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You Don’t Know Ivan Julian – Free Documentary on YouTube

Step Inside the Mind of An Artistic Genius – Ivan Julian

I can dig the title of the documentary You Don’t Know Ivan Julian (free on YouTube and embedded below). Saying “you don’t know” comes at you like a punch to the face. It entices you to hit play and discover the subject of the film, Ivan Julian, one of the greatest guitarists in the New York punk rock scene during the late 1970s. However, the true beauty of this film lies not in the facts of his history, but rather in the moments that show his true nature.

One of the first things I noticed while watching You Don’t Know Ivan Julian, is the patience in his voice. It’s almost rhythmic. Between each sentence is a pause, as if he is placing them down for you to hear. Similar to how one might produce a set of cords, each in there right place for the listener to digest. As he walks around giving you a tour of his studio in New York, he points out a refrigerator covered in graffiti and his guitar which he describes as a Frankenstein guitar put together with different parts. You begin to notice that everything in his life is being worked on creatively to produce sounds or images that force some sort of emotion.

The film then moves into Ivan Julian’s history – his upbringing and how he landed in New York playing guitar for Richard Hell and the Voidoids. If you’ve come by this blog, I assume you’ve heard the song “Blank Generation.” The intro to it, the guitar riff, that, Ivan Julian created it and tells you in the film. As he shows you the chords, it becomes this vivid experience of sitting with the master himself as he explains his process, a moment which reoccurs throughout the movie.

While Ivan Julian’s musical contribution to the punk rock scene is obvious, he is also known for breaking the color line. One of the interviewees in the film, Vernon Reid, probably explains best how he felt the scene was prominently white and how it influenced him greatly to see Ivan Julian up on stage. As Ivan Julian speaks to this – breaking into the punk rock scene – you find that his mind is one of the reasons he was able to do it, this punk rock attitude of not giving a f*ck which I found inspiring, as well.

To go further, after each moment with Ivan Julian and hearing from his various colleagues and friends through interviews, you peel back the layers of his mind. They say there is a fine line between genius and insanity. With Ivan Julian, I feel as if it’s one of those incidents. He talks about chasing tones, for instance, Chopin’s first note of a piano (yes – the composer’s first tone), as if it is in space floating around, and he wants to capture it. To a normal person, it sounds a bit crazy. From an artistic standpoint and seeing the work he has produced, it’s hard not to assume he is on another spectrum of intelligence I can’t fully comprehend. And that’s when my mind goes back to the title – You Don’t Know Ivan Julian. Am I supposed to know Ivan Julian? Can I fully understand his genius? Or like the art he leaves behind, I am merely set to enjoy the work while it’s here and appreciate it the best I can? I am probably thinking too much about it.

Despite my ability to understand Ivan Julian completely, I loved hearing his passion, both from a punk and artistic perspective. And I will take away the idea that following an artistic path can lead to a beautiful life. That’s ultimately what I saw he created – a life going from one artistic moment to the next, a life well-lived and one people should know about.

With that, I leave you this quote from Ivan in the film, the one that I thought most punks would enjoy. Eat it up, swine, and check out the movie (embedded below the quote).

Punk is an attitude to the way you approach your life – you approach things … I try to be honest with whatever music I make, I present it honestly, and I take no shit.”

Ivan Julian in You Don’t Know Ivan Julian
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