I Against I Thirty years after the golden age of D.C. punk, Bad Brains is a band at war with itself. A local activist and historian ponders their fate.

Photograph by Darrow Montgomery

Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. Ephesians 4:15

There are certain moments in life that truly matter, that communicate something lasting. Such moments give joy, strength, hope, and even, sometimes, a glimpse of truth and a jolt of transformation. Though the instant fades, something precious remains, walking with you, like a ghost or a friend, an indispensable measure of what life can be.

As I sit in the darkness of a sold-out Howard Theatre, watching Bad Brains perform “At the Movies,” one thing is clear: This is not one of those moments.

It’s not the song, nor the musicians. “At the Movies” is bottled lightning, and guitarist Gary Miller (aka Dr. Know), bassist Darryl Jenifer, and drummer Earl Hudson are bringing it to life with precision and thunder. Closing my eyes, the roar transports me three decades back.

It is the spring of 1983 and I am living in a basement apartment in my college town of Bozeman, Mont., having just decided to move to D.C. for graduate school. I’d heard Bad Brains on the punk compilation Let Them Eat Jellybeans and read about the band’s ethos of PMA—Positive Mental Attitude—in Trouser Press and the Village Voice. It was around this time that Rock for Light, Bad Brains’ second album, appeared at my local haunt, Cactus Records. To a 23-year-old punk moving ambivalently toward adulthood, it was a revelation.


While the entire record of Rasta insurrection chants entranced me, the album-closing “At the Movies” became something of a personal anthem. “Here’s to the maker, the film double-taker, the illusion type faker,” the band sang. In a flush of renewed idealism, I too decided to stop going to the movies.

Hearing “At the Movies” for the first time was one of those life-changing moments, even if my boycott of motion pictures lasted all of six months. The song helped reignite a process that would lead me to abandon my career path, co-found the activist group Positive Force, and chronicle the birth and renaissance of D.C. hardcore by co-writing the book Dance of Days: Two Decades of Punk in the Nation’s Capital—to live, essentially, as an adult punk. The song’s message, of resisting illusion and holding on to whatever scraps of truth and justice we can wrest from life, still resonates as I approach my 53rd birthday.

But at the Howard Theatre in 2012—a year in which Bad Brains has also played one major American rock festival, starred in a documentary showing this week at Silverdocs, and neared the completion of its next album—my PMA is hard to find. As “At the Movies” blasts from the stage, my anger rises, but not toward corporate dream-sellers and merchants of artifice.

The rage in my throat is instead focused on the “throat” of Bad Brains, Paul Hudson, better known as H.R. Once a shamanic dynamo, H.R. doesn’t seem to want to be singing the song. In late 1970s and early ’80s, he was punk’s most hyperactive provocateur, with the feline grace and icy nerve of a high-wire daredevil. But on this night, he is hardly moving, barely singing at all. As the band’s maelstrom crashes onward, H.R. sits down, with a smug smile flitting across his face. He stands up only to wander offstage as the song climaxes—precisely the moment when, historically, he would execute a perfectly timed back flip. Swaggering back to the microphone moments later, H.R. wryly enquires, “Do you want to hear some more music?”

While the band soldiers on, my reaction is raw and simple: If you don’t want to sing, and can’t even pretend that you do, get the fuck off the stage!

Swiftly, my intellect—aided by my love for H.R.—wrestles back, glumly acknowledging a deeper mystery. I know that this conflict, in some sense, is a battle that’s raged within Bad Brains since the first time I heard its music three decades ago.

In 1983, Bad Brains was a burning secret shared among subterranean devotees of a radical sect. Today, the band is globally acknowledged as revolutionary, a key early influence on “alternative rock,” the first all-black punk band, and one of D.C.’s most crucial cultural exports. Bad Brains remains very much alive, as demonstrated by its two packed shows at the Howard this spring. Yet its spiritual leader seems estranged, lost in the wilderness.

Is H.R.’s “performance” simple sabotage, a childish prank aimed at brothers? Is it something more complex and fraught with the weight of history, a sign of authentic artistic protest against the straitjacket of songs now older than H.R. was when he first sang them? Is it a manifestation of deep religious conviction—or of mental illness? There are no easy answers, since this is ultimately a battle within H.R. himself.

Welcome to the dark heart of Bad Brains in 2012.

“And Jesus asked him, ‘What is thy name?’ And the demoniac answered, saying, ‘My name is Legion: for we are many.’” Mark 5:9

“I see you coming to sabotage shit...You’re a sell-out, and I hope I never have to see your ass again!”

This salvo, hurled at H.R. by Darryl Jenifer in the opening sequence of Bad Brains: A Band in DC, provides fair warning of what will explode on the screen. While the film, which shows Thursday and Saturday at Silverdocs, is a testimonial to the power and vast influence of Bad Brains, it also provides an unsparing glimpse into its tortured internal politics. For a longtime fan, the film, by Mandy Stein and Benjamen Logan, is both soul-stirring and heart-wrenching.

