Those little round-discs called “vinyls”, yeah, sometimes they do hold meaning in this world.
Three brothers from Detroit, David, Bobby, and Dannis Hackney, got together one day in the early 70’s to create a band. No big deal, right? Everybody used to be in bands, whether they were big or small, and living in poverty-stricken streets of the Motor City, makes even more sense that some kids would want to use it as a way to explore their creative sides, right? Well, yeah, except for one key-difference: Rather than going for the Motown sound of Detroit, these three brothers decided to go down the route of playing punk rock music, as well as naming their band none other than “Death”. As you can probably predict, this name caused a lot of problems between the bands and fellow record-companies that they reached out to, however, the three brothers never decided to change it. Instead, they kept on rocking, writing, playing and living under the band-name of “Death”. However, a couple years later, the band breaks-up and eventually causes a separation between the three brothers, leading them to rarely speak in the years all remaining up until one key member dies, leaving them to ponder the history of their band, as well the memory of their brother. Also occurring these several years later, is a sudden resurgence of Death’s material, where fellow punk rock-enthusiasts, vinyl-collectors and general music-lovers from all over the world, get together and find a way to make Death’s music one for all to hear, which also means bringing the brothers back to the band that they were once apart of. However, this time, it will be without their key member.
As you can plainly see, there’s a lot of detailed history that goes into this band and most of it’s deserved. Not only is it so rare to see an all-African American rock/metal band, but it’s also even more impressive to see a rock doc talk more about the individuals in the band, rather than just the band itself and the music they produced. See, most docs of this kind of nature like to just put a focus on the music and show how the band members themselves are practically characterized through it, but not here. Instead, these three guys really seemed to make music, just because they wanted to and loved to.
How rock n’ roll is that?
The movie realizes that the people involved are what matter more than the music, however, it also doesn’t forget that the music is what’s made them so popular to begin with, even if it did take a couple 30 years or so to finally get them noticed. However though, it seems like with every year we get a new rock doc, that seems to be the same type of formula: Band starts off as a bunch of unknowns, doesn’t quite hit it big, breaks up, life goes on for a short while, finally gets noticed through an underground movement, and then finally reunites where they rock on for the rest of their lives. We’ve all seen this formula many, many times and while it’s inspirational to the inner-rocker inside all of our hearts, it still doesn’t do much to change-the-game in terms of rockumentaries, and that’s where I found most of my problems to be had with in this movie.
I’ve seen the same story happen and be told a million times before, and after awhile, I was starting to lose my patience with this flick and sort of wish they would just pay more attention to the actual members of the band. And then, suddenly, my wishes were granted and I was given the utter privilege of being in the presences of the Hackney brothers, all of whom (except for one) seem like lovely, kind, heartfelt and passionate dudes that I wouldn’t mind hanging out with, let alone slappin’ a little bass with.
From what we see of them, they all seemed like they got started with music because they just wanted to; they didn’t come from broken-homes, weren’t upset with the way society was treating them, nor did they really want to make a point with their lyrics or the type of music they were making, despite them being part of a very small demographic of all-black, metal/punk rock bands. More than likely, they just seemed like three cats that wanted to have some fun, tune-up their guitars, plug-in their amps and play a little bit of music, and see where they could go from there. Sure, they ran into some pit-falls with the name “Death”, but they still kept to themselves, and it’s an honest testament to these guys in how, looking back, they still don’t show remorse for what they did. They lived their lives as rockers long enough to the point of where they were pleased enough with life to make themselves happy, while also giving their family enough hospitality to where they can feel comfortable for the rest of their lives.
More than often, you’ll see these aging rock stars talk about the sex, drugs and rock n’ roll-lifestyle, but not these guys, and it’s a pleasure to not only hear them talk about it all, but feel like you too could live this happy and pleased with life after years and years of earning money, making some steady music. But it begins to be less and less about the music, and more about how these three brothers, no matter what it was that they were facing, still stuck together not just as band, but as a family-unit. They all loved one another, respected each other’s creative ideas and never, not for once, betrayed the other in public when it came to making a decision about the band. They sure as hell berated one another behind-closed-doors, but when it came to talking to producers and getting stuff done with the band, they never back-stabbed the other and always kept their guns closest to home. That message makes this movie more than just a rock doc, and more of a heartfelt drama, showing us all that music and money come second, family comes first.
I realize that I am probably talking more about these guys and their stories, rather than just the movie itself. And for that, I do apologize. However, I think that the story behind this documentary is what matters most as it presents us with a group of guys whom seem like they are happy, and probably will forever be. Hence why when see them many years later, in the present day, rocking out, having a ball and enjoying their moments in the spot-light, you can’t help but get a cheek-to-cheek grin on your face. It not only shows you that as long as you’re music is out there, you’re legacy will never die, but also, the power of music is everlasting. Everybody loves a certain genre, musician, band or what have you; but everybody can come to terms with the fact that they love music, and will always find ways to reach out and discover more artists out there that are just waiting to be seen and recognized. Maybe a band named “Death”, awaits your ears.
Consensus: Less of the usual rock doc we’ve been getting for these past couple of years, and more of a testament to how family sticks together, no matter what, which is what makes A Band Called Death, a documentary worth seeing regardless of if you’re familiar with the band already or not.
8 / 10 = Matinee!!