It’s practically a sub-genre unto itself at this point: Don’t-Call-Them-Indie Rock Docs Featuring Artists Whose Body of Work Remains Virtually Unknown to Mainstream Audiences. (The Devil and Daniel Johnston, Scott Walker: 30th Century Man, Dig! are just a few recent entries.) Seth Pomeroy’s Couldn’t You Wait?: The Story of Silkworm is the newest offering sure to confuse Netflix’s categorizing algorithm.
Like most of its kind, Couldn’t You Wait?’s narrative is written in the editing room by cutting and pasting an assemblage of myriad talking heads and footage of live performances. The documentary is presented in a fairly straight chronological line from Silkworm’s earliest manifestations in high school to its ultimate dissolution following the tragic (and, many would say, tragically under-prosecuted) death of its drummer, Michael Dahlquist. Throughout it all, it’s clear Pomeroy has done his homework. Interviews include friends, family, peers, former label execs, fans, and of course, the three remaining former members, Tim Midgett, Andy Cohen and Matt Kadane.
Silkworm managed an impressive 18-year lifespan across three base cities and several permutations of its roster, which—for the majority of it—remained Tim, Andy and Michael. (Kadane joined during the band’s Chicago phase.) Tim and Andy knew each other as far back as grade school. They just really “had a feeling about” Michael when auditioning drummers after the move to Seattle. (In fact, the famously unctuous audio engineer of the Pixies, Bush, and Nirvana, Steve Albini, is nearly in tears describing him at one point.)
Pomeroy reveals artists whose overriding default was “instinct.” All they wanted to do was make and play music as often as they could. As far as their participation in shaping the “scene” that academics and critics quibble over in regard to slotting the sound into the proper bin? Not their problem. The film’s rendering seems to merely suggest that the bandmates found their niche, and weren’t interested into how others defined it. (That’s right—in a twist that runs contrary to every VH1 music docudrama, it turned out that for Silkworm, it really was always about the music.) This disinterest in labels may have distanced them from the mainstream success that many of their contemporaries enjoyed during the heyday of the ’90 Seattle post-post-punk outfits. Pavement’s Stephen Malkmus helpfully rattles off a list of clear influences they shared with more well-known acts. His list of artists emerging after he and Silkworm were established is even more eye-opening.
While Pomeroy does make a solid case for the importance of his subject in regard to the greater musical landscape, the experience is ultimately meant for existing Silkworm fans, or Indie music aficionados. “If you can’t get into Silkworm, then God hates you, and you’re an asshole. I’m sorry!” comes a quotation later in the film. Distracting asides into hagiography such as this might be a bit more of a head-scratcher, if they didn’t also indirectly nudge the interested toward the fact that Couldn’t You Wait?’s inventive release structure essentially includes “Beginner,” “Intermediate,” and “Advanced” cost vs. content: five bucks for just the film; $10 for the film plus extended live performances; $20 to cover all of the above, plus deleted scenes, music discussions, and mini docs on Dahlquist and “Indie Rock”—that clumsiest of catch-all terms—itself.
Too often, the categorical designation of a particular piece of art happens long after the fact. The music of the band Silkworm may yet be filed away with greater specification, but Couldn’t You Wait allows viewers their own opportunities to decide where to file the music into their own collections. Algorithms be damned.
Director: Seth Pomeroy
Writer: Seth Pomeroy
Starring: Steve Albini, Stephen Malkmus, Jeff Tweedy
Release Date: VOD