Strictly Sacred: The Story of Girl Trouble
(Directed by Isaac Olsen, USA, 2014)
At one point in the documentary Strictly Sacred: The Story of Girl Trouble, a teary-eyed Neko Case looks at the camera and says, “I don’t think this band realizes how much they mean to people.”
And it’s true: the legendary Tacoma band have been “eluding fame since 1984,” as they put it, and despite over 30 years together, they still reside in relative obscurity. But to those who love them, they’re icons of that scrappy punk spirit that rose from the Northwest in the ’80s.
The film paints a loving portrait of a family: drummer Bon Von Wheelie is big sister to guitarist Kahuna, and takes on a “Mom” role in the band. Bon and Kahuna’s parents, nicknamed “Babe” and “The Powerhouse”, let the band practice in their back shed, and trick out their touring van for extra security. And Girl Trouble’s producer Tim Olsen married sister, Deb, resulting in a son, Isaac, who happens to be the director of this documentary! The thread of family is tightly woven through the band’s history, so it’s perfectly fitting to have their young nephew behind the lens, which probably helps the band members drop their guards more than they would with an outsider. As their one-time label boss, Calvin Johnson of K Records, points out, “They’re like a gang that you don’t wanna mess with.”
They’re also the gang that you want playing at your party: thanks to tons of home video taken by the band in the ’80s, you truly get a sense of what a scene these misfits made back in the day. Sub Pop co-founder Bruce Pavitt and Mudhoney’s Mark Arm are filmed at a show raving about the band. A teenaged Neko Case used to be a go-go dancer for their live shows. (Their song “Neko Loves Rock ‘N’ Roll” is indeed about her.) It’s no wonder labels like K, Sub Pop, and Estrus came knocking at their door, but due to their fierce insular nature, they chose to remain independent.
It’s worth noting, this is the second film in the 2014 SIFF Face the Music series that has featured a montage of condos uprising across the Northwest, and it’s incredibly disheartening. If these films have shown me anything, it’s that Seattle (and by extension, Tacoma and Olympia) have a rich history of artistic expression emerging from humble beginnings, and here’s hoping that tradition continues in the shadows of all these high-rises.