Rock reunions are always questionable enterprises, often fraught with commercial calculation and artistic compromise. Still, if any band has proven that not all reunions are created equal, it is Bad Brains. Its first split occurred in 1983. Its first reunion was in 1985. I witnessed its explosive return at WUST Radio Music Hall—now 9:30 Club—which began with H.R.’s astounding, acrobatic leap from a partition high above the stage, kicking off the show-opener, “Rock for Light.” On that night and many after, the band proved itself as untouchable a live act as ever. Unlike most reunited bands that simply regurgitate old glory, Bad Brains actually advanced its legacy with its post-reunion record, 1986’s groundbreaking I Against I, on which the band furthered its hardcore sound while pioneering the metal-rap hybrid that would gain steam in the 1990s.

If subsequent releases offered no such great leap forward, Bad Brains has at least labored to produce new material and tour every few years, and wielded its established musical palette with some verve and conviction. A Band in DC captures the ensemble still striving to be a living, breathing musical force three decades after its birth. The film also makes painfully clear what longtime friends and fans of Bad Brains have known for years: H.R. isn’t really willing—or able—to pull his weight in the band anymore.

“No, I’m not the Son of God, I’m not Lucifer, I’m not a demon, I’m not the devil,” H.R. protests at the film’s outset, smiling broadly into the camera. Yet while the film captures the many moods, accents, odd theories, and occasional violent outbursts of the mercurial singer, it never quite penetrates his mystery.

A Band in DC documents H.R’s artistic gifts as well as the many ways he has consistently undermined Bad Brains since at least 1982. He repeatedly quits, to which other members respond with a “fuck you, the show will go on” moxie by engaging a series of replacements that range from laughable (Chuck Mosley of Faith No More) to passable (Taj Singleton) to convincing (Israel Joseph I).

There’s a discussion of an infamous episode from the band’s first U.S. tour in 1982: a string of homophobic outbursts, capped off by theft and vandalism at the house of Tim Kerr—the guitarist of Big Boys, whose late frontman Biscuit was gay—in Austin, Texas. The incident was largely attributable to H.R., and it left a profound stain on the band’s reputation.

The film, sadly, misses the deeper significance of that tour. As H.R. made clear in interviews at the time, his encounter with the gay-positive punk scenes in San Francisco and Austin left him horrified and eager to exit the “Babylonian” world of hardcore. His subsequent unilateral decision that Bad Brains would become the all-reggae Zion Train provoked the first deep schism within what had been an almost preternaturally bonded unit—“a band of brothers” is how Gary describes Bad Brains to me later.

Those incidents heralded a worrisome wobble in H.R.’s mental stability. The 1982 tour was the first in a series of mishaps that ultimately descended into repeated violent episodes, capped by H.R.’s inexplicable assaults on manager Tony Countey, his brother Earl, and a Kansas concertgoer in 1995. The last—carried out with a mic stand—landed H.R. in jail, got the band dropped from its label, Maverick, and came close to breaking the back of Bad Brains.

“Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve. He went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray Jesus to them.” Luke 22:3-4

This was the legacy and baggage that Bad Brains carried into their shows at the Howard, a restored palace of African-American musical history. I came despite having sworn off seeing the band after a free show at D.C. dancehall Tracks in 1995. At that time, I was exhilarated by the gracious gesture, and hopeful the band might finally break through to mass popularity. But I left disheartened after witnessing a distracted, adrift H.R. hiding behind shades and goofing on the songs. As a fan and friend, it was excruciating to watch.

I had no wish to repeat that experience. When the band returned to action as Soul Brains in 1998, I wasn’t reassured. As tales of H.R.’s onstage behavior and chaotic, frequently-verging-on-homeless lifestyle filtered back to me, I began to fear for his life more than his artistry.

A certain word kept popping up in conversations with other folks: schizophrenia. A former manager, Paul Cornwell, used it when I interviewed him for Dance of Days, as does Guy Oseary, from Maverick Records, in A Band in DC. A more professionally grounded diagnosis can’t be found, for everyone close to H.R. says the same thing: He won’t see a doctor. With that in mind, I wasn’t quite sure it was even right to go see Bad Brains perform. But the pairing of band and venue felt significant, and I hoped H.R. was doing better.

Chatting before the show, I find H.R. peaceful but as enigmatic as ever. When I ask if he’s excited to sing with Bad Brains again, he grins and nods his head. When I refer to Bad Brains by name another time, he corrects me gently, “You mean the Mighty Massive Brains.” Asked if he still wants revolution, H.R. smiles and answers so softly I have to lean forward: “Yes, of course, but nothing violent or self-destructive.” He seems blissed out and almost vacant, giving monosyllabic answers. Yet when his blue hollow-body guitar threatens to topple to the ground, H.R. is cat-quick, catching it with one hand.

I linger in the dressing room, writing prayers for my Catholic parish while I wait for Tony. H.R. mutters to himself quietly but incessantly. I leave the room more confused than when I entered.

