Desolation Center Tells The Story Of Guerrilla Music

The hangings are over, but the postcards are still on sale.

Courtesy of IndieLisboa

Not rated. Opens Friday at the Roxie Theater.

It’s not fair to hold isolated events responsible for the things they inspire, which is why it’s okay to revel in Stuart Swezey’s documentary Desolation Center even knowing the events it relates led to Burning Man, and Burners ruin everything. Looking to escape the harassment the punk scene was experiencing from the LAPD in the mid-1980s, promoter Swezey had an idea: Why not go out into the middle of nowhere? This resulted in a series of every-so-often, under-the-radar shows such as Savage Republic in the Mojave, the Minutemen on a whalewatching boat in San Pedro Bay, and Einstürzende Neubauten and Survival Research Laboratories making both literal and metaphoric sparks fly in Box Canyon. Joining Pink Floyd at Mothers Club on Apr. 27, 1969 or Miles Davis at the Osaka Festival Hall on Feb. 1, 1975 as a show that should be on your short list if you had a time machine was the Gila Monster Jamboree on Jan. 5, 1985, when relative unknowns Sonic Youth jammed noisily in the Mojave night lit only by the moon while most everyone in the audience was tripping on LSD. Swezey and Desolation Center are appropriately contrite for spawning Burning Man, and they are forgiven, since those original shows are memories that will always hold.

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