Stellar interviews with Henry Rollins, Keith Morris, Chuck Dukowski, Flea, and Raymond Pettibon about the significance and impact of the four bars logo and the art and design around Black Flag.
Stellar interviews with Henry Rollins, Keith Morris, Chuck Dukowski, Flea, and Raymond Pettibon about the significance and impact of the four bars logo and the art and design around Black Flag.
On June 6th 2013 I did something that I once thought would have been impossible without the assistance of a time machine with the dials set to Southern California circa 1980—I went to see Black Flag live.(or at least one reunited incarnation of the band.)
In the summer of 2013, two co–occurring Black Flag reunions hit the road. How is that possible? It’s possible because Black Flag were not like Slayer. They did not have one set, seemingly permanent, lineup year after year. (note, with the noted exception to this with Slayer being a different drummer on God Hates Us All in 2000) Before releasing Damaged, the band’s first full length album, Black Flag had already went through three lead singers. With the exception of founding guitarist Greg Ginn,and later Henry Rollins, membership in the band was mutable.
A multitude of musicians passed through the ranks of the mighty Black Flag during their eight year existence,(1978-1986) from drummer Chuck Biscuits, whose time with Black Flag was a little over six months, to the stable fixture of Henry Rollins.
The dueling Black Flag derivative bands hitting the road this summer are FLAG, which features Keith Morris, Chuck Dukoski, Dez Cadena, and Bill Stevenson.
The other Black Flag reunion actually retained the original moniker with half of the lineup that recorded the 1980 Jealous Again ep/ mini album– being Ron Reyes on vocals and Greg Ginn on guitar, along with Dave Klein from Screeching Weasel on bass and Greg Moore on drums(who played drums alongside Ginn in the band Gone)
The Reyes/Ginn lineup came through Lawrence, Kansas on June 6th, , which marked the first show of the tour. The Black Flag Reunion of 2013 was starting off in Lawrence, and no California dates were listed on the tour itinerary. WHAT?? Was this an alternate dimension?? If so, I was glad to be transported back in. It always feels like home.
The crowd is exactly what you would expect, from burly arms fully sleeved in ink to fresh faced teens. I even spotted a couple with their grade-school aged daughter with them.
I mean it was the kick-off of a Black Flag reunion. I imagine a lot of the people at the show in the same age-range as I thought this was a moment they would never see. In the weeks leading up to the show, it felt so surreal telling people I was going to a Black Flag show.
You could feel the intensity, the anticipation in the air, but it was one of those nights where I wish life had a fast-forward button: because the opening act did nothing for me.
A common question uttered outside of the Granada that night was “Who is the opening act?” I think it was one of those nights were nobody even cared, but there was an opening act—they were called “Good For You.” The band was one of Greg Ginn’s side projects. For some reason, I just couldn’t get into it, slower tempo, kind of like that sludge–metal stuff meets bad 70s’ arena rock with a lot of guitar noodling– and absolutely no movement from the crowd!
When Black Flag took the stage it was another story. The band walked on stage greeted by a sea of cheers and howls from the audience.
Lead vocalist Ron Reyes stalked to the center of the stage and shouted “IT’S NOT MY IMAGINATION…I’VE GOT A GUN ON BACK.” Seconds before the opening chords were laid down by Ginn, the crowd responded by finishing his words and shouting back the familiar refrain. It’s a line most diehard punk fans know as the spoken intro to “Revenge.” The second cut off Jealous Again. The song is a minute long blast about a desperate desire for vindication soaked in vitriolic rage. “We’re gonna get revenge/You won’t know what hit you/ We’re tired of being screwed/REVENGE…REVENGE!!!”
The opening riffs of the song exploded like a distilled sonic boom! And the familiar ritual of the pit was underway, as bodies, Doc Marten boots and Adidas sneakers, skinheads and spiked hair all mashed, crashed, and bashed in a brutal unity, and yes the pit was hectic, and of course, I had to enter. I badgered a friend to go up front with me. He said he would rather just watch the band, explaining how a decade of working roofing had put excess stress and strain on his body. Even though I’m not 19 anymore, when I’m at a show, which has now become a rarity, I’m still compelled to charge into the pit. The reaction is akin to a holy roller “getting the spirit.” When I hear an amplified sound that strikes my fancy, I can’t sit still.
