On a hot June day in Napa, California, in 1978, The Cramps and The Mutants set up their equipment in a large courtyard. A handful of fellow punks look on as the show begins. They are joined by a hundred or so fellow onlookers under the supervision of hospital staff. The unconventional venue is Napa State Mental Hospital, and its residents are in for one of the most infamous shows in punk rock history. Over 40 years later, We Were There to Be There chronicles what led up to the show that was almost lost in time.
Despite the strange venue choice, it was nothing new for The Mutants, who previously performed at the Oakland School for the Deaf, nor for The Cramps, known for their chaotic live performances. It sounded like a recipe for disaster, but the mastermind behind the show, famed Bay Area writer and disc jockey Howie Klein, saw it as an opportunity for the isolated patients to experience music in an intimate way. “I don’t remember the business details. I don’t remember if people got paid. This is just, ‘let’s go and have some fun,’” Klein explains over the phone in the film.
The grainy black-and-white footage of The Cramps, shot by Joe Rees of San Francisco-based production company Target Video, became the only evidence of the show’s existence. The 20-minute video, which is still distributed on DVD to this day, features the distorted guitars and warped shrieking of patients living out their rockstar dreams on frontman Lux Interior’s microphone. Intoxicated punks blended in with the hospital’s residents in the grainy footage, bridging the gap between the two groups of society’s outcasts, and making a revolutionary political statement about the power of music and mental health only three years after Ronald Reagan’s California governorship, and three years ahead of his presidency that saw massive cuts to social programs.
In a Paste exclusive premiere, the legendary Target Video footage joins exclusive interviews and rare concert recordings to set the scene for perhaps the punkest performance in existence. Watch We Were There to Be There below.