The middle of nowhere turns out to be more high-kicking than imagined in the normalcy-shattering post-punk rock documentary We Were Famous, You Don’t Remember: The Embarrassment, written and directed by Daniel Fetherston and Danny Szlauderbach. Wichita, Kansas, is the geographic center of the U.S.A. and is prized by marketers as the most average town in the country to test products in. Musically, it is only famous for its lovelorn lineman and as the birthplace of Jack Straw.
However, in the late 1970s, some young folks drove from there to Tulsa in a snowstorm to see the Sex Pistols. This road trip led to the formation of a band called The Mainliners, who played a few local shows. That project morphed into another band called The Lemurs, some of the only punk rock you could get in Wichita. A few break-ups and new members led to the post-punk band The Embarrassment, featuring Bill Goffrier, Brent Giessmann, John Nichols, and Ron Klaus. They were all dressed in eyeglasses and button-up shirts, a bold anti-cool look for a band to adopt.
“A few break-ups and new members led to the post-punk band The Embarrassment…”
The documentary follows The Embarrassment’s trajectory from 1979 to 1983 as they played a seminal role in the Lawrence, Kansas, rock scene and thrilled critics nationwide. Their songs were about patio sets, Elizabeth Montgomery’s face, and driving around in a Trans Am looking for girls (this song is titled Sex Drive). The film features interviews with Grant Hart of Husker Du and Evan Dando of The Lemonheads about the influence of this important yet forgotten band.
In a review of another rock doc, I pleaded to the universe for more films about bands that never technically made it and are nearly unknown. I must have been a very good boy for the universe to be so generous. We Were Famous, You Don’t Remember: The Embarrassment is a post-punk funhouse of perpetual wonder. Very few groups qualify for the title of “best band you have never heard of,” but that description fits The Embarrassment to a T. The unique jangling guitar sound they were mining in the heartland still sounds remarkable, similar to the great bands that came out of New Zealand in the 1980s on the Flying Nun label. It is raw and surprisingly sophisticated, like Saturday night sushi. Misfit melodics like “Viewmaster” and “Drive Me To The Park” are addictive to us still strung out on New Wave.
"…features one of the most rock and roll spectacles ever caught on film..."