The show offers little reassurance. When the curtains part, H.R. stands in a gray jumpsuit with stuffed pockets—there are bulges the size of sneakers on either side of his crotch—and sports gold-painted loafers. His guitar is fastened high on his chest, perhaps as protection against the expectations of fans looking for the fiery prophet. H.R. flashes a peace sign and steps to the microphone, but his soft words are swallowed in the mix.

I had thought punk long ago lost its ability to jar my sensibilities, but H.R. finds a way to prove me wrong. He stands still, hands at his side, mumbling the words as “Attitude” tears out. Near the climax, H.R. produces a handkerchief from his bulging pockets and carefully wipes the microphone. At the song’s end, he stiffly bows left, center, right to the crowd. I’m baffled: Is this a radical artistic statement, a protest, or simply impairment?

So it goes, all the way up to “At the Movies,” during which H.R. barely tries to sing. The band finishes a blistering, more-or-less instrumental version of “Pay to Cum” with H.R. sitting on the drum riser. As Darryl, Gary, and Earl decamp for the wings before the inevitable encore, H.R. begins playing “Love Comes First,” a song from his last solo album. No sound comes from his guitar, yet HR persists a cappella: “Love comes first/In the trinity…”

Just then Darryl returns to the stage, cutting H.R. off midphrase with a booming voice: “We’re still with you all, D.C., we’re still with you.” With that, the band is off into “I Against I.” A bemused H.R. trails behind like a cartoon character holding on to a runaway car.

Suddenly, the song is over, and the band leaves the stage abruptly. H.R. persists, gesturing and swaying, earnestly mumbling a sermonette for a befuddled crowd, including a knot of slam dancers pursuing a circle pit even though the music is over. After promising more music “in a few moments,” H.R. finally exits.

The band doesn’t return. Amid a sea of confused concertgoers, I hit the doors, and someone blurts in my direction, “What just happened?” I wince and shake my head, not at all sure what to say.

The next night, before the band’s second Howard show, I talk with other members, whose frustration hangs heavy in the air. While Earl shakes his head over H.R.’s antics, Gary expresses frank disappointment: “We aren’t ‘entertainers,’ but when people pay good money to see us, they deserve better.” Darryl is absent, but his dismissal of H.R. as a “Judas” in A Band in DC suggests the extent of his anger.

When I mention how heartbreaking I found A Band in DC’s portrait of H.R.’s deterioration, Gary corrects me: “No, I’d say it’s more his dissociation…he has withdrawn more and more.” As Tony joins the conversation, I am struck that the band seems to view H.R.’s peculiarities as intentional sabotage rather than evidence of psychopathology.

When asked what Bad Brains might mean in 2012, Gary perks up, offering, “It’s just the same...we are trying to do the works, the Lord’s works.” As the discussion shifts to the upcoming album, Gary’s belief in the band as a force for good seems palpable.

The show begins, and H.R. seems to be in an even more devilish mood. Dressed in the same jumpsuit, now embellished with a yellow Lion of Judah T-shirt, H.R. smiles and greets the crowd: “Well, look at that…wasn’t that something? Are you ready to hear some good music?”

As “Attitude” kicks off the set again, H.R. sings louder than the night before, but again remains motionless except for occasional strums of his guitar. His between-song patter is now audible, but suggests outright sabotage. The band—and Gary in particular—is not having it. Over and over, H.R. launches into his comic routine only to be curtly cut off by the roar of Gary’s guitar, detonating the next song.

If last night was powerful musically, tonight Bad Brains are on a rampage. As the band rips through classics like “Banned in D.C.,” “FVK,” “Reignition,” and “Soul Craft” alongside newer firecrackers like “Thanks and Praises,” H.R. seems a bit drawn into the songs despite himself, carried along by their force, even as he resists movement.

When an encore of “I Against I” and “Jah People Make the World Go Round” caps off the set, I find myself genuinely touched, even uplifted. In my mind it’s clear: If last night the singer fought the band and won, tonight the band has overcome.

“Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them: ‘Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall.’” Luke 11:17

Should there even be a Bad Brains in 2012? The band is as gifted as ever, yet without H.R. firing on all cylinders, how can it hope to preserve, much less advance, its legacy? Should H.R. even be on stage? Does it help or harm his personal healing?

I pose these questions to James Lathos, a Maryland filmmaker working on a documentary about H.R. He grants the validity of my concerns but argues that H.R. remains a gifted artist, if one who might no longer fit with his band’s energy. He shares footage of a smiling, hyper-fit H.R. enraptured during a recent recording trip in Jamaica. These dub-heavy solo songs find H.R. on more comfortable musical ground than the roar of Bad Brains. They suggest James might be on to something.

A few weeks later, James and I visit H.R. in Baltimore, where the singer now lives in a raggedy rowhouse near Pigtown, a neighborhood better known for drugs and prostitution. He greets me at the door wearing a blond women’s wig held on his head by an antique white head covering. He’s in a jovial mood, more animated than at the Howard, joking with the sketchy-looking white women a couple doors down who try unsuccessfully to lure him into their parlor. The interview is pleasant but surreal. H.R. alternates between calling me “Mr. Andersen” and “darling,” answering my questions with a ready smile, an easy laugh, and what seems like an extremely loose relationship with reality. He says he’s excited for a Bad Brains show coming up in one week—at Bonnaroo in Tennessee—and insists the band has yet to unveil its best material.

