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Black Flag – Everything Went Black

Subtitled: Christmas 2014, Pt.10

Black Flag – Everything Went Black

Ah, Black Flag. Constant source of creative genius, incredible talent, relentless hard work, and punk fuck-you. There were boundaries to be pushed, and these guys didn’t give a rat’s ass if fans got pissed if the new record sounded different than the last. In fact, they relished it. Each album was a challenge: are you in, or are you stagnant? Damn I love this band.

A Christmas gift from my generous brother-in-law, this CD shows (also) what a bad fan of the band I am. I mean, here it was Christmas 2014 and I was only getting this record (released in 1982, originally) now. In a way, though, this is to my advantage. There’s still Black Flag stuff out there I don’t have! Cool!

Collecting “previously unreleased Black Flag recordings 1978-1981,” (meaning, before Rollins took over lead vocals), the 25 tracks contained here are, as you can imagine, completely incendiary. The tracks’ vocalists on the CD list like this:

01-09 Keith Morris (credited as “Johnny Bob Goldstein”)*
10-14 Ron Reyes (credited as “Chavo Pederast”)
15-24 Dez Cadena
25 ‘Crass Commercialism’ is a collection of radio ads for Black Flag shows

Alright, administrative crap aside, what did I think of this CD? It fucking ruled! No matter who was singing, first and foremost my ear is always, always, ALWAYS drawn to Greg Ginn’s incredible guitar. The rest is just gravy. And what tasty gravy it is! I don’t fault any of this, it’s really a cool survey of all the different singers. The songs are just so damned strong, and each guy had his own approach and it all worked. Sweepingly general? I don’t think so. Listen to this, you’ll see!

So, you know I’m a Rollins fan, and you’re gonna ask: how do I compare it? Well, on the one hand that’s a silly thing to think about because they were a band long before he joined in (a famous story on its own) and the stuff they did was fucking awesome and it was as a fan of theirs that he even joined the band. On the other hand, it’s not really fair to compare. I think they all had strengths. I mean, Keith Morris? Get outta here.

Then again, since this entire web site is named after Room 13 (see our ABOUT section at the top of this page), listen to Dez Cadena do that song here, and then Rollins do it on Damaged and, well, Henry’s influence was obvious. And that’s cool.

And finally, I can hear you saying, well, what’s the difference between this and The First Four Years, that other CD that collects the early stuff before Rollins? And my answer is: who fucking cares? Get them both and crank them. Both are bombs going off in your stereo. Both are absolutely essential.

Merry Christmas indeed!

* Bryan Migdol played drums on tracks 1-9. Robo played drums on 10-24.

everything went black

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Christmas 2014, Pt.9

Here’s a collection of some other cool loot I got for Christmas this year!

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The Henry & Glenn books are ones I’ve always meant to get and never have, so these are my first two! They crack me up to no end. Truly some brilliant stuff.

I am inordinately proud of my new official Guiness ceramic mug. I’ve yet to pour a pint into it (oversiiiiight!!) but it looks to me like it’ll easily hold a full pint. Niiiice!

The Darth Vader and stormtrooper ceramic salt and pepper shakers are a hoot. I may join the Dark Side and put the salt in Darth Vader and the pepper in the stormtrooper, because that’s a pretty evil thing to do to people, right? Right! Haha.

I have been remiss as a big fan of Black Flag since it was 2014 and I was just getting this 1982 album for the first time now! There are 25 tracks on this CD, previously unreleased recordings of early songs with different singers before Henry Rollins joined the band in 1981. It’s gonna be sweet!

Goodnight Keith Moon is two things. First it’s an hilarious parody of the children’s classic storybook Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown (a book that I have read to our kids a zillion times). The artwork and the wording of the story are a spot-on rendition. However, secondly, this is also a dark and morbid story involving Keith Moon’s corpse. Yeah. So, it’s by turns really freaking funny, and also a little sick!

Thanks to everyone for these gifts!

Black Flag – What The…

Black Flag ended (acrimoniously) in 1986. So one would not be wrong in asking, 27 years later, “what the FUCK is anyone doing releasing a new record under that name in 2013?”

I don’t have an answer for that question, but this record exists, and I bought it. New. Retail. Why? Because it has the four bars on it. Never, ever question the four bars.

And here, already, a lot of people would sneer. Question such blind allegiance. Mock me, even, for caring enough, even in this late stage, to give a new Flag record a spin.

It’s true. This thing has A LOT of detractors, everyone in a rush to be the first or the next to be able to pile on to the hate that this thing seems to have generated.

Just like every Black Flag record.

