The Cramps Legendary Concert at a California Psychiatric Hospital Gets Revisited in the New Documentary, We Were There to Be There: Watch It Online

“Some­body told me you peo­ple are crazy, but I’m  not so sure about that. You seem to be all right to me.” — Lux Inte­ri­or

In the late 1970s and ear­ly 1980s, “San Fran­cis­co was a much more con­ser­v­a­tive place,” says Colum­bia University’s Lin­coln Mitchell in the doc­u­men­tary above, We Were There to Be There. The new film chron­i­cles the leg­endary 1978 appear­ance of psy­chobil­ly punks The Cramps and SF-based art-rock­ers The Mutants at the Napa State Hos­pi­tal, an his­toric psy­chi­atric facil­i­ty in the famous wine-grow­ing area. At the time, Cal­i­for­ni­a’s for­mer gov­er­nor Ronald Rea­gan was con­tend­ing for the pres­i­den­cy after slash­ing social ser­vices at the state lev­el.

There were few polit­i­cal sym­pa­thies in the area for those con­fined to Napa State, as the new doc­u­men­tary above by Mike Plante and Jason Willis shows. Pro­duced by Field of Vision, the film “explores the events that led to CBGB main­stays the Cramps dri­ving over 3,000 miles to per­form,” notes Rolling Stone’s Claire Shaf­fer. We Were There to Be There begins with this cru­cial socio-polit­i­cal con­text, remem­ber­ing the show as “both a land­mark moment for punk rock and for the per­cep­tion of men­tal health care with­in U.S. pop­u­lar cul­ture.”

The doc also explores how the per­for­mances could have made such an impact, when they were “seen by almost no one,” as Phil Bar­ber writes at Vice: “about a dozen devot­ed punkers who drove up with the bands from San Fran­cis­co, and per­haps 100 or 200 patients.” Indeed, the show’s mem­o­ry only sur­vived thanks to “about 20 min­utes of footage of The Cramps’ set shot by a small oper­a­tion called Tar­get Video,” a col­lec­tive formed the pre­vi­ous year by video artist Joe Rees and col­lab­o­ra­tors Jill Hoff­man, Jack­ie Sharp, and Sam Edwards.

The show came about through Howie Klein, a fix­ture of the San Fran­cis­co punk scene who wrote for local zines and booked the club Mabuhay Gar­dens before becom­ing pres­i­dent of Reprise Records. Napa State’s new direc­tor Bart Swain had been stag­ing con­certs for the res­i­dents. Klein promised to send an ear­ly new wave band but sent The Mutants and The Cramps instead, to Swain’s ini­tial dis­may. (He was sure he would be fired after the show.)

Released in 1984, the edit­ed Tar­get release opens with a shot of an atom­ic blast and doesn’t let up. “Maybe you’ve seen the video. If so, you haven’t for­got­ten it,” writes Bar­ber: “The black-and-white images are dis­tort­ed and poor­ly lit. The audio is rough. It’s a trans­fix­ing spec­ta­cle. The Cramps make no attempt to paci­fy their men­tal­ly ill admir­ers. Nor do they wink at some inside joke. They just rip.”

Tar­get Video toured the U.S. and Europe, screen­ing its polit­i­cal­ly-charged punk con­cert films for eager young kids in the Reagan/Thatcher era, who saw a very dif­fer­ent approach to treat­ing peo­ple suf­fer­ing from men­tal ill­ness in the footage from Napa State. The doc­u­men­tary includes inter­views with the Mutants, whose per­for­mance did­n’t make it on film, and fix­tures of the San Fran­cis­co scene like Vicky Vale, pub­lish­er of RE/Search, who pro­vide crit­i­cal com­men­tary on the event.

Despite its rep­u­ta­tion as a bizarre nov­el­ty gig, the show came off as con­trolled chaos — just like any oth­er Cramps gig. “It was a beau­ti­ful, beau­ti­ful thing,” says Jill Hoff­man-Kow­al of Tar­get Video. “What we did for those peo­ple, it was lib­er­at­ing. They had so much fun. They pre­tend­ed they were singing, they were jump­ing on stage. It was a cou­ple hours of total free­dom. They did­n’t judge the band, and the band did­n’t judge them.”

We Were There to Be There will be added to our col­lec­tion of Free Online Doc­u­men­taries, a sub­set of our col­lec­tion, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More

via Aeon

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Cramps Play a Men­tal Hos­pi­tal in Napa, Cal­i­for­nia in 1978: The Punk­est of Punk Con­certs

Down­load 50+ Issues of Leg­endary West Coast Punk Music Zines from the 1970–80s: Dam­age, Slash & No Mag

Sun Ra Plays a Music Ther­a­py Gig at a Men­tal Hos­pi­tal; Inspires Patient to Talk for the First Time in Years

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (4)
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  • Stan Flouride says:

    “In the late 1970s and ear­ly 1980s, “San Fran­cis­co was a much more con­ser­v­a­tive place,” says Colum­bia University’s Lin­coln Mitchell”
    This is utter non­sense, total B.S.
    The City over­whelm­ing­ly vot­ed against Rea­gan, had the first open­ly gay super­vi­sor in the US, had the lead singer of the Dead Kennedys take fourth place in a may­oral elec­tion with 6.5% of the vote.
    The Cas­tro dis­trict was an open­ly gay Mec­ca that was a “light on a hill” for thou­sands of young gays across the entire world.
    In 1984 it was the only city that Jesse Jack­son won.
    I worked at Tar­get Video and am excit­ed to see this but if any­thing, com­pared to today the City was rad­i­cal.

  • Sonny Lopez says:

    “The Cas­tro dis­trict was an open­ly gay Mec­ca that was a “light on a hill” for thou­sands of young gays across the entire world.” How many of them lived to see the 90s?

  • Darmanian says:

    That com­ma in the head­line needs to go.

  • Ron says:

    kin­da judge­men­tal com­ment?

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