It might be more convincing if H.R. didn’t also recount how he—yes, H.R.—negotiated with Indian tribes to make possible the building of Baltimore, or tell me Barack Obama once dated his mother. As I listen to one fantabulous assertion after another, I’m not sure whether H.R. is pulling my leg or truly believes these fairy tales.

At the same time, the man seems mostly at peace, with flashes of wit and insight. H.R. clarifies that he stands still onstage in order to sing better and “not just scream.” He notes with pride that he can still do his signature backflip, but insists “making good music is more important than jumping around like a monkey.” I ask why he refuses to use the band’s given name, and he whips out a Bible and locates Psalm 100: “For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.”

Despite his friends’ concerns for his health, H.R. has visited a dentist, at least: He now has dentures. He also reveals that he no longer smokes pot. While the former undoubtedly makes the rapid-fire delivery of Bad Brains songs more challenging, both facts are good news.

After we drop H.R. at a street festival to perform—still in wig and head covering—James and I discuss the singer’s mental health. While H.R. told me he sees doctors regularly, James rebuts the tale. Visibly worried, he shares his fears about H.R.’s recurring headaches as well as the physical and psychic cost of his spartan, hobo lifestyle—for three years he lived in a Baltimore warehouse without heat—and the sometimes dodgy characters by whom he is, as a result, often surrounded.

“Keep out of reach/Don’t compromise,” H.R. sang in 1984, in his first post-Bad Brains solo band. But if Lathos sees H.R. still determined to live this demanding Rasta-punk credo, it seems a hard road to walk for a man nearing 60.

Meanwhile, Darryl, Gary, and Earl seem to have their eyes fixed on the road ahead—a fact apparent in their decision to name their upcoming album Into the Future. This could be bravado, but the muscle of the title track and several other new songs that Tony plays for me suggests they are still up for a fight. But is it a battle they can win?

For me, the more painful question is whether Bad Brains is even still a band in the spiritual sense, sharing a compelling vision. Given the Howard Theatre shows, this seems unlikely.

But for better or for worse, Bad Brains is these four people, brothers tangled up in a profound bond that has come to dance jaggedly along the line between love and hate, genius and madness. If this allows Bad Brains to play shows—often disappointing, sometimes revelatory—and painstakingly assemble new material, it doesn’t bode well for its future. As someone indelibly touched by their art, I hope to see them triumph. But I also fear there is no escape from this cycle of creative crucifixion that threatens to disfigure their legacy.

There is no simple resolution, for the band’s fractures and failures are intimately bound up with H.R.’s personal struggles. Unless he accepts help and finds real healing and reconciliation, the band will remain doomed to disappoint its fans and fail to reach its own highest aspirations. Worse, H.R. will continue to walk along an abyss, sliding toward self-destruction, not simply as an artist but, more importantly, as a person.

“And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” Romans 12:2

I recently stumbled across a professionally recorded 1982 Bad Brains show from the Fillmore in San Francisco, right before the sequence of events that led to the band’s nosedive in Texas. It’s a riveting, transformative performance, and H.R. is on fire. “We are tired of being prisoners,” he shouts. “We are tired of being slaves…” As the clarion chords that herald “Banned In DC” ring out, he pauses. Then, as the bass and drums gather momentum, he screams into the void: “The choice is yours!” The band explodes, a runaway locomotive straining at the rails but somehow never losing its way.

As I listened, the universe once again ignited with possibility, and I was transported back 30 years—but then the tears came. I ached for those long gone days, filled with innocence and my own newly discovered power, with all of life looming before me.

And then, in the next second, I glimpsed the ghost of the most supremely gifted performer I’ve ever seen, undermining his band of brothers, pissing away the promises of revolution made long ago, slipping into darkness.

The vision faded, replaced by the sober determination that is so often the companion of truth. I recognized my own folly, the unfair projection of my dreams and failures onto this band and its supremely human leader. There’s no need for Bad Brains—much less H.R.—to fight my battles. They are mine to win or lose.

“At the Movies” rushes back into my mind, kicking up sparks in my soul. From across the decades, I touch the heart of my 23-year-old self, a boy becoming a man, finding renewed hope, taking up new challenges, making bigger promises while hearing one man in one moment channel a vision large enough for a universe of moments: “So I say to the youth right now/don’t sway to the unjust/no matter what they say/never give in/never give in…”

I know the truth: Since we can’t be what we were, we must be just what we are, stretching toward what we still can be. This is all we have, and it is more than enough. For me, whatever their present struggles, this is the sacred, saving gift of Bad Brains: To know simply, with certainty, that the choice to fight for our lives is forever ours to make.

The film Bad Brains: A Band in DC shows at 10:45 p.m. on Thursday, June 21 and at 10 p.m. on Saturday, June 23 at the AFI Silver Theatre as part of Silverdocs. $13.

