Declaring Yourself: A Review of Man in the Camo Jacket
“Declare yourself an unsafe building.” I can’t get that line from The Alarm’s 1981 debut single, “Unsafe Building,” out of my head. The lyric and its sentiment of acknowledging weakness in order to rebuild are the strongest threads through Man in the Camo Jacket, director Russ Kendall’s documentary about Alarm frontman-turned-solo artist Mike Peters. The film could have easily focused on Peters’ rich musical career. But it transcends the predictable Behind the Music-style drama of many music documentaries to become a portrait of hope. We are privileged to tag along on Mike’s several journeys of reinvention, from resurrecting his career after leaving the Alarm to his battles with cancer. The first step toward any reinvention, we learn from Mike, is having the strength to let yourself fall apart.
It takes great courage to accept painful circumstances that are out of our control. Many of us shudder and run. Mike’s determination is unwavering, however. After his initial cancer diagnosis in 1995, he stopped into a small Army surplus store in Connecticut and picked up the camo jacket that became his signature look. He wears it like armor, letting any hardship that comes his way know that he’s ready to fight. Friends and fellow musicians, including Slim Jim Phantom of the Stray Cats, Duff McKagan of Guns N’ Roses, Glenn Tilbrook of Squeeze, Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins, and Billy Bragg, lend their voices to Mike’s story of survival. Along the way, some of them help him raise money for medical research by playing the world’s highest gig and recording the world’s longest song. But the most moving part of film is seeing how, on a deeply human level, these artists are inspired by Mike’s friendship. Mike’s Do It Yourself (DIY) ethos, mobilized by his punk roots, keeps him tough in the face adversity. And it is his desire to share that positivity which led him to create the Love Hope Strength (LHS) Foundation with co-founder James Chippendale, an organization that concentrates on helping cancer patients access treatment and even find bone marrow donors.
At left: James Chippendale and Mike Peters
When you see Man in the Camo Jacket, produced by Russ Kendall, along with James Chippendale and Stash Slionski, and XLRator Media, you will find it difficult to walk away without examining your own life to figure out how you can be a better human being. That’s why this film deserves 5 out of 5 hairpieces! It’s available on VOD platforms and iTunes now, so check it out as soon as possible! You can keep up with Mike’s journey on The Alarm’s official website, on its official Facebook page, and on Twitter @thealarm. You can also catch a special event featuring a film screening, Q & A, and performance by Mike at the Grammy Museum in downtown Los Angeles on 3 August 2017.