next Door and Hollywood Vice Squad. Of much deeper significance, Spheeris showed her finger firmly on the pulse of punk with the 1984 cult classic Suburbia.
As impressive as her feature film resume might be, Penelope Spheeris will undoubtedly be best remembered as the revolutionary documentarian who pulled the curtain back on punk and metal. Her Decline Of Western Civilization series is the undisputed gold standard of subcultural chronicles.
Whether it be Darby Crash reading Der Untergang des Abendlandes, a drunken Chris Holmes floating on a raft while calling himself a “piece of shit” and pouring vodka all over himself in front of his mother, any number of young metalheads convinced they are gonna be superstars, or gutter punks waiting around to die, Spheeris has it all on tape and manages to put it all into heartbreaking context. Penelope Spheeris has stared into the most fragile parts of our collective soul and put it on display for the whole world to see.
In 1999, Sharon Osbourne commissioned Penelope Spheeris to create an unofficial fourth volume to the Decline series. The film, titled We Sold Our Souls for Rock ‘n Roll, is an inside look at the inner workings of Ozzfest, warts and all.
Highlights include tons of rabid fandom a-la Heavy Metal Parking Lot, an herbal tea-drinking Ozzy using a teleprompter to remember Sabbath lyrics, Buckethead going wild with a pair of nunchucks before his set with Primus, Slipknot being Slipknot, and an evangelical preacher who, when asked what is wrong with homosexuality by Sharon Osbourne, responds completely straight faced “haven’t you ever heard of anal fisting?”
An official release of We Sold Our Souls for Rock ‘n Roll has been in limbo for over two decades, with Sharon Osbourne citing issues with music licensing as the primary reason for the film’s delay.
It will occasionally appear on YouTube, only to be taken down as soon as the powers-that-be get wind of its existence. Well… right now happens to be one of those rare magical times when the film is up! Check it out at the link before it disappears again.