Due to a reporting error, the article originally misidentified Tim Kerr's role in the band Big Boys. He played guitar.

Related Story: Read Mark Andersen's analysis of the film Bad Brains: A Band in DC

Photo Slideshow: H.R. in Baltimore, June 18, 2012

Our Readers Say

Bad Brains should not play with HR. Just bring back Joseph I. I saw the them in 95 and it was pretty good, but the election eve show in 08 was terrible.
wow, someone else in the world listened to "let them eat jellybeans"! i thought bad brains were one of the best bands on that compilation, & i've always debated going to see them live because of all the in-fighting. i'm not sure i want to see a band, that i held in such high esteem in my formative years, implode like this. c'mon bad brains, it might be time to intervene & help a friend.
Tim Kerr played guitar in the Big Boys, not bass.
What? Someone's fav band of the past now has personnel issues? Too bad, baby. Grow fuckin' up! Irrelevant bamds of the past, please die gracefully and go away! Yeah keep up the nostalgia trip and you can have your band be just like those war horses the Doobie Brothers or the Beach Boys, who keep reuniting in various personnel configurations every summer to go on tour, LOL, let's pretend it just like the old days, boyz and gurls...
Mark ... says who? You? Your most recent attempt for a Bad Brains interview was like having one of the cast from Petty Coat Junction show up or maybe even some redneck mean well from the Andy Griffith show, everyone from the band, to the roadies - to the friends and family member thought you were a fucking creepy asshole. The Brains aren't tarnished from anything and they apart from your dipshittedness are way beyond your pen ... you barely got an interview because you are a suck butt ... you are almost sixty years old and you write like the "Nowhere Man". Stop dick riding and go recite some W.S. Merwin ...
The Bad Brains don't need to do anything. Everything the light touches is their kingdom. True Lions they are.
Thanks for passing on the correction, Nat K... duh, you are of course correct! Sorry, Tim, really I knew that you played guitar in Big Boys, apologies to all!

Thanks to all for reading the article, even if you didn't like it, feel free to write to me directly if you want to discuss any of the issues raised above -- or any other -- more seriously.

all the best, Mark A

PS Just a thought: "creepy" seems to fairly summarize someone who hides behind e-anonymity to offer barely literate insults. Something to think about, perhaps...
Ooops! Left off my e-mail address: wearefamilydc@aol.com Hope to hear from some of you, again, thanks! Mark A
Mark, thanks a lot for writing what a lot of us that were at the Howard Theater thought. I, too, was upset at H.R.'s antics, and we left the showing wondering if H.R. was acting, schizophrenic, or high. We even saw a few glances from band members that made it apparent that they were not happy with H.R.'s behavior. I was especially unhappy when he skipped some of the most powerful lyrical parts in I Against I, Sail On, and Gene Machine, and flat out sat down on the drum riser for other parts. Those songs were rendered anti-climactic, and I felt sorry for the band, which appeared to be playing their hearts out. All in all, I think Bad Brains was a great band that will leave an everlasting memory in our minds. And H.R. will probably continue to disappoint those who continue to expect from him his former greatness. Now, all we have from him is mystery and "what if's.".
He has been getting up on that stage since 1977. He has given the world so much. So much. If he wants to sit down he can sit down. If you feel like he is not "performing" to your liking, you can listen to your records or ride around with your cassette tapes being cool in Takoma Park or go visit Sea World. He is 56 years old, a legend, and coming on the heels of losing Chuck Brown, I cherish him all the more. As I watch the D.C. I knew slip away, I don't "feel sorry" for his band. They love him. I love him. And with your punk bona fides you should too. But I aint going to tell you your business Mr. DC.
Clearly he is mentally ill which is very sad. What a band, though.
What an incredible article. thank you
I was recently diagnosed with Schizophrenia and have been living for years unaware that I even had an illness. When I hear about HR being withdrawn and having lost touch with reality(which has been going on for years as we all know) I'm sure he's going through advanced stages of schizophrenia.

Many schizophrenic people end up homeless (as HR has) or unable to take care of themselves. I remember an interview with Anthony County were he talked about HR being unable to hold on to(manage) money. The bizarre behaviors, the delusions of granduer; these are all symptoms. He probably sees nothing wrong. From my own experience schizophrenia can be a living nightmare- paranoia, feelings of unreality, feeling people are out to harm you or people you love, sensory hallucinations. you feel like your life is being controlled by outside forces, maybe witchcraft, the devil etc.

I've been functional enough to get by, but for me I feel like I've lived a non-life. i'm trying to come to terms with it and getting help. The sad thing is if HR had been diagnosed early on he could have got treatment and medication- not sure what that would've meant in 1992-95 or so. Schizophrenic symptoms can be made worse by drug use. It's a well known fact HR smoked a LOT of weed, and i've read about possibe heroin use. He's too far gone to want help- he may even be going through much worse times behind closed doors.

