A New Documentary Captures The Glory and Madness Behind Portland’s Poison Idea

“The hardcore thing was, I think, for a younger crowd. A stupider crowd. But I was a stupider person so it worked real good for me.”

For a group of nihilistic miscreants, Poison Idea reached stratospheric heights. The Portland hardcore band played the Mayor's Ball at the Memorial Coliseum in 1988, and Nirvana demanded PI for main support at the infamous No On 9 Benefit show at Portland Meadows.  But after 37 years of albums, tours and lineup changes, Poison Idea finally threw in the towel on January 1, 2017. That makes Mike Lastra's documentary overview both timely and essential.

Poison Idea: Legacy of Dysfunction is as DIY as its subject. The best quality footage is from recent interviews with the  band's many surviving members. But Lastra began shooting footage decades ago, when his band Smegma shared the stage with PI (Poison Idea founder and vocalist Jerry A (Lang) cut his teeth as a teenage bass player in Smegma).

That inbred local spirit permeates this film. Interspersed between the many video-quality concert clips are archival interviews with  the likes of Tom "Pig Champion" Roberts, the mountain-sized guitarist from the band's heyday. "The hardcore thing was, I think, for a younger crowd. A stupider crowd," he says in one interview. "But I was a stupider person so it worked real good for me."

In another interview, Lang's wife Mary Lang comments that calling the debut album "Kings of Punk was a lot better than 'the fattest junkies in the world.'" Substance abuse aside, Lang kept the band alive long after Robert's retirement, leading to the film's recurring joke: "And then that lineup folded." In Lang's own words, "I felt like I was getting fucked, so I might as well fuck everyone else at the same time."

Lastra's documentary captures the madness of Poison Idea, but also the band's glory. Melvins guitarist Buzz Osborne recalls, "[Poison Idea] at their absolute zenith were as good a live band as anyone I've ever seen. They were terrifying."

By the film's end, Lang looks the healthiest he's been since his youth. But of course, one must wonder how long it will be until he puts a new lineup together. In case that never happens, there's an immortal catalog of albums, and this film.

SEE IT: Poison Idea: Legacy of Dysfunction is at Cinema 21, 616 NW 21st Ave, cinema21.com. 7 pm and 9 pm Thursday, September 14. $9.25.

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