Here’s the thing. Black Flag’s career, even in their hey-day, was built as a giant Fuck You to all the holier-than-thou punkers who think they should be and do a certain thing. The sad part is, the targets at which all of this was aimed rarely realized it. All the skinheads freaked when Rollins let his hair grow long. They lost a lot of fans when they put out an entirely (and really very excellent) instrumental album. Even during the albums everyone claims to love, there are tracks that are just so obviously a WAKE THE FUCK UP to everyone stuck in a rut.

Black Flag was never afraid to let it all hang out. It was the fans who refused to change, who internalized one thing and then were offended when the next thing didn’t fit the pattern. This was one of the hardest working, most talented acts in punk for several years (late 70s to mid-80s) and they never once compromised. They followed their vision, and be damned to the people who didn’t like it. In fact, I think they fed off that hate and used it to make themselves even stronger.

So. It’s 2013, and Greg Ginn (twice, as will be explained), Ron Reyes and a drummer I didn’t know of until now decide it’s time to put out a record under the Black Flag name. Immediately they would have expected the backlash, the expectations, and the hate. It’s a moniker that carries weight, has a history of integrity and strength. How dare they? Shouldn’t they have left well enough alone? Read through the Amazon reviews. Lots of haters, out there. Haters who’ve had 27 years to sit in their mom’s basement and memorize every note and lyric of Damaged and My War. It’s sad.

I will give the haters the point that the album cover sucks. It’s stupid (sorry, Ron Reyes). My buddy Wilf said it looks like a reject from a series of proposed Green Day album covers, and I really can’t argue. That they didn’t get Raymond Pettibon (brother of Greg Ginn) to do it, after all those classic Flag covers, is a travesty and a sham. It’s also very telling that Pettibon provided the cover art for the newest Off! record released this year (2014), a band fronted by Keith Morris. In fact, he’s done every Off! album cover. So there.

So.

What did I think of this record?

It’s a very good punk record.

I will admit that the hairs stood up on my arms when I heard those trademark Ginn riffs. You know that guitar, I know you do. It’ll slay you every fucking time. Ron Reyes is back, to his credit. He was the second singer in Black Flag, after the mighty Keith Morris left. He handles himself with reasonable aplomb here, even nailing the slightly unhinged parts. No, he’s not a Morris or a Rollins, but he never was. No reason to believe he’d be more now. Dale Nixon on bass, of course, is just Greg Ginn on bass under a different name. This is the first time he’s played bass on a Flag record since My War. And drummer Gregory Moore handles himself well enough on the traps, though he’s a victim of some really shitty production – the drums (honestly) do sound like crap. And in its own way, that’s punk, right? Just make it and move on. But in 2013, with all the technology available even on pre-boxed home computers, there’s really no excuse for such muddy sound.

But you know something, if this record had been released a few years after they broke up, after Rollins and everyone else called it quits, let’s say 1989 or so to let some time pass, this record would have been just fine. All the elements are here. The band lets it rip every chance they get. They chug heavily through some tracks, they switch between full and half-tempos, they play at full tilt. There are plenty of trademark Ginn solos, and there are many moments where tracks sound like they might just go crazy, just like in the old days.

Is this a return to form? No. This is mature musicians replicating the energy and learned tricks from half a lifetime ago. Is this a great Black Flag album? Only time will tell, but probably not. But like I said above, it’s a very good punk record. And it pleased me greatly. Let all the haters and detractors come get me, I couldn’t give a fuck. I listened to this and I rocked out to it and that’ll be enough for me.

And for all you holier-than-thou punkers out there, here’s the ultimate revenge:

This band is releasing another album this year and they’re calling it Victimology and that’ll be you. Victims. Because you’ve trapped yourself in thinking you know punk and anything outside your little box is shit. Fuck you.

This is Black Flag now, and Black Flag is still Fuck you.

Black Flag – TV Party

Oh how I do love me some Black Flag. My brother-in-law got me this 3-song single (it’s listed as an EP, inexplicably) for Christmas. Hooray and thanks!

There’s much to be excited about here. First off, if my internet searchings are correct, there are three versions of TV Party on official release: the album version on Damaged (one of the best albums by anybody ever), a different version on the Repo Man movie soundtrack (I still need to get this), and this one from this single (er, EP, if you believe that).

It’s a joke track, no big deal. But it’s fun to hear a slight variation. It’s rougher-sounding, more like a demo. This is by far the longest track here (3:52).

Even better, this disc contains two other tracks that are (to my knowledge) not available anywhere else! Woo! I’ve Got To Run is a chugging blast of punk rock that builds, kicks your ass, and is on to the next thing in 1:45. And My Rules is another perfect-for-the-era track. It’s aggressive, it’s loud, it’s angry and it rocks. All in 1:10.

Honestly, these other two tracks shoulda been on Damaged. Maybe some day Ginn will release a Deluxe Edition…

Loved this disc. All 7 minutes of its entirety. Love love love.

