How I got into SLC Punk

Salt Lake City, UT – 1997

On a very normal weekday afternoon, I decided to skip school and go to the mall for an Orange Julius. They were delicious and I had a habit of going there two or three times a week. The mall was only a seven minute drive away from my high school, and I was phasing out of school by this point anyway.

I don’t remember who I was with, but someone else must have driven. We parked and made our way through the parking lot to the door. As we approached, a woman carrying several bags came out of the mall. She spotted me from a distance and beamed a big smile directly at me. This was an unusual response to my presence, and I wasn’t sure what to make of it. We approached one another and she continued to grin at me while making direct eye contact

me and jen cropped

“We were just a couple of young punks.”

She walked directly up to me as we got closer. “Wow!” she said, “you look great!” She proceeded to touch my hair, pull on my jacket, and feel the spikes on my belt. I stood there in utter confusion, trying to determine if this woman was hitting on me, making fun of me, or just obliviously but authentically interested in what I had going on. I did my best impression of one who was not to be fucked with and sneered, “Thanks.”

As an adult I realize how much I relied on my bad attitude, intimidating affectations, and extreme fashion to drive away people; I remember being startled and nervous that someone was unaffected by my demeanor and worse, eager to engage me. It’s like someone pulling back the curtain on the wizard of Oz to find a small, scared person with nothing to say.

She continued to prod at me and added, “Very nice, very nice. Well you’d better get in there, I think they’ve already started.” “Started what?” I asked. “Shooting.” she replied as though I were silly. “Shooting what?” I inquired, realizing we were not one the same page. I felt by now that she had perhaps mistaken me for someone else, which was a strange thought given the unmistakable nature of my appearance.

“The movie…” she relied and paused, observing the blank look on my face. “Wait, are you not here for the movie??” “What movie?” I asked. “Oh my God!” she yelled dancing in place, “Come with me right now!” She grabbed me by the sleeve and drug me through the into the mall, the whole time shouting things back to me like, “I can’t believe you’re not here for the move! I’m so glad I found you!”

Shortly we approached a large group of people at the end of the mall. They had the whole area roped off, and I saw movie cameras on roller tracks and chairs for actors and directors. This woman drug me into the middle of the set and announced, “Look what I just found outside! He was just walking into the mall! He didn’t even know we were here!” All eyes were one me; both the actors and directors came over to inspect me, all smiling with approval and nodding excitedly. I still had no idea what was going on.

It was explained to me that they were filming a scene for an upcoming movie about punks in Salt Lake City. They were pleased to have found me because they needed more punk kids for their movie. I was given a business card with a time and date on it and told to bring as many of my friends as I could. I would be paid for my time. I was very excited, but a little unsure of what it was really all about or what my role might be.

me and gary

Me and Gary -1996

The day came and I recruited my closest punk rocker friend, Gary, to come with me. We drove out to location and were greeted with recognition. They were pleased that we came and eager to put us to work. We were ushered into a tent with the other extras. The tent had a table full of finger foods and chairs and couches. We felt like royalty

We were on the set for several weeks, sometimes staying all night. We acted as extras in many scenes. The movie extras were split about 30% real punks and 70% kids in acting school. The movie crew had put up adds to call for extras, so about ten authentic punks had come to make some easy money and be in a movie. The others were posh kids who would go through makeup and wardrobe before each shoot. Needless to say the two groups mixed like oil and water.

I made several new friends out of the pool of authentic punks. I also got to meet and talk with the actors, who turned out to be terrific. As a young punk kid, I already had a philosophical distaste for Hollywood and movie stars, and I felt indignant that my cherished lifestyle would be portrayed by cushy actors who, for all I knew, had never even heard of punk rock, much less lived it.

But my first conversation with Matthew Lillard was very authentic; he was fluent in the bands and culture. Annabeth Gish would frequently wander over to our corner just to chat and was always pleasant and interested. Michael Goorjian stayed in character most of the time and was more distant and unapproachable. But the experience changed my perspective and improved my outlook. The cast and crew gave a punk kid like me the feeling that I belonged there with them, if just for a little while.

I made myself available for as many scenes as possible. At one point the crew assigned me the job of rolling faux joints for a party scene. I sat with a pack of rolling papers and a big bag of fake pot and rolled twenty or thirty joints. I remember having a nice conversation with the Annabeth at one point who admired my rolling technique and asked for some pointers.

The prop cart on the set contained a five-gallon freezer bag full of cartons of cigarettes. They would hand out cigarettes between shots so all the extras could be shown smoking on film. The last day on the set I liberated this bag and went home with a hundred dollars worth of free cigarettes. They gave me an awesome job and I stole from them. What can I say -kids do shitty things. I’ve always felt guilty.

After having been on the set for a couple of weeks, I was getting more positive attention from the crew for being available as often as they needed me. I was approached and asked if I would be willing to do a photo shoot scene. It would pay extra, but I was willing to do it simply to be featured.

If I remember correctly we were paid $75 dollars a day for our participation, and I believe I was paid a hundred dollars per photo. Most of the money I spent on booze, but I used a portion of it to buy my first car: a white, two-door 1988 Toyota Tercel. The previous owner had been T-boned in it. The passenger door was smashed and wouldn’t open. It was mine for the low, low price of $400. This car was the fruit of my labor, if you could call it that, and officially changed me from a bus-riding, walking punk to a self sufficient, driving punk. Thanks SLC Punk – I owe you one. And sorry about the cigarettes.

The movie shooting concluded and we had nothing more to do. This was disappointing to me because I could not have dreamed up a better source of income or a better excuse for being away from school. We all went our separate ways without any ceremony. I continued to see several of the other extras from time to time as shows.

me and kenny

My friends and I pre-gaming before the premier of SLC Punk in Park City, UT

About a year later my friends and I caught wind that the movie would be premiering at the Sundance film festival in Park City. Four or five of us loaded up in my Toyota Tercel and headed through the canyon for opening night. We had no plan, we just wanted to see the turnout.

We arrived in Park City and headed out on foot to the strip. As we approached we saw men in tuxes and women in formal gowns. There was a red carpet and a velvet rope with a line around the theater. Limos pulled up and dropped off important people. We stood out front watching the glitter. We didn’t know whether to be proud or offended.

To our surprise we were recognized by someone from the film. To our further surprise they were happy we came and asked if we had tickets. Naturally we didn’t, and he said no problem. He ushered us past the line, down the red carpet and into the theater. He told us to pick out the seats we wanted, and we picked out the best.

Soon the theater was full of critics and movie stars. We sat amidst them an cheered as the lights dimmed. Every time we spotted a scene I was in we would point and cheer. We passed our flask and reeked of cigarettes, leather and B.O. I feel bad for anyone who paid to sit next to us; we were a regular peanut gallery.

The movie was fantastic. I am grateful for the whole experience.

I love SLC Punk because its story is my story. By 16 years old I was a high school drop out and runaway. By 20, an alcoholic, jobless, vagrant, criminal. By 31, I was a college graduate; by 33 a grad-school graduate. I cannot count the times that people have asked about my old faded punk tattoos; when they find out I’m from Salt Lake City they invariably ask, “You ever seen that movie SLC Punk?” I smirk every time and say, “Man, I’m in that movie.”

Thanks for the memories SLC Punk.

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One thought on “How I got into SLC Punk

  1. Pingback: Autobiography | Matthew J. Summers

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