Anyway, I'm just guessing, I'm not an expert- but the symptoms all seem to be there. I don't know if HR has schizophrenia. Whatever the case, it's really sad. HR was one bad mutha back in the day- he had a voice that could cut through bullshit, and it was powerful! Anyway, thank you for writing this honest, straight-forward article. Means more to me than you know....
Cheers to Mark A. for this great piece. I also find it difficult to reconcile my feelings about the state of HR and the Bad Brains. Sensitive, thoughtful, even-handed, informative and well-written piece on a challenging, meaningful subject City Paper is still a great forum. Thanks for this and all things Positive Force.
I'm amazed at the people that think HR is doing something to them personally- or that he just stopped caring- the band members included. It's clear that there is a deeper issue going on that has been progressively affecting HR'S personality. It's not his fault- it's the illness. He may never have had the wherewithal to get help.
...or maybe he met God and knows something about life that we don't. Whatever the case- still my favorite band of all time. Looking forward to the new album!

favs: quickness, rock for light, i against i
It is sad..there is simply no emotion in H.R.'s singing.he us phoning it in and it is not the same.
Word was, at a party someone put something in H.R.'s drink,which led to the H.R. we know now.
A great, compelling article, derailed by the author's insistence on religious propaganda almost the entire way through.
This article touched on a lot of what I think most of the fans and I were thinking. I can't wait to see this movie. This is a tragedy at the present. A once electric, enigmatic, amazing presence that lit up the stages of the small smoky clubs of cities years ago. He's a legend, but a living legend, that still remains a living, breathing human being. :(
Mark -- I enjoyed the article. You captured why Bad Brains is such an enigma and for all they accomplished we're still left wondering what else they could have done. They were so far ahead of their time that their music still defies ready classification even as their influence on modern music is widely accepted and acknowledged. Thanks for the read.
A very touching portrayal - thank you for sharing your story within the context of whatever the band (or, H.R., at least) has become. Here's to stretching toward what we still can be.
I want to go off on some tangent about Mark being a weird guy (he used to remind me of a cross between John Denver and Crispin Glover on weed, cocaine and Bud Light) but honestly I have to say that he wrote a thoughtful and compelling article which I eagerly consumed.

A few things struck me though, such as why Bad Brains continues to struggle on with a guy who is obviously mentally ill and incapable (forget about unwilling) of fulfilling his proper role in the band.

Another thing was the feeling that Mark thinks the Bad Brains should be an exception to the general rule that most bands just can't hold it together like they used to after the years go by.

The last thing that struck me was...whoah - Mark Anderson is a Catholic? Seems kinda.. I dunno, I mean I guess the true original church is all commie and positive, but uh...you got people like Rick Santorum, child molesting priests, and Nazi collaborators (Fact: only the Jehova's Witnesses had the balls to defy Hitler in his day, but screw them - they're weird too) in that boat with you bro; not to mention centuries of murder. Not a very Positive Force my man.
Bad Brains are who they are? And nothing last forever i should know i created 24-7 Spyz.
Whatever time you have in this world is yours to mark your mark on it in the small time that you have. Look what's happening to Slipknot?
Am I the only one who enjoys the Bad Brains as they are now? You can't expect them to sound like they did back in the 80s. I find HR amusing and funny as hell. I get the impression that Mark Andersen saw HR as some sort of prophet back in the day. Enjoy them as they are, and take what you can take from their music. HR is nuts, but in a fun way. I'd rather have HR than an asshole rockstar like Glenn Danzig.
Am I the only one who enjoys the Bad Brains as they are now? You can't expect them to sound like they did back in the 80s. I find HR amusing and funny as hell. I get the impression that Mark Andersen saw HR as some sort of prophet back in the day. Enjoy them as they are, and take what you can take from their music. HR is nuts, but in a fun way. I'd rather have HR than an asshole rockstar like Glenn Danzig.
I view the decline of the DC punk scene as starting with the arrival of Mark Andersen, and overly earnest types like him, who sapped all the joy and spontaneity out of the scene. This article just continues with that tradition.
My Band Knew breed opened up for bad brains at the fastlane in Asbury Park i am a serious fan of HR and not a Fan of replacement lead singers of Iconic Bands such as Bad Brains Van Halen i never got to see them with Hr live so if there rockin wit HR now its kool no one knows but them what they feel for each other support them like you always have they FUCKIN STILL ROCK!!! SHOUT OUT TO DR KNOW I STILL HAVE THOSE STRINGS YOU GAVE ME

Baltimore City Paper's article on HR, written by John Barry of the DC punk band, Government Issue, perhaps acts an alternative to the the snow job Mark penned. Mark comes as close to FAIR AND BALANCED FOX NEWS ... as it gets by way of the Washington City Paper and by way of poor reporting/absolute bias. The Washington City Paper censors stories ... such as the Walter Reed debacle and for good reason. They don't won't to piss off ... let me get this right ... advertisers devoted to urban thoughtless sprawl and gentrification - when I asked the Washington City Paper to cover the Walter Reed scandal years ago, I received a big no, the reason being was at the time City Paper stated advertisers support the war but not the wounded and Walter Reed was too controversial.

