Finding Joseph I: The H.R. from Bad Brains Documentary

Small Axe Films
rating icon 9 / 10

Track listing:

Shaman. Spiritual anarchist. Punk royal. Rastafarian. Activist. These are tags affixed to Paul"H.R."Hudson, perhaps the greatest punk rock vocalist the genre has ever or will ever see. H.R. is one of music history's most beloved front men, a perfectly balanced amalgam of reggae-splashed aggression whose soul-crafted illumination through Jah and Bob Marley sparked a counterculture revolution. Black and white, we came to unite—in music, if not a hockey arena where racism still today hurls from behind the Plexiglas.

For all the opportunities H.R. had to profit in his time with BAD BRAINS—at one point hitting major label heights with Maverick Records for the "God of Love" album—one edict has dictated his isolationist's mission: No sellout. You see it scrawled across his snow hat and you see it in his refusal to sign with Island Records, at the same time U2 scored gold with "The Joshua Tree". Every penny H.R. made as a musician left his pockets. Heartbreakingly, the man has lived more in troubadour's squalor than as a righteous urban prince. Squatting from space-to-space on both U.S. coasts more often than hanging his rasta hat long term, this lion of Judah has remained an enigma to a scene that falls to its knees in worship whenever he surfaces.

Where I live, Baltimore City, is the last place one would expect to find a punk and reggae legend, JAH WORKS being our only global-reaching claim to fame of either. Yet in the past few years, veteran punkers had been testifying to "H.R. sightings" around town. Given the fact that BAD BRAINS was once centralized to our beltway-connected neighbors in the District of Columbia, it wasn't wholly out of the question that H.R. had returned. As seen in "Finding Joseph I: The H.R. from Bad Brains Documentary", it was indeed true.

The stories circulating around here alleged H.R. was a robed wanderer in Baltimore's seedier parts and even in the more upscale Inner Harbor section. He was said to be an aloof stroller along the train tracks and most condemning, lost in self-exile in an abandoned warehouse. Almost everyone claiming to have witnessed H.R. stated the man looked hazy and confused. Some attributed it to drugs, others stated he had reach full enlightenment. Nearly everyone stated the poor guy was on another planet, as if trying to wedge his voice through others nobody else could hear.

There's fact and there's fiction, and according to "Finding Joseph I: The H.R. from Bad Brains Documentary", fact sadly rules. What we've learned about H.R. since his wife, Lori Carns Hudson compassionately guided him towards a new prescription of life is that he suffers from a rare and excruciating disease, SUNCT. This stands for short-lasting, unilateral neuralgifrom headache attacks with conjunctival injection and tearing. Basically, a neurological imbalance of the damned.

It now explains why H.R. , a worldwide symbol for human rights, also had an ironic propensity toward violence and the inclination to retreat within himself to the point of catatonia. The film features interviews from H.R. and his brother, BAD BRAINS drummer Earl Hudson, plus other musical figures like Chino Moreno, Vernon Reid, Corey Glover, Ian MacKaye, Duff McKagan, Angelo Moore, Questlove, Sonny Sandoval and others. Members of H.R.'s side band, HUMAN RIGHTS, and units H.R. temporarily joined in his scattershot travels like LONG BEACH DUB ALL-STARS, AFRICAN UNITY and SCATERD FEW further illustrate H.R.'s breakable demeanor, which had yet to be diagnosed. Their stories paint a frequently harsh picture of a man who still today carries a sanctified presence to the average fan. Videos H.R. shot are strung about the film and are further pejorative.

H.R. was a prime athlete in his school years, at one point being coaxed by his swimming coach in Queens to try out for the Olympics, this before the Hudson family relocated to Washington, D.C. The film quickly outlines H.R. and Earl Hudson's formation of BAD BRAINS and their subsequent arrests for hustling. The groundbreaking "Sacred Love" from "I Against I" was sung through a jail phone, versus the once-common myth H.R. was romantically crooning to the voice recorder of a love interest.

Yet love was always at the core of a man whom we now know has been demonized as much as he has evolved into a progressive thinker, one whose convictions no one has ever doubted. "Finding Joseph I: The H.R. from Bad Brains Documentary" is a devastating yet beautiful account of an adored figure who is quietly battling a horrible affliction. Self-awareness has at least given H.R. a better connection to the plane of nirvana he's sought through music, art and even ganja. He lives in a veritable house of suffering, yet love keeps him grounded, and he's oddly free.

Author: Ray Van Horn, Jr.
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