The impact of the Bad Brains on punk and reggae music cannot be understated. Almost single-handedly igniting the Washington, D.C. punk scene that spawned such icons as Ian MacKaye, Henry Rollins, and many others, the Bad Brains were a force of nature best known for their fearless live performance. Fronted by Paul “H.R.” Hudson, the Bad Brains were recognized as much for their unique message as they were for the music they created. Promoting a “Positive Mental Attitude” – or “PMA” – and slowly drifting away from hardcore punk and diving headlong into reggae, the Bad Brains never followed the rules, trends, or expectations of critics and fans.
Eventually, H.R. abandoned punk altogether; as well as the band he formed with his brother Earl, to exclusively devote his life to Rastafari and reggae music. Then he just sort of dropped off the map. If you’re wondering what happened to the enigmatic front-man, Finding Joseph I has the answers. Directed by James Lathos, who also co-authored the oral history of H.R. that was released at the end of 2016, the film traces H.R.’s childhood, his discovery of Rastafari, his on-again/off-again tenure in the Bad Brains, and his various pursuits in reggae.
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In the nineties, the Bad Brains found their way onto Madonna’s Maverick record label, but soon H.R.’s unpredictable behavior would throw them off the tracks. A kind, caring, and religiously devout individual, H.R. was also prone to inexplicable acts of violence that perplexed and frustrated both his band mates and record label. Even a potentially game-changing tour with the Beastie Boys would be derailed by the his erratic and unreliable behavior.
Members of Minor Threat, Cro-Mags, Deftones, Fishbone, Living Colour, Sublime, and Murphy’s Law are a few of the musicians on hand to share their stories about H.R. and their reflections on his legacy. But, rather than filling the film with notable personalities that heap praise on the iconoclastic singer, the narrative of this story is supported by those closest to him. A number of friends, former managers, and producers candidly share their insights on his mercurial life, even when they themselves weren’t sure what was going on with him.
Having unlimited access to H.R., the director captures him in a number of vulnerable situations. We see him living in an abandoned warehouse. We see him talking to spirits. We see him wandering the streets aimlessly wearing a blonde wig and a bathrobe. While many of his friends, family, and associates chalk this up to H.R. just being H.R., it is when his wife intervenes that we learn that many of his eccentricities were symptomatic of schizophrenia. We should all be grateful that she convinces him to get help and medical attention. He does, and by the end of the film we get to see a healthier and happier man.
This film is an enlightening and touching examination of a true music pioneer. It is not the story of the Bad Brains, but the man and his journey of perpetual self-discovery. Engaging, sometimes sad, but ultimately rewarding, we highly recommended checking this film out. You don’t have to be a fan to appreciate it, but you will likely walk away a fan after you see it. God bless you, H.R. I am among many who are grateful you are still around doing what you do.
Stay up-to-date on screenings by following the film’s Facebook page and website.
– J. Kevin Lynch