The songs that received the most enthused response were the classics, “Gimmie, Gimmie, Gimmie,” “Police Story, “”No Values,” “Jealous Again,”” TV Party.”
The most explosive audience reaction came when the band was more than halfway through their set and launched into “Rise Above,” the first song on Damaged, Black Flag’s epochal 1981 album, the album that brought the vocal fury of a young Henry Rollins to the forefront. As Ginn’s feedback and abrasive riffage roared, the crowd went berserk, and the pit was transformed into a free-for-all, as non-lethal projectiles and bodies were launched into the air.
About three quarters into their set came the biggest surprise of the night: When I heard the creeping, ominous arpeggios leading into “Can’t Decide,” I was shocked shitless– because that’s a song from deep into the Rollins era. The song was from Black Flag’s 1984 album My War. (though an earlier version is on a much bootlegged 1982 demo) I didn’t at all expect to hear “My War” material that night. “Can’t Decide” is a heavy song about heavy emotional turmoil. The song’s tempo is not the full on blitz of “Padded Cell,” but it’s not the thick as molasses dirge of “Nothing Left Inside.” The song trudged along with the mid–tempo jogging pace of the Ramones colliding with Black Sabbath, and experiencing that live was like being hit by a bulldozer.
They closed with “Louie, Louie,” and that was it. After making my way from the performance area, I literally collapsed. My legs felt like rubber, and I collided with the floor. Maybe the collision was due to the can of nasty-ass Steel Reserve, followed by a few pints of Guinness, then a couple of Boulevards, rounded off with some shots of whiskey thrown in for good measure.? Maybe it was the after-effect of being pummeled by the sonic ferociousness of Black Flag live?
As debate rages on the interwebs over which reincarnation, Flag or the Ginn/Reyes reunion remains true to the character of the old school days, I could honestly care less. Both versions contain members who left their mark with one Black Flag lineup or another back in the day, and the Ginn/Reyes version of Black Flag left me blown away.
I can’t remember the last time I heard someone talk about the movie Pump Up the Volume. Has it been forgotten?, left to collect dust in some type of post-Reagan/ pre-Nevermind pop-culture purgatory. I’m not sure it could even be labeled a cult classic. The movie was one of my favorites growing up.
Pump Up the Volume centers around the life of Mark Hunter, played by Christian Slater. Mark is a shy, smart loner who has recently, due to his father’s superintend position, moved to Paradise Hills, Arizona . At night he broadcasts a pirate radio station under alias of Happy Harry Hard-On.
He uses his voice to provide a no-holds barred, uncensored societal commentary, with much of his angst directed at the school he attends, and rightly so.
The administrators and faculty there are truly on some rank bullshit. They are expelling kids deemed to be undesirables for such innocuous offenses as getting pregnant or low test scores.
Mark catches wind of this and exposes the school’s draconian bullshit live on the air. The plot thickens when another distraught loner calls the show and threatens to commit suicide. At first Mark is flippant towards him, but when he realizes the caller is serious, he tires to talk him out of it. By then, it’s too late. The caller’s mind is made up, and the kid kills himself later on that night.
The authorities and the school blame Mark, and the FCC and federal authorities are brought in to bust him.
I think a greater understanding of all movies, music, and art can be ascertained by understanding the social, cultural and political climate of the time in which they were made.
Pump Up the Volume dates back to 1990, an era in which 2 Live Crew were put on trial because of the content of an album, the FCC hit Howard Stern with hefty fines, and Andrew Dice Clay had feminists riled up over his vulgar nursery rhymes.
Issues of censorship and the question of how far can someone go with free-speech hung heavy in the air. Pump Up the Volume fired back with an answer.
Pump Up the Volume would not work today as a remake, due to the growth of technology and social media. Mark is broadcasting on a short-wave radio set his dad bought him to keep in touch with friends back East, but the reception wouldn’t reach that far.
Today, Mark could just stay in contact with his friends via Facebook. Or he could do a podcast and not have to worry about the FCC. Although technology has grown by leaps and bounds and culture has shifted, the movie’s message remains relevant, that being that free speech should remain free.
I can’t say this about a lot of movies but when I first saw Pump Up the Volume, I felt inspired , not to become a pirate radio DJ, but to find my voice, use it, and say what needs to be said, regardless of who is offended by it.
