I make no secret of the fact that the Bad Brains changed my life. They were, in their prime, a raging force of nature, a maelstrom of Hardcore power, fury, energy and intensity that charged through the punk scene and irrevocably altered it. Their mantra, mind-set and adherence to the idea of the PMA, or a positive mental attitude, focussed everything that they did and caused a monumental shift in the way that Hardcore kids the world over perceived, and thought about, the world. I was one of those kids. They should have been huge, one of the biggest bands in the world and they probably would have been had it not been for one important factor. Their frontman Paul Hudson, more commonly known as H.R. and Joseph I, who as brilliant as he was and is, was at best unpredictable and at worst, his own, and his bands, worst enemy.
Volatile, fiercely single-minded and independent, he was a man determined to travel his own road and not let anything or anyone get in his way. Not even his band, his brother, or the promise of success and riches beyond most of our wildest dreams could stop him, as at various points in his life, he’s walked away from all of the things that should have made him materially and conventionally happy and provided some degree of fulfilment for him. But H.R. has never been a conventional sort of guy and Finding Joseph I tries to pinpoint what it was, and is, that drives him while telling the story of his life in his own words and through the recollections and memories of the people and colleagues who know, and knew, him best.
While being utterly compelling viewing for any fan of the Bad Brains or anyone interested in the history of the US Hardcore scene, as the band’s story is told by Joseph, his brother Earl (the Bad Brains drummer), their manager and various scene luminaries such as Ian MacKaye, Jimmy Gestapo and John Joseph, the real essence of Finding Joseph I lies in the voyage of discovery it undertakes to try and discover what makes HR who he is. Some of the revelations made in the film are heart breaking and just make you want to reach out to H.R. and maybe sit down and listen to what he has to say without judgement and make you view every decision, public and private, that he made in a much different, and almost sympathetic light.
Painting a unique and touching view of mental illness, it explores and questions the traditional idea of freedom as everyone around H.R. still fights their demons, whereas he has come to quietly accept and embrace them and lets them help guide him through life. And while he welcomes that and the sense of “liberation” that it has brought him, the impact that it has on those closest to him as they desperately try to help drag him back to normality, is distressing and at times, incredibly upsetting. There is however, light at the end of the tunnel as H.R., and his nearest and dearest, finally find the peace that has always eluded them and Finding Joseph I ends with the same positivity that it’s subject has spent his entire adult life preaching and trying to live by. Some stories do have happy endings. And Finding Joseph I is one of them… Tim Cundle