Circle Jerks
My Career As a Jerk

Amongst the many bands that sprang up in Southern California during the hardcore rush of the early ’80s, perhaps none seems more quintessential of that time and place than the Circle Jerks. Formed by former members of Black Flag and Redd Kross—vocalist Keith Morris and guitarist Greg Hetson, respectively—the band had the advantage of their pedigree, not to mention real musicians comprising their rhythm section. As such, when the band formed in 1979, they hit the ground running at full speed, with minute-long songs that were as smart as they were fast. They released the classic Group Sex album before the year was over, and the rest is punk rock history.

Of course, the band’s existence wasn’t all wine and roses, and My Career As a Jerk takes a look at the many ups and downs and fits and starts of the band’s three decades. Directed by David Markey, who is best known for making 1991: The Year Punk Broke, the film is comprised of vintage live footage and extensive interviews with Morris, Hetson, and many of the musicians who at one time or another were Circle Jerks, most notably original drummer Lucky Lehrer and bassists Earl Libery (1983–84) and Zander Schloss (1984–2010). Markey also talks to contemporaries like Henry Rollins and J Mascis to get their take on the band.

The Circle Jerks’ story is unremarkable in that it resemble that of many others. Drummers and bass players came and went, some members (Morris and original bassist Roger Rogerson) struggled with drug and alcohol abuse, and the band never made as much money as it would have liked. But this documentary is well-timed in that the band recently went their separate ways after years of having overcome these adversities. With each member interviewed separately, we get several different perspectives on the break-up, with Morris ultimately commenting that he’s closed the door on the group, but he hasn’t locked it, meaning there’s still a chance that the band will reconvene some day.

Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of My Career As a Jerk is the live footage that Markey has dug up. He managed to find video of the band in nearly ever incarnation, even a mid-80s version that included Flea. The quality varies greatly, but in every instance one can grasp the popularity of the band, albeit on punk’s limited scale at the time, and the intensity of the band in the flesh. Ultimately, it’s the appreciation for the band that the film garners that is its greatest asset. The Circle Jerks’ story may not be too riveting, but as the film reveals, it fed into what is arguably some of the most jarring music to come out of the hardcore era.
Stephen Slaybaugh