By Olivia Isenhart
“Truthfully, honestly, I really didn’t know that Adam liked music.” Considering that’s Adam Goldstein’s own mother speaking, it’s a pretty unexpected hook for a music documentary. But it doesn’t take long to discover that director Kevin Kerslake’s tribute to the late icon, As I AM: the Life and Time$ of DJ AM, digs much deeper than the grooves of the battered records he scratched–which, in the early years, often included a 45 glued to a 12-inch, according to the friends who watched him rapidly hack his way into his craft.
What Kerslake delivers is a fast-paced, gritty account that is as much a case study on fame and addiction as it is a rags-to-riches rockumentary. The filmmaker wastes no time yanking us into a dark but glamorous mid-’90s world of music, hip-hop, graffiti, and drugs–or as AM’s longtime friends attest, “the bond that held us together.” The film is narrated by loved ones, celebs, and AM himself; As I AM splices grainy B-roll of police footage, Nat Geo-style timelapses, hand-drawn animations to tell the story, which addresses the darker corners of his life, as well as his more well known work (including his Iron Man 2 cameo and the plane crash he narrowly survived with collaborator Travis Barker of blink-182).
A former member of rap-metal hybrid Crazy Town and one of the first millionaire DJs, Adam was born into a broken family, quickly turning to drugs and alcohol as early as age eleven. From the moment AM remembers “wanting more of that warmth” he experienced when he was using, his life unfolds like an unstoppable party. Friends fondly recall him showing up at raves “X’ed out with his head in the speaker, tears pouring down his face until his eardrums were blown out.” Not to mention his habit of making late-night peanut butter donut sandwiches (a testimony that is oddly amusing over the somber, pizzicato theme twinkling beneath it). It isn’t until he’s urinating in bottles and storing trash in his freezer (“‘cause he was too afraid to take it outside” explains one former girlfriend) that the party starts to fall to pieces.
But for every low, there’s an incredible high, and you’re in for the full ride with this film. In a short time, DJ AM somehow hits every extreme; from being an obese kid to a centerfold-ready celeb, from sticking a gun in his mouth to landing a gig with Jay Z, from wallowing in his vomit to coaxing fellow addicts out of their own. Surrounding the man who said “I want it all at once,” there’s a blur of mixed messages, a life lived in excess, and no happy ending from the start. But it’s as real as it gets, and brimming with some kind of hope – best summed up, perhaps, by AM’s own simple quote: “I like to be happy. I like to help other people. And I don’t wanna hurt nobody.”