In the twenty-first century, it’s so unusual to simultaneously feel excited and infuriated as one watches a movie – but that’s what happens when one watches Pretend We’re Dead – the documentary film which chronicles the rise, fall and rebirth of L7.
The reason for the excitement and, really, the joy of this film is that there’s no question every member of the band – Donita Sparks, Suzi Gardner, Jennifer Finch and Demetra Plakas – was having the time of their lives as they made, played and promoted their first couple of albums. As one watches, there’s no question regarding how much fun the band was having and (ahem) smells of the proverbial magic they were producing.
The fury quickly sets in because it becomes clear that:
1. No one had the first clue what to do with the band or how to serve them;
2. L7 has never been given their proper due for how much influence they’ve exerted on music in the 21st century;
3. There are many parts of the music community which are only now beginning to catch up with what L7 was doing a quarter-century ago.
It’s the fact that the world is finally beginning to catch up with L7 now which makes watching Pretend We’re Dead most infuriating to watch on several occasions throughout the film’s hour-and-a-half running. Viewers may find that they flinch pretty hard as they see L7 perform to little fanfare in the cock rock saturated L.A. rock scene of the eighties and then cheer as the band overcomes the then-perceived shortcoming of being an all-female alt-metal band in the testosterone-fuelled scene. L7 came out harder, tighter and stronger than the craven likes of Motley Crue and the documentary shows them standing as imposing figures.
Those watching will feel their excitement swell when L7 then move to Seattle, work with Brett Gurewitz first (for their self-titled album) and then Butch Vig (for their breakthrough Smell The Magic), and hold their own on festival stages with the likes of Nirvana, Red Hot Chili Peppers and KISS. That sensation is only depreciated slightly by the fact that, as it goes, Pretend We’re Dead concedes that L7 remained very much the “working band” among a multitude of (what Nirvana bassist and L7 documentary filmmaker Krist Novoselic once called) “Harley-riding rock bands.”
As the film makes its way along the good times begin to fade for L7 with the departure of Jennifer Finch and the arrival of bassists Greta Brinkman first and then Gail Greenwood to the band’s ranks. Their continued “working band” status begins to really take its toll as The Beauty Process and Slap-Happy fail to help the band ascend to the next level.
Finally, the film shows how L7 finally come undone out of frustration in 2001, but the tempo of Pretend We’re Dead doesn’t exactly break because particular care is taken to point out that the band did reconvene in 2014 and continues to this day. That same special care is taken to point out that the band reformed because each of the members missed the fun they had playing together, and have been gratified to find that their audience has stayed with them; they continue to work because they can and take pleasure in that.
True, the story of L7 doesn’t feature a Hollywood ending which is all hearts and smiles and one hundred percent creative and musical validation, but it’s real: the members of the band have gone on to other things, but they’re still called upon to take the stage around the world on a regular basis and they’re happy to do so. Unlike so many other bands of their vintage from their locality, they can say that they got out alive and are still smiling; happy about what they were able to accomplish. That’s a strong endnote – and makes watching Pretend We’re Dead a satisfying watch.