I’m sure there are a lot of Black Flag fans out there. In the social Petri dish of high school rebellion in the 90’s it always seemed to me that two things you could count on surfacing at random stoner parties were BLACK SABBATH’s eponymous debut and BLACK FLAG’S EVERYTHING WENT BLACK. You know how it was, that guy from your gym class who you invited to your friend’s girlfriend’s party because he said he could get the beer shows up with his of-age uncle who truncates whatever it is you’re listening to in order to show you ‘what real music is’. Of course this was always a good experience when it was indeed ‘real music’, such as the aforementioned albums. But you could get into serious trouble if it was the other uncle who showed up. You know, the one who prattled on endlessly about Styx and Bad Company? Terrifying…
Anyway, so I found Black Flag in high school. They were sort of my introduction to the concept of ‘punk rock’ and to SST in particular. It always struck me that labels like SST and bands like Black Flag seemed to have so much more to offer than what the conventional ‘punks’ seemed to look for in their musical diet. I mean, if all you had to do was something uncomfortable to your hair and play the same three chords over and over again, how was punk really any different than those popