There are many moments in “I’m Now: The Story of Mudhoney” that debunk the notion of what it means to be in a legendary rock band.
An early scene from this excellent rock doc, recently out on DVD, depicts grunge godfather Mark Arm working his less than glamorous day job, packaging and shipping merch from Sub Pop’s Seattle warehouse. Later, we see bassist Guy Maddison in powder blue scrubs roaming the halls of Harborview Medical Center, where he works as a nurse tech when Mudhoney’s not rocking far-away stages in Australia and Japan.
“People often times believe that if they have heard of a band that the people in that band are well-to-do ... and life is easy,” Sub Pop executive VP Megan Jasper narrates.
“It’s not always like that, especially with independent bands.”
So, no, Mudhoney didn’t cash in quite like their chart-topping peers in Nirvana, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam. But they did pretty much put Seattle’s punk scene on the map years before Kurt Cobain and company became household names. And directors Ryan Short and Adam Pease excel in delivering compelling, no-nonsense insight into the band’s origins, motivations and lasting importance.
They get plenty of help from a who’s who of ‘80s and ‘90s alt-rock. Along with Mudhoney - also guitarist Steve Turner, drummer Dan Peters an original bassist Matt Lukin - Sub Pop founders Bruce Pavitt and Jonathan Poneman, Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon Thurston Moore and Pearl Jam’s Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament are among the parade of rockers, record execs and journalists that make cameos, in stylish black and white.
We trace the band back to its roots in Arm and Turner’s high school punk band Mr. Epp & the Calculations and in proto-grunge group Green River. We see footage from watershed performances: the London gig at London School of African and Oriental Studies where Mudhoney collapsed the stage and made the British press take notice; Lame Fest, the showcase that heralded the mayhem to come, at the Moore Theatre in grunge in 1989.
But mostly we see a band that has maintained its integrity and, perhaps more importantly, a sense of humor even as mayhem and tragedy unfolded around it.
“Any time you play music for the crowd instead of yourself, you’re f***ed,” Mark Arm declares in the film’s opening scene. “A lot of people think of music as a way to get something else,” he elaborates as the film comes to a close. “To me, and I think the rest of the band, music is an end in and of itself.”
Mudhoney has persevered against all odds and is gearing up for a big spring, with a March 30 show coming up at Seattle’s Neumo’s, just days before Sub Pop delivers its latest rock opus, “Vanishing Point.” “I’m Now” reminds you why you should still care.