When Bradley Norman starts talking about the history of one of Lawrence’s most revered punk-rock venues, the tone in his voice changes.
What’s normally a cool, relaxed baritone takes on a more animated tone — and the depth with which Norman tells his stories reveals the years of research he’s put into the topic.
Seven years ago, Norman, then a film student at the University of Kansas, decided he wanted to make a documentary about The Outhouse, out in the middle of a cornfield in East Lawrence. The lawless punk venue hosted bands like Fugazi, the Melvins, Rollins Band, Gwar, Body Count, Social Distortion, Bad Brains, White Zombie, Descendents, Sonic Youth, Green Day, Fishbone, the Meat Puppets, Helmet and Nirvana from 1985 to 1997.
“At The Outhouse, you’d see kids with Mohawks and kids with mullets. Straight-edged teens and skinheads,” Norman said. “And before Nirvana broke, punk rock was not a type of music. There wasn’t a punk sound. … Punk bands were called punk bands because the people in them were punks.”
Norman said he wanted his film to be “almost like a National Geographic portrayal of punk rockers.” He said he wanted a straightforward film that told the story in its entirety, and not just his favorite parts. He also wanted it to be easily understandable to those who didn’t grow up with purple-dyed hair.
“I didn’t know what kind of shape the film was going to take, and it turned out the best way to tell the story was chronological,” Norman said. “The people that brought the story were people like Donny (Mellenbruch, the owner), Bill Rich, Jeff Fortier, Dave Budin and Tad Kepley, because they were all the promoters, and they had just way better skills at conveying the story, they had way better skills at telling the story that nobody knew.”
One of the challenges Norman faced was deciphering the tall tales from the truth, which with more than 80 interviews, was no simple task.
One story Norman shared he was able to validate, because he was there as a teenager in the 80’s.
“The Bad Brains came to town and the show — probably 1,200 people came to that show and the place holds about 350, so there was more people outside than inside,” he recalled. “And when you walked in, I wore glasses as a kid, and they just steamed up immediately. It was a sweat box, and the Bad Brains were mad because there were so many people there and they demanded twice the amount of money or they weren’t going to play.”
Filtering through the stories he was told, Norman was able to piece together the whole night when the Bad Brains played at The Outhouse. After talking with Fortier, the promoter, Norman said the band wanted to meet the guy in charge of the sound system, but couldn’t because he was in the hospital. So the lead singer, HR, demanded to see him in the hospital, or they weren’t playing.
Long story short, the band traveled to a Kansas City hospital, and after a visit, traveled back to Lawrence hours later to do the show in the pouring rain. Norman also recalls due to the amount of people and the rain, people were getting shocked by the sound system.
The Bad Brains only played eight shows that year, making their Outhouse stop a memorable one.
Norman said they never could have completed the film without those who donated footage, posters, photos and stories of past shows and without Ed Rose, a local Lawrenceian, sound engineer and record producer who edited the sound for the film pro bono.
Rose said he thought anyone who was around back then or likes that style of music will enjoy it.
“It’s fun to see key players from back in the day tell the stories that’ve become legend,” he said. “It’s fun to hear the music again. And, it’s fun to hear the story of an unlikely venue sprouting up in the middle of a cornfield becoming ground zero for the Lawrence music scene.”
After getting the footage back and ironing out a few details, Norman said he wanted to show the video on a Saturday, and at a local venue.
The film will screen in Liberty Hall, 644 Massachusetts St., at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 14. Doors open at 7 p.m., with an after party at 10 p.m. at The Bottleneck. Visit ticketfly.com/event/1549657-film-opening-outhouse-lawrence/. Norman said the show is selling out fast, with more than 400 tickets already sold.
Next year Norman said there may be more screenings in the area, and he hopes one day the video will be available to rent online.
For information and updates, visit theouthousethefilm.com.
Contact reporter Savanna Maue at (785) 295-5621 or @CJFoodFun or @SavannaMaue on Twitter.