By way of Mark's article ... yes ... the City Paper does support the war but not the wounded.
Incredible,all of it.Bad Brains story from beginning to present.I feel quite comfortable in saying that regardless of our personal views on Bad Brains weather we love them,loathe,are disappointed,or any other emotion,perhaps this article will help bring out into the open the subject of mental illness.And maybe even help the HR we all know and love.Punks,and Skins,and Rastas are people at the end of the day,and we love and suffer like any other sector of society if not moreso.A big part of this stems from seeing and even speaking out about the corruption we see in the world."Leaving this place won't be no big disgrace" , HR sang.When someone is that dedicated and devoted to change,revolution etc.,where would you rather be living out your days? On stage,with the people you love,or in a mental hospital somewhere where no one os going to know who you are,much less ever understand the greatness of who you were? In closing,i only saw the Bad Brains one time ever,1988,but i saw them in one of the best places in the world.9:30 F st. (Original 9:30) Washington DC.
luv you HR,luv you Bad Brains,luv you DC.take care of each other!!!!!
lets get sid back up there
hey great article. i was also at the howard theathere on 4/20. i smoke a joint right before the brains got on stage. i knew hr was on something! great show but i dont understand how he didnt try to sing. if you watch his european shows in the past 2 years theyre really decent. i just wish to see the band in dc documentry.
actor1: I still own a copy of Let Them Eat Jellybeans.
I've been suspecting HR is schizophrenic for years and years. Many people suffering from the condition self-medicate with marijuana, which unfortunately can also exacerbate the symptoms. The heavy weed smoking, crazy religious stuff, nonsensical interview answers and random physical assaults over the years all point to schizophrenia. That doesn't mean that he can't be helped, or he's always sick - I've seen a few interviews where he seems relatively lucid. But I think it is an ongoing struggle for him, and it's a shame that he has gone this long without treatment.
My world view changed took an evolutionary leap that night a room-mate coaxed me to go the Yippie's Madamam's Organ in Wash.DC in 1979 (? ) where the Teen Idles and The Mad ( NYC ) opened for The Bad Brains ... No more Grateful Dead for me after that mind blowing experiance! ... I even got a free copy of Pay To Cum that night ! Saw them a few more times in DC back then and then kind of lost interest in their career ... reluctantly went to see them at the eve of election night in DC .. the idea of bands , any band , playing their music from 20 or 30 years kind of irks me but I gotta say they kicked out the jams that night and who can fault someone for trying to make a living doing what they love doing. Fairly insightful article by Mark , with the exception of the biblical quotations ... I prefer my Punk sans religion ... The Movie was almost great , should have been a little more footage of the band ...the animation was kinda corny and lacked depth ... with all the talented artists who would have loved to contribute art why go with just one person's art ? Still, at least someone made the effort and brought it to life and onto the silver screen. Also great to see H.R.there . Sail on
i found the article to be very well written. i can see where some of you may find reason to cite bias here, but Mark and Paul are/were friends. I detected a general concern for his health, more so than a desire to relive the days of his youth through the modern Bad Brains. That band changed my life. I saw them in Richmond in '86, with Scream and Beefeater...HR with the backflips and all. I also saw them in '88, tearing it up. Then I saw an HR show in Asheville, NC, where apparently, HR had just talked a funk band that had played the same venue the night before to back him. it was horrible. yes, sitting down the whole time, mumbling, trying his best to play that god-awful trumpet of his. But I share the concern for the man.I suffer from mental illness, and if he does, i hope he isn't beyond health. No matter what may ever come of "what they may be some day", when they were in their prime, they were untouchable, they spoke truths to kids that needed it, and for that, they will remain my favorite band. Rock For Light was brilliant, and still my favorite, and I have FVK tattoo'd on my wrist. I am a lifetime member of the F.V.K. - great article Mark, took guts, forget the haters, and love and peace to Paul. i hope that someday he may rest a little easier.
The one option that no one seems to be considering, and I suggest this is because even the "No More Heroes" punks have lapsed into Emporer's New Clothes hysteria, is that the guy is/was/always will be a douche-bag. I was in a band back in those days who opened up for the Bad Brains a couple of times and HR was ALWAYS a DB; whether it was chasing barely nubile girls at shows or after-parties, to pulling a rock-star attitude with fans (while the rest of the guys in the 'Brains couldn't have been nicer). His act is EXACTLY what early punk was supposed to be AGAINST. I pity the author of this article for allowing himself to be drawn into a miasma of ponderance when the answer is right in front of your face. Screw HR, either break up or get a replacement. Purists might argue it's not the "real" Bad Brains without HR but frankly this old-schooler has moved on anyway. WHO CARES?
Last time I saw HR it hit me like a ton of bricks...he is the new Lee Scratch Perry.
I viewed a recent short youtube clip from July 4th with HR performing solo.
In it he was almost back to 'normal'. He put more effort into the singing and was moving.
I don't go for the 'he doesn't like the material' as he plays Bad Brains songs when he plays solo.
I had a recent listen to their last album. While I liked it at the time (was I forcing myself to like it due to nostalgia?), I find it very average. Primarily because of the lyrics and singing.
HR can still do it (like he used to) for the most part, and I think most of us are hoping he does it again.
This article exemplifies the petty, stingy, self-centered, absurdly self-serious, clique of privileged white kids that squeezed every ounce of life and joy out of DC's incredible punk scene. How many times must Mark Anderson remind us that he founded "Positive Farce" - that incomparable coterie of self-righteous elitist pricks who went around telling everyone how morally superior they were, and made a profession of talking down (if at all) to anyone who was actually different (namely, the few people of color or LGBT kids who dared to show up for shows). Not surprising, I suppose, that the ultimate scenester cannot spare a trace of compassion, understanding, or basic human empathy for a man who gave so much to music and culture. And who is so clearly hurting and struggling at present.