As another semester starts, the vibe on campus, as students come back from winter break, is always a little different than the vibe when school starts in August. The pep in the step of students is not as noticeable as it was when we head back to school at the end of the dogs days of summer.
We are heading back to the grind at UCM in shitty, cold weather, and optimistic bright eyes will be replaced by those who look like they have a date with a firing squad, or the Gulag, or Auschwitz, or maybe I’m just doing some projecting based on how I feel. No, I don’t graduate this spring, but graduation is within sight.
To be honest, my college experience hasn’t measured up to what I envisioned, and as I think about the future, I find myself thinking about the recent past, as I reflect on what it means to be a student journalist.
After three years of writing for the student newspaper, the Muleskinner, my efforts are being noticed. It really dawned on me last semester, as a I came to a greater understanding of the impact I have, even if it’s on a micro level in a small Missouri town. The impact was brought to my attention through the words of others, going to Wal-Mart and having a clerk I’ve never seen before ask me if I write for the school paper or having someone with a well established position at the university telling me he’s enjoyed my work throughout the years and what I do is important in a democratic republic.
I: Small Town Journalism Doesn’t Mean Shit:
That’s right I said it. The location of where I’m getting my feet wet practicing my chosen profession doesn’t amount to a hill of beans, and I have no desire to stay here after graduation, and I have no desire to work in any community/market that resembles this one. To write about that which is newsworthy, one must live in a place where there is actually something of note going on.
The news editor I work under said there is a disconnect from the “community” I report on, and it shows in my writing. I thought no shit: this is a small town, and I don’t have a small town mentality. I have a full understanding of where I’m at, and to be honest, I’m not White; I’m not a Christian, and I’m not simple-minded, so how could I feel a connection to the “community” at large? I live here, but when I go to work on a story, I keep my mind also focused on that which is outside of the area.
Allow me to explain…
I could care less about what goes on in the “community” of Warrensburg, I could care less about a church chili cook off, the opening of a new fast-food hot dog restaurant, or the homecoming parade. How much bankability do stories on such horseshit like that have outside of the area? How much appeal would something like that have in a major big city market? (which is where I’m trying to go)
A lot of the stories I do are assigned to me; others are the result of me keeping my eyes open for events happening on campus, and I’ll ask permission to cover them. With the stories that are my idea, I keep in mind that which could appeal to a major market. It’s not even about that which is pleasing to a small town audience, but more about building my portfolio/resume. I’ll give you an example…
In September of 2011, Larry Sabato came to speak on campus about the presidential election. Sabato is a nationally known author who was labeled as “the most accurate prognosticator”( when it comes to political matters) by MSNBC, CNBC, and Fox News. He briefly appears in a documentary about Larry Flynt called “The Right To Be Left Alone.” Shortly after I did my story on his presentation at UCM, I heard an interview with Sabato on National Public Radio. By focusing on a national figure speaking about national issues, the story has appeal that expands beyond the campus. The story becomes like a chip I can cash in later. That’s one that’s definitely going in my portfolio.
II: Something I Refuse To Do: (A Few Words On Declining Literary Standards)
When I took Copy, Layout, and Editing, it was hammered into our heads to write at an 8th grade level, because that’s supposedly the level the average American reads at. This is something I refuse to do. I refuse to lower the bar of my writing to accommodate those whose literacy level is stuck on a sub-par plane. Why should journalists facilitate declining literacy standards? Shouldn’t public educators do their best to try to raise up a higher national standard? Many complex global situations can not be properly explained or analyzed using 8th grade language.
I spent my late teens and early 20s surrounded by musicians, and I feel I’m able to do with words on paper what they did in the studio and onstage. In my hands, the word processor becomes the equivalent of a guitar. Words are not “just words.” They have context, connotation, even feel and texture. I feel I ‘m able to use words on paper like how a guitarist uses notes and chords and a drummer uses rhythm and timing. If words like vernacular, lexicon, or amalgamate will fit perfectly with the tone of what I’m writing about, I’m going to use them. I’m not going to stifle myself.
With a declining literary standard in effect, I often wonder if another Hunter S. Thompson, William F. Buckley, or Christopher Hitchens came along would the mass populace even take notice. These men of the letter did not write at an 8th grade level, and today someone needs to pick up the torches they set a blaze.
III: When A Rebel Picks Up A Pen:
I’m not the average UCM student, on so many levels, and I stop and think about how much of my writing and approach to journalism was informed and influenced by the punk rock sensibilities of my teen years. When I say punk rock I’m talking about Black Flag not Blink 182. My appearance is not the same as it was in my teens, and I next to never go out to shows anymore, but the rebellious spirit of my past never died, and it’s not thoughtless rebellion as a phase. If I have an issue with the status quo or a societal convention, I’m going to be able to explain to you just what my source of contention is, usually after long deliberation about the issue in question.
I was once told that there is a sense of ego all over my writing. My best friend Mike said he doesn’t see ego in my work, but rather a certain style and bombast. He once said “even the way you write is aggressive.” “It has the the cadence of machine gun fire, like being hit over the head with fact, after fact, after fact.” Mike said that I’ve found my voice and developed my own style. He said it’s so strong, so identifiable that if you took my name off of one of my piece’s, someone who was familiar with my work might be able to figure out who wrote it.
Going back to how a punk rock mentality influences my work. Part of it is that I am ready to lock horns with authority. (if, and when, necessary) I do not view authority in some sanctified, exalted light. Authority is to be revered when said authority is acting in righteousness. When authority is abusing their position, someone needs to say something.
When police departments run surveillance and wiretaps on law abiding citizens, when presidents give executive orders that violate constitutional law, or when pedophile priests molest kids, someone should raise their voice and say FUCK YOU! And now thanks to a college education, I have about 101 eloquent ways to say FUCK YOU! ( I really think I was so built for this)
A couple of nights ago, I had a truly retarded interaction.
As I’m walking home, I see four shadows in the distance walking in my direction. It’s dark, so I can’t make out any details of their appearances, no big deal.
As I get closer, one of the four shadows starts rapping, no lyrics that I recognize, just a bunch of gibberish, like he’s trying to free-style and can’t flow.
The second I’ve passed him and am about an inch behind him he raps “see that guy– he is a square.” I knew this was directed at me. How did I know this for certain?– pattern recognition, that’s how. Similar yet different situations happen to me on campus regularly. Every so often when I’m walking somewhere on campus, I will pass a young Black male, and as he gets closer in passing, or I get closer, all of sudden he will break out a rap, usually something “gangsta” and threatening. And as I’ve completely passed him, he stops. My presence alone seems to be the catalyst for this verbal show of bravado; it doesn’t start until I get close, and it stops as I get further away from him.
If it wasn’t in the socially acceptable form of a rap, such behavior would look like a schizophrenic talking to himself. But they aren’t talking to themselves; for some reason, they want me to hear this. I don’t get the motivation behind this. It reeks of insecurity and a cry for attention.
But this incident was a little different because this swag-fag lobbed an insult at me, in an indirect/ yet direct/ passive aggressive manner, and I’m 99% certain it was directed at me. The only people on the sidewalk were me, this guy, and the three people he was walking with, two males and one female. There is no one else around. I’m pretty sure I was the “that guy” he was calling a square. I know this m.o.
I wasn’t in the mood to lay down to an insult, so I decided to check the kid: I turned around and asked “who’s a square?” He didn’t respond. I then said “Hold up, are you talking about me?” Then he did respond. He started yelling his head off, saying he wasn’t talking about me.( when I knew he was) He then yells “You wana lose yo’ life tonight,nigga.” I’m not one to automatically dismiss such talk, but what he did next let me know he was full of shit.
He didn’t lift up his shirt to display a chrome .45, like Ice Cube in Boyz In The Hood. Instead he yells out “ALL I GOTTA DO IS MAKE ONE PHONE CALL.” “I GOT THE PHONE RIGHT HERE.” This made me think he might have been mentally retarded. I didn’t have to pull his bitch card; he put it on display when he held up his cell phone, like that was supposed to scare me. I guess an iPhone is an instrument of death now.
He’s talking about making a call when he’s got backup with him, and I’m all by myself. I asked who he was going to call and told him “that’s a lot of bark.” He then parades out into the street, away from me, posturing like he wants to fight and yells “THE STREET’S RIGHT HERE NIGGA.” I told him that if he was going to attack me, I would defend myself. I then walked away, continuing on my way home, and he continued yelling the typical shit. By turning my back, I gave him the perfect opportunity to run up on me. He wasn’t serious; it was all bravado and posturing. If he was a “gangsta,” he would have shot me; if he was brawler, he would have socked me. He looked like he was all of 18, and he was acting like he was about 11.
Such nonsensical behavior is not a rarity; it’s common among a huge segment of Black males. Such behavior is the reason why I have more Asian friends than Black friends, why I have a lot of international student friends, yet I’m friends with none of the basketball players at UCM.
As I arrived back at my apartment, I thought I should have hit him. But that would have run counter to the credo and code of behavior I’ve adopted. When it comes to violence, I will only get violent if someone brings violence to me, in the case of self-defense or to help a friend who is in harm’s way.
Given my analytical nature, I started thinking about what compels someone to act like that. My guess is it’s partially the result of what happens when someone listens to Rick Ross all day and believes the Scarface inspired fantasy tales from a morbidly obese former prison guard can become their reality.
I also have to wonder how did this behavior become so prevalent throughout a race of people.
George Lincoln Rockwell, founder of the American Nazi Party, once said “ the Negro is an immature race,” and unfortunately I see that. The perspective of someone like Rockwell was undoubtedly from the fallacious point of view of an assumed genetic inferiority of Blacks, but because I have knowledge of psychology, I’m able to probe a little deeper and come up with more substantial reasons.
What creates frozen emotional development? One answer is trauma. You will see this in those who have been molested, along with alcoholics and drug addicts. A history of trauma is prevalent with the history of the African-American. The system of slavery itself served as a long time hindrance to development and advancement.
The fatherlessness that is prevalent among African-Americans also factors into the equation. It might be an old school point of view, and some of my professors with feminist leanings might accuse me of using gender biased language, but only a man can teach a man how to be a man. Part of being a man is conducting yourself in a dignified and respectable/respectful manner, respecting those around you, until they give you a reason not to. When you have widespread fatherlessness and broken homes among a people, that leaves the perfect opportunity for any type of nonsense to come along and fill the void of a male role model.
I can understand the contributing factors that lead to douchebags acting like the swag-fag I had words with, but it’s a universe removed from my mentality; I don’t see how it’s OK to fuck with people at random who aren’t bothering you, but I think I can explain that, too…
Both the swag-boy and the dignified, intelligent brother were raised in a society with the lingering ghosts of a past that placed them both as second class citizens. The ambitious, intelligent brother gets busy using his talent, intellect, and drive to help dismantle the fallacy of Black inferiority. The swag boy and the pseudo gangsta corroborate the so-called “stereotypes.” They can’t compete in a so-called “ White man’s world,” so they create an insular, micro world in which they can feel important and valued in, but in the back of their mind’s they know the educated, ambitious, suit and tie brother will end up surpassing them in the game of life, so they lash out at him, knowing he has the potential to achieve what they can not. In psychology, such behavior is called misdirected aggression, but in the modern, common vernacular it would be called being a hater.
To be completely on the nose about things, the behavior of most young African-American males is embarrassing and pathetic and would have Malcolm X, Marcus Garvey, and Frederick Douglass spinning in their graves. While incarcerated, Malcolm X read the entire dictionary from cover to cover. Paul Robeson was classically trained in the art of opera singing . In this day and age, to be a young Black man pursuing such high-brow interests is to run the risk of being called a sell-out, bitch, or square.
I once had someone tell me I could serve as a role model for wayward Black youth. I wouldn’t even want to do that. I’m not trying to play a Joe Clark role, and for someone to play the role of a role model, they have to be in a position in which they are looked up to. I don’t think those who he would have wanted me to reach out to would even listen to me. They think I’m a square, and at this point, I think the damage is irreversible, with lower-class millennials in general, and concerning the mentality that so many young Black males have chosen to accept, it’s now become a matter of self-inflicted damage.
I was once a teenage punk rock fanatic; from ages 15-19, I was very dogmatic and didactic with my ideas about music. If it wasn’t punk rock, hardcore, or Oi!, I wasn’t interested, but as I got older my interests shifted, my musical tastes expanded beyond one genre with a a lot of sub-categories attached to it, and I stopped going to shows. I just stopped paying attention to the punk scene, while still relentlessly playing the old school bands from my youth.
My show going years were from 1997-2000. It was a monthly, sometimes weekly occurrence. I saw legends: 7seconds, Agnostic Front, the Anti-Heros, the Business, TSOL, Swigin Utters, U.S. Bombs, and so on and so fourth. But all good things must come to end. I would go to a show just about any chance I could get. At that time in my life, I clung so tightly to music because I had so little of anything else going on. If you were to tell me at age 19, when I simply lived from drink to drink and check to check, from shitty jobs I hated, that 13 years later I would be a published student journalist and a senior in college with his sights set on graduation in the near future, I would have assumed you were talking about someone else in an alternate dimension.
Although my life has changed, some things remain the same, I will still come back to the soundtrack of my teenage years. The Southern California bands of the ’80s make up my favorite era and segment of the punk rock, so when I found out OFF ! was going to be in KC, and on Halloween no less, I had to go. I made plans with my friend Chris to go about six weeks in advance. I was not going to miss this for the world, even though it had been over a decade sine I’d been to a decent, big deal punk show.
I’m sure the uninitiated and unaware might be left scratching their heads thinking what is so damn special about some band called OFF !. Because it’s KEITH FUCKING MORRIS, that’s why.!!! –the original lead singer of Black Flag and the front man for the Circle Jerks– KEITH MOTHER FUCKING MORRIS. DECLINE OF THE WESTERN CIVILIZAITON KEITH MORRIS, NERVOUS BREAKDOWN KETIH MORRIS, WILD IN THE STREETS KEITH MORRIS!
But the band is not the traveling Keith Morris experience. Other members actually make up the rest of the band, and they have all been in other notable underground rock acts; the lineup roster consists of Steven McDonald (of Red Kross) on bass, Dimitri Coats( of Burning Brides) on guitar, and Mario Rubalcaba ( of Rocket From The Crypt) on drums. I’m not a fan of any of those bands, so I was drawn to this punk-rock supergroup because of the presence of Keith Morris, and OFF! just kicks ass.
Listening to OFF! was like discovering the first Ramones album all over again. Their music is the rawest form of punk rock, boiled down to its leanest and meanest essentials. Most of the songs clock in at around a minute. (and a few seconds over) It’s the unrestrained energy of the earliest days of old school L.A. Hardcore transported to the present.
Seeing that the show was on Halloween, I knew the holiday itself would add to the energy level and excitement of the show. Halloween is always a party night, and the show was the ultimate punk party. The parade of creative costumes was in full effect. I haven’t dressed up for Halloween since I was a kid; that’s not my thing, but I admired the creativity that was on display. I noticed, show-goers dressed as members of KISS, Devo, Prince, GG Allin, Wednesday and Pugsly Adams, and the cake had to be taken by one gent who came dressed as the spitting image of Hunter S. Thompson.
The night was not just an OFF! extravaganza; two opening bands proceeded OFF!, first Double Negative followed by the Spits. I wasn’t familiar with either band, and I just stood close to the back of the room and watched. When watching Double Negative, I kept thinking the guitar reminds me of Discharge. The Spits got an even more spirited response than Double Negative. I counted more stage dives during the Spits’ set than any other band of the night, which was intriguing, because they were not playing breakneck-paced hardcore, but harder-edge, yet melodic ,garage-ish punk, complete with Screeching Weasel-esque hooks and harmonies. Keeping with the Halloween festivities, they took to the stage in occultist/grim reaper type black robes, accompanied by special stage effects that would have made Motley Crue proud, as the fired up the smoke machines, a big skull stage ornament with a strobe light, and at one point the drummer’s symbols were set on fire.
OFF! also came to the stage in costume, as the drummer, guitarist, and bass player dawned rasta gear with deadlocked wigs, and huge, oversized fake spliffs in their mouths. After a very brief reggae interlude, they launched into their brand of adrenaline laced hardcore-punk.
When OFF! were on, I felt the urge to move from the back of the venue to the front. I handed my coat, keys, and wallet to Chris, and I dove into the mosh pit with reckless abandon. After they raged through about 25 songs, I staggered out of the Record Bar drenched in sweat, still trying to catch my breath, and during those moments of cathartic, controlled aggression and an amplified sonic assault, I was able to reconnect with the electricity that flowed through my veins at age 19. It’s not every day you get to be in the presence of a punk rock living legend. By the way, Keith Morris is really short in person.