Brad Norman didn't intend to make a documentary about the favorite rock venue of his youth. But a conversation with a friend and some quick thinking led him on a five-year odyssey culminating in The Outhouse: The Film (1985-1997). The picture will screen Saturday, April 14, at The Orpheum Theatre. The Outhouse hosted a wide range of acts in its history including All, D.R.I., 7 Seconds, White Zombie, Fugazi and many other now-legendary bands.
Jedd Beaudoin: The period of time in which The Outhouse arrived was a good one because there were bands that were crossing the country in vans on a circuit outside the mainstream.
Brad Norman: Bands like Dead Kennedys or Circle Jerks or D.O.A. would play the Opera House in Lawrence and it was shut down. The only place for them to stop between Denver and Kansas City or St. Louis, was Lawrence. There's nothing in Western Kansas. Bands would drive 11 hours to a show. To have a place where kids could be and not be hassled by the police was good.
A big problem at the time was underage drinking. There were no rules out there. There was no one saying that you couldn't sit on the hood of your car and drink a beer. It was pretty lawless. That's what the appeal was for a while. A lot of people didn't even go in and watch the show. They'd just sit on the car and drink.
What was the take on this from the city? Did the police say, "As long as nobody's getting hurt we're just going to let them police themselves?"
It was outside the Lawrence jurisdiction, so the city police couldn't do anything even if they wanted to. I don't think they liked the crowd that was going out there. It was 1985. If you had blue hair or tattoos people thought of you as being dangerous. It actually made people angry if you had blue hair. They took it personally. I think the police liked the idea that the kids who they thought of as trouble were outside of town, leaving the nice college kids alone.
The Douglas County sheriff knew what was going on out there, but there was nothing he could do. We interviewed him for the film. He said, "If no one's calling the police out there, there's really nothing we can do." You can't stop people from drinking in a parking lot, but you can stop people from drinking in a building. It's flatland out there, you can see cops coming a mile away. It's not too hard to get rid of a beer if you see the police coming.
You brought up a good point: In the 1980s, having the wrong hair or wearing a leather jacket or having a Black Flag or Fear t-shirt was an act of confrontation in and of itself or giving rise to a potential confrontation.
It personally happened to me a couple of times, growing up in the small town of Parkville. That's what was exciting about The Outhouse, finding other kids who were into what I was into. I was drawn to anything that resembled punk rock. When it came on television or if I could get my hands on the music, I wanted it. Finding a club like that where there were other kids that were into the same things I was into was great. There were a handful of kids in my class that were into that. It was great to be around like-minded people.
What was your first show at The Outhouse and how did you know it was coming?
Someone had a flier for 7 Seconds in '87 when they played there. We'd all go down to Recycled Sounds to find new records. There was also 90.1 in Kansas City that would play the "Concert Update." On Tuesdays and Thursdays, there were punk rock hours from 10 to midnight. They'd tell everyone where the all-ages shows and even the 21-and-up shows were.
Who else was on that bill? Had you heard the other bands or was this one of those things where you'd seen the logo without having heard the music and thought, "Well, this could be cool?"
I knew 7 Seconds but, a lot of times, you would go to The Outhouse without ever having heard the band. I think the first time I saw The Kelly Girls I was upset that it was four guys! You trusted in the venue that was going to book stuff that you wanted to see. A lot of times the radio would be playing the music as well. The first time I heard S.N.F.U. was on the radio. A bunch of us that got into punk rock a little late, maybe '86 or '87, would watch the documentaries that were made in the early ‘80s, The Decline of Western Civilization or Suburbia. Those movies were the Holy Grail of punk rock. Stepping into The Outhouse was like stepping into one of those movies.
This was also an era and a scene where there was not a big difference between the people who were up on stage and those who were in the audience.
A lot of times you wouldn't even know who was in the band. I remember the first time I saw a Dead Kennedys picture. I thought, "That's what they look like? They look like such normal people!"
At some point The Outhouse closes and people go about their lives. You became enamored of filmmaking. At what point did you know that you wanted to make this film?
I was at a show in Kansas City and talking to a friend of mine who said that someone should make a movie about The Outhouse. At first, I thought it was a horrible idea, then I thought about it and said, "No, that's a great idea." Once I started working on it, I knew that it was something I was passionate about and that I was doing to be in it for the long haul. We had a website up and a Facebook page before I'd even talked to one person or bought a camera.
Did you feel any pressure people from people about when the film would be finished?
Yeah, for five years! [Laughs.] I think people thought it was going to be out in six months. The website was a way for people to get ahold of us, it was a way for people to send us pictures. Send us fliers. The whole way that we collected this stuff for the film was from the community. I didn't have every Outhouse flier. But, by using Facebook and reaching out to people online, we were able to collect them all. People just started digging for their old photos. They went into storage or attics, wherever they kept their photos. Some of the best photos in the film aren't even of the bands; they're of the kids in the audience. That's really what we wanted to show.
Is there a band that you most closely associate with The Outhouse?
Probably 7 Seconds because it seems like, in my youth, they came to Lawrence probably more than any other band. That was the band that I went to see every year when they came. Kevin Seconds is in the film; he describes driving down the road and how he couldn't believe it. He thought it was a setup that they were going to get robbed or something.
Jedd Beaudoin is the host of Strange Currency. Follow him on Twitter @JeddBeaudoin.
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