When you think about The Sonics and the Pacific Northwest, most people immediately think of the former NBA basketball team, once led by the likes of Lenny Wilkens, Shawn Kemp, and later a guy named Kevin Durant. And a documentary about the storied NBA Sonics’ time in Seattle before they moved to Oklahoma City and became the Thunder would be a great story, full of highs, lows, twists, and ultimate backstabbings. But in the new documentary, BOOM! A Film About The Sonics, director Jordan Albertsen is not reliving basketball’s glory days in the Emerald City; he’s introducing you to one of the best rock n roll bands you’ve probably never heard of, and finally, decades after their initial rise and fall, their story can be told.
BOOM! A Film About The Sonics is, well, a film about the rock band The Sonics, who formed in 1960 and found regional success in the mid-’60s with the song “The Witch,” and a cover of “Louie, Louie.” They continued making music throughout the decade, and were signed to Etiquette Records by the label’s founder, Buck Ormsby, himself a member of the Wailers, another local band that had some success nationwide.
Like most bands, lineup changes ruled the early years of The Sonics, but they eventually found the right combination in founders Larry and Andy Parypa on guitar and bass, drummer Bobby Bennett, saxophonist Rob Lind, and Jerry Roslie on keyboards and vocals. This lineup clicked and the pacific northwest was soon home to one of the loudest, most influential bands that you’ve never heard of. The Sonics influenced Nirvana, The White Stripes, and even Bruce Springsteen has covered their songs. In short, they were rock gods.
Writer-director Jordan Albertsen opens his film by regaling a story of himself as a teen listening to Nirvana in the 1990s and his estranged dad leaving him a Sonics record for Jordan to give a listen to. Their father/son dynamic is strained, both keeping to each other’s world. But this sharing of music from one generation to another opens a door. It kick starts the odyssey of learning all about The Sonics and forms the underlying theme of the documentary. BOOM! A Film About The Sonics takes some unconventional turns in its storytelling; the story of the band’s formation, early success, and eventual break up is covered in the first act of the film. Halfway through the film, the band is no more. But Albertsen isn’t done.
He interviews luminaries from the Seattle music scene, both past and present, to punctuate what the Sonics meant to local music lovers. Artists like Nancy Wilson of Heart, Mike McCready of Pearl Jam, Mark Arm of Mudhoney, and Chris Ballew of the Presidents of the United States all take turns telling stories of Seattle’s musical history in the late 20th century and how The Sonics factor into it. There are also interviews with the Sonics band members, now all in their 70s, all having found success in other careers. The best stories come from Etiquette Records owner Buck Ormsby, and his story drives the film into the second act.
Albertsen moves the film to Europe, where the Sonics found new life in the 1980s thanks to an underground punk compilation LP, and this starts the second half of BOOM! A Film About The Sonics‘ story. Because of that inclusion on the compilation record, Buck Ormsby was able to find a new generation of fans, and he single-handedly brought The Sonics back into the music zeitgeist of the 1990s, when grunge was all the rage.
One particular moment in BOOM! A Film About The Sonics has Nancy Wilson of Heart talking about the grunge scene and how nobody in Seattle used that term and hated it, then the next interview features Chris Ballew of the Presidents proudly stating that they were part of the grunge scene and loved every second of it. It’s this kind of inspired editing that sets BOOM! apart and gives it its own voice in the world of musical documentaries.
The story comes full circle when the band reunites for a handful of shows and then spins out into a second life as a popular rock band, 40 years after they broke up. BOOM! A Film About The Sonics is a journey that inspires as it informs, and it does so with a masterful touch from Jordan Albertsen. I’m a huge fan of Seattle music. I’m literally wearing a Pearl Jam shirt right now as I write this (and coincidentally, I was wearing a different Pearl Jam shirt when I saw the film — I have a lot of Pearl Jam shirts), and I had never heard of The Sonics, or their big hit, “The Witch.” And I can talk Seattle music with the best of them.
I asked my dad if he had heard of The Sonics when he was a teenager, but growing up in the midwest, he had not. I asked some older friends from Seattle — guys who were alive when the band first hit it big — if they had heard of the band, and they looked at me like I had two heads and tried to tell me about the NBA team.
The Sonics flew under the radar for most of their existence, and only now, thanks to Jordan Albertsen and his documentary, can we learn about and cherish this truly gifted rock n roll band from Tacoma, Washington. But perhaps the best part of BOOM! A Film About The Sonics is how it ends. Not with the band selling out stadiums and fulfilling their rock n roll dreams, but with Jordan Albertsen and his dad, John, connecting on a new level. When we first met them, they were worlds apart, but music — and The Sonics in particular — brought them together. A father and son, finding common ground in a rock band no one has ever heard of. That’s what makes BOOM! A Film About The Sonics such a magical experience.
This is the best musical documentary I have ever seen, and the journey I took as a viewer, a critic, and a music lover will not soon be forgotten. Much like what fans had to do in the 1980s and ’90s to find The Sonics, I beg you to track down this film and take the journey. You won’t be disappointed.
BOOM! A Film About The Sonics recently played the Phoenix Film Festival and the Newport Beach Film Festival. It is next scheduled to show at Indy Film Fest in Indianapolis, Indiana, on May 2 through May 12.