"If you don’t want to sing, and can’t even pretend that you do, get the fuck off the stage!"

Yes, once again, Mark's moral superiority shine through. Reading this makes me want to send all my love to HR and thank the bad brains for their incredible gifts of music and message. It also makes me profoundly grateful that I now live in a different continent from Mark Anderson and the rest of his intolerably humorless, self-satisfied ilk.
As a huge fan of the Bad Brains since 1980 or so, I am truly troubled by H.R.'s deterioration, which I have followed via the media over the years. H.R. seems to display many telltale signs of mental illness, and a diagnosis of schizophrenia may be appropriate. [I work as a psychotherapist in Campbell, CA.] It is reported that drug use can hasten the onset of schizophrenia, which is marked by disordered thoughts, auditory and visual hallucinations, delusions, and a blunted affect (though H.R. seems very animated). People with schizophrenia also often suffer from periodic psychotic breaks, where they lose touch with reality. I have a hard time believing it is the evolution of his artistic act or an attempt to sabotage the group. He must (or maybe he doesn't) see how it affects his bandmates of 30+ years (including his brother). I would really encourage his family and friends to take him to see a mental health professional in the Baltimore area.
Excellent article sir. I've been a Bad Brains fan since back in the day, and it's sad and frustrating the way H.R. has deteriorated and made a clown of himself. With the platinum blonde wig, and the bizarre accent he uses these days, i think he might be a homo. Ironic isn't it?
I lived in suburban Virginia during the rise of DC Hardcore and still get a kick out of reading punl history and realizing I was a witness to the words. In 1982 I went off to school in Wisconsin and had one hell of a time seeing Minor Threat, the Exploited, and others touring the Midwest. Mark's words could have been written 30 years ago- while a loyal and excited Milwaukee scene waited anxiously for the Bad Brains to energize the room with pure, untarnished, lighting fast songs, HR stood on stage and unleashed a dose of reggae ill suited for 17 year olds waiting to explode. After enduring an hour of this nonsense, I went up to HR and urged him to give the crowd one punk song. He gave me a look of madness and refused to answer. Darryl looked at me with a sense of understanding but he nodded his head and pointed at HR and softly said, 'he won't do it'. I stopped listening to the Bad Brains that night. It's been 30 years and out of the blue my son played 'Big takeover' and I could hear the brilliance of a band that never quite accomplished their true calling.
Very nice article though I'm not sure how the biblical quotes are supposed to add anything of value. In any event, HR is psychotic and almost certainly suffers from Schizophrenia but I'm not sure if that's his only problem. As much as I used to love this group, I made an easy decision many years ago to stop seeing them because long before he became ill, HR's self-absorption and hostility poked out way ahead of the group's music. Sure, Schizophrenia has made any of that worse, despite the surface semblance of serenity, but he's always been something of an antisocial asshole. He just used to be able to incorporate that into a genre of music that, much as I've always loved punk and hardcore, gave free license to anyone to express rage even if they didn't have the foggiest notion of why they were really rageful. The power of Bad Brains notwithstanding, HR was one of those 'all dressed up and nowhere to go.' Now, he's just dressed up differently and really with no place to go other than down and out.
I'm not quite sure if anyone who has left a comment that there is a documentary on HR in the works. The project is called Finding Joseph I and they have launched a Kickstarter campaign as well as having a fundraiser this week. Below is the info from this fundraiser event as well as and update.We all love HR and his story needs to be told. Please assist in the funding of this film.

Our supporters are the best! We have raised $18,234 in just 18 days. Thank you everyone and LET'S KEEP THIS GOING! In order to get any funding it is important that we keep up the momentum to reach our goal.

On Friday, May 31st we are going to have a fundraising event at Black Whiskey from 8pm to 11pm at 1410 14th Street NW DC. Suggested donation is 10 dollars! The filmmakers will be in attendance along with HR himself. It will be a social event filled with music, video footage and showcasing some original art by HR himself!

We look forward to spending time with supporters and friends next Friday. Please take a moment to help get the word out.

Thanks again!


"the first all-black punk band"

How about a little slap to the face, Death? (No, not that Death. The other one.)


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