John Mellencamp may be able to breathe better in a Small Town, but if variety is the spice of life, then give me the Big City any day. Ironically, it was the feeling that L.A.’s music scene had become bland that caused a small group of twenty-something’s to decide to try and spice things up a little more. What was created was the Kiss or Kill music scene that lasted for approximately five years, from 2002 to 2007. This scene, at once creative and positive, burned as brightly as the sun for a brief period of time, but much like a star eventually burns out, so did the Kiss or Kill scene (named after the lyrics from a song by the legendary punk rock band "X").
The lyrics, from a song entitled "We’re Desperate", epitomized what these bands believed: they were desperate to create a musical scene that fit their own lifestyles while at the same time wouldn’t pander to the Hollywood glitz of the Sunset Strip and pay-to-play bars that forced no-name bands into buying hundreds of dollars worth of tickets in order to guarantee an audience.
The answer became known as the Kiss or Kill movement amongst its fans–or perhaps more accurately, it’s family members. The scene created some of the most creative and original bands in the L.A. area such as Bang Sugar Bang, The Dollyrots, Silver Needle, Midway, The O.A.O.T.’s and The Randies (over 100 bands would eventually be associated with the Kiss or Kill movement). But the movement transcended the music, and the bands as well as audience members became as close as family. Each band supported the other, and the fans supported every single band, even if each individual had their own favorite. Seldom was a music scene so supportive of everyone. Stories abound about bands finishing their sets only to step into the audience and rock out to the other bands while fans tell tales too numerous to mention about being helped off the floor if they fell or receiving an "Excuse me" if an inadvertent elbow from the mosh pit strayed too closely. Sure this was punk rock, but it wasn’t meant to be destructive–Kiss or Kill was about celebrating with likeminded friends, not antagonizing other fans.
Kiss or Kill member and O.A.O.T’s drummer David Palamaro has created a fantastically entertaining documentary of the Kiss or Kill scene that traces the scene’s inception and history. Along the way, dozens of band members and fans are interviewed and these interviews are intercut with raw live performances from some of the biggest bands of the movement. It is a fascinating and energetic journey that made this "small town" reviewer more than a bit jealous that he missed the entire scene.
But inevitably all good things must come to an end. The very thing that the movement was about–a protest against the large venues on Sunset Strip like The Key Club and shows filled with record executives instead of fans–helped to put an end to the Kiss or Kill scene, along with feelings of jealousy and resentment between bands as some groups experienced more success than others.
In Heaven There Is No Beer (named after the traditional set-ending number by Bang Sugar Bang who allowed the audience onto the stage to help sing the finale) is a love-letter to the Kiss or Kill movement by one of its biggest fans and participants, director David Palamaro. It captivates the viewer as band members and fans alike describe the importance the music scene had to each of them personally and then to hear these same individuals describe, sometimes in tears, how gossip and petty jealousies helped to break it all apart. The music is fantastic, a mix of classic rock and 70’s punk, as well as powerful. Palamaro does a superb job of portraying as human people who are often seen as freaks and who choose to live on the fringe of what is acceptable rock and roll music. It takes the stereotype of punk rock music and turns it squarely on its ear.
The film will be of interest to those who enjoy documentaries as well as to those who enjoy rock and roll or punk rock of any type. Highly enjoyable, it is a terrific piece of storytelling about a relatively little-known period in L.A.’s music scene and is well worth viewing. In Heaven There Is No Beer has been recently completed and is making the rounds on the festival circuit. For more information, check the film out on its Facebook page here.