2011-01-20 / Front Page
Film recalls famed music scene of 1980s
‘Rockin’ Brunswick’ captured unique period in New Brunswick
In response to a recent surge of interest, director Paul Devlin has resurrected his first documentary, “Rockin’ Brunswick,” which takes a look at several local bands that comprised the city’s burgeoning music culture during the era of big hair and Brat Pack films.
“There was a big burst of creativity in New Brunswick back in the ’80s. I don’t know how much existed beforehand, but at the time it felt like something special was starting to happen,” Devlin said.
“It wasn’t just a bunch of bands. It was cohesive. It was a scene. And it was what people looked to for good music.”
Devlin is an accomplished director whose credits include feature-length documentaries “SlamNation,” “Freestyle: The Art of Rhyme,” “Power Trip” and “Blast,” which have collectively been screened in over 120 countries and won more than a dozen international film festival awards. As a production editor, he has worked on numerous commercials, music videos, TV shows and major sports broadcasts, including the Super Bowl on CBS and World Cup Soccer on ABC/ESPN. Devlin’s work on NBC’s Olympics programs and CBS’s Tour de France earned him five Emmy awards.
But the much-lauded director began his fruitful career in New Brunswick’s modest music venues, where he found inspiration for his very first film.
“I grew up near New Brunswick, and a lot of my buddies were in bands. But I wasn’t a musician; I was into making films. The best way for me to participate was to make music videos,” said the North Brunswickraised Devlin. “New Brunswick in the ’80s had an amazing music scene, especially with Rutgers University in the mix. Bands everywhere and lots of places to play.”
Afriend suggested that Devlin document the city’s unique music culture, but as a 20- year-old college student, high-quality video cameras weren’t exactly easy to obtain. Luckily, Devlin’s father was a physics professor at Rutgers University, and the department possessed the video equipment needed for the job. The cameras were loaned to him for only a short period of time, however, so Paul Devlin shot the whole documentary in one summer while home from the University of Michigan, where he completed his undergraduate degree.
“My time was limited, but once I had the camera, it was pretty easy to gain access to the venues,” he said. “I somehow impressed everyone with this enormous video camera — they instantly took me seriously.”
Most New Brunswick venues were amenable to the filming — Melody Bar, a former French Street club, and Court Tavern, a little bar that still operates on Church Street, opened their doors in support of Devlin’s project. But others proved more difficult.
“I eventually got Patrix on board, but it was a little harder to get, especially since it was in a dodgier part of town,” Devlin said of the former Throop Street venue. “It was scary at times to go to the Patrix. It was a little bacchanalian in that era. It was all drinking and rock and roll, but sometimes it was pretty dangerous.”
Surprisingly, the simplest behind-thescenes effort was gathering the musicians, many of whom Devlin knew personally. Joe Giglio of Jigs and the Pigs, a band frequently featured in the documentary, was a childhood friend of Devlin’s.
“I’ve been friends with Jigs since kindergarten. We parted ways after high school: we both went on to college, and he became a local star. It was amazing that we were able to reconnect through this project,” he said.
Devlin was also friends with the members of The Deal — in fact, he introduced them to one another, and their first rehearsal took place in the basement of Devlin’s parents’ house. The Deal, now known as the Loaded Poets, are the basis of Devlin’s newest project, “Super Star Dumb,” a “musical comedy about the broken promise of middle-class rock-and-roll stardom, following the story of a man punished by his talent in a society where anything short of celebrity is failure.”
Devlin’s connection to these musicians helped expand his repertoire of featured bands, which also includes the Blasés, the Groceries, D.P. and the Greys, the Nullset, the Deed and Rockin’ Bricks.
Most intriguing is the inclusion of Crossfire Choir, a new-wave punk quartet that self-destructed just before its first major label record was released. The group came up from Florida to be near New York City and subsequently became a staple in the New Brunswick scene.
“Crossfire Choir ended up being almost the stars of the film. They were hugely famous — a band that was going to break it for everybody,” he said. “But they also acted like stars, and inevitably crashed and burned.”
The band became part of the New York City scene and opened for the likes of Culture Club. While it secured a deal with Geffen Records and cut a record in London, the group broke up before it was released.
“They tried to make a comeback as the house band for CBGB, but they never quite reached the success they once had,” Devlin said. “It’s an amazing rock ’n’ roll story.”
Another famous name involved in the documentary was current New York radio DJ and former MTV VJ Matt Pinfield, who conducted interviews with the featured bands.
“Even then he was a rock ’n’ roll guru. He’s always had this encyclopedic knowledge of music, down to the slightest minutia of rock ’n’ roll,” Devlin said. “He became the backbone of this film.” After shooting the film, Devlin returned to the University of Michigan, where he used the school’s equipment to edit video and put the film together. Once completed, Devlin employed some creative methods to gain exposure for the documentary. He screened it at the Patrix as well as the Rose Room at Rutgers University, but his secret weapon was public access television.
“At the time, public access television would basically program anything you sent them,” he said. “I sent it to a few commercial stations, and they rejected it, but it was being shown up and down the East Coast on these community channels. They showed it quite a lot, and surprisingly it gained some notoriety on the local circuit.”
Twenty- five years later, Devlin began to notice his college documentary making the rounds with a new audience.
“I realized that people were still digging it. There are rumors that VHS tapes of the documentary are being circulated around Rutgers University,” he said. “There’s a great deal of interest in New Brunswick. They’re going to show it no matter what, so I figured I should make it official.”
The city’s basement show culture, as well as the recent success of New Brunswick bands such as the Screaming Females, contributed to the renewed interest in the ’80s music scene.
“Kids seem to be very nostalgic for that time,” Devlin said. “There was a whole lot of creativity, and there were venues that don’t exist now that were sort of a haven for college kids.”
Devlin hopes that the revival will help to open up new opportunities for college students looking to rock out.
A DVD of the documentary was released in December and is available for purchase on Devlin’s website, devlinpix.com. In addition to the DVD, a Web series is currently being featured at devlinpix.com/rockin. and the Pigs performs at day. Below: Jay Pounders which was a staple of the