Black Flag – The First Four Years

I admit to coming to punk later in life. I can’t say I was a punk in high school, even. In our small white bread town, we had one punk (who dressed the part) and most people were scared of him. I thought he was a nice enough guy, but the Sex Pistols and the Ramones didn’t mean anything to me then. I was the jazz kid, which never got me stuffed into lockers or anything, but punk wasn’t in my cards at the time it is for most people.

I would never have gotten to listen to these songs when they were coming out anyway. I was 4 years old when Black Flag started. But discover punk I did, eventually, and this is one of the best documents of the sound out there. Sure, sure, there’s a zillion bands you can think of to argue the point, but notice I said ‘one of’ the best. Not ‘the best.’ Although you could just as easily argue for that, too…

I’m rambling. Look, every song here is gonna rip off the top of your head. They’re gonna grab you by the lapels and shake you until you see what they saw, which was nothing less than the decay and downfall of the American Empire. They were ranting against that slow slide into mediocrity, fatter asses, station wagons and Lite FM radio. They were screaming against letting other people decide your life for you. They channeled the energy of youth and tried to show the world just how fucked up it is, and if that doesn’t define the term ‘punk,’ I don’t know what else does.

There were a few line-up changes over these years, and all of the songs here are pre-Henry Rollins-era Flag. Rollins himself has said many times that this is his favourite Black Flag album because it has all of the best tracks by the various line-ups from their early years. He should know, these were the songs they were playing when he joined up with them.

Anyway, I’ve ranted a few times in these pages about how Black Flag was one of the most important punk bands, about how they bucked trends and did whatever they wanted if it was what their guts told them to do. Every track on this record shows you why they mattered.

And c’mon, Keith Morris singing Nervous Breakdown? Untouchable!!

Black Flag – Family Man

Many Black Flag fans called this record unlistenable, total shite. Well, it’s this writer’s opinion that those people were actually not Black Flag fans. They were punk poseurs who should go and listen to Damaged until their little one-track brains finally finish the shriveling process begun at their birth.

I’m not knocking Damaged, mind you. It’s one of my Favourite Albums Of All Time. Seriously. But Black Flag was that, surely, and so much more than that, too. As time went on, they morphed and became a complete entity, growing into a tight unit of excellent musicians who could rip into a ten minute jazz-punk instrumental just as easily as they could blow your head off by playing Rise Above or Clocked In. Best of all, they really couldn’t have cared less about what people thought of what they were doing. If you can find something more in keeping with the supposed punk ethos than that, let me know.

Family Man is a spoken word disc for the first half, and an instrumental disc for the remainder. The spoken-word stuff is Rollins’ usual riffs on anger, frustration and violence. It’s punk/beat poetry, pure and simple. The tracks are short, but they pack one helluva wallop. The instrumental tracks would be perfect as the soundtrack to the end of America. Punk freak-outs and spacy riffs of alienation and disjointed citizenship that raise a healthy middle finger at a country the band had already written off as fat, boring and lost.

This disc especially shows Greg Ginn for the guitar genius he was at the time. Some of the sounds he strangles out the neck of his instrument are sonic proof that hard work and vision can pay huge dividends. It’s worth it to play this record for his work alone.

The nay-sayers can go get stuffed. Black Flag was an interesting, challenging band from the day they started until the day they ended, and this record stands up well in their discography. If you don’t play it because it forces you to think while you listen, that’s fine. But you’re missing out on one helluva lot, and you’re only further proving their point.

Black Flag – My War

Many, varied things have been said about Black Flag. People will talk about the line-up changes, and argue which was better. They’ll say it didn’t matter who else was in the band because it was all about Greg Ginn. Or they’ll blame Rollins for the band’s eventual demise. And on, and on, and on…

Frankly, anybody who complains about any of it is missing the point of the Flag. They were straight-on, no compromise, fully engaged. They took the hits so you wouldn’t have to, and they did it with relish. It formed them, made them what they were. And they grew, too. They learned and changed and became, something the scene around them did not do. And so they took more hits, because “fans” didn’t like new directions. And the Flag’s response? A raised middle finger. Right on.

There was mixed reaction to My War. Some complained it wasn’t identical to Damaged, and was therefore inferior. Or that the band was just repeating themselves, or had become boring, or that the longer, heavier tracks ruined it all. And on, and on, and on…

I say bollocks to all of that. This record kicks ass. It’s dark, heavy and unrelenting. It’s angry, sure of itself, and unapologetic. It challenges the listener to pay attention, to question, to not just blindly accept and expect.

There isn’t a bad record in the entire Black Flag catalogue. Each one has its own strengths. My War takes you inside yourself, makes you look in the mirror and face whatever you find, head-on. It will become Your War. And you’ll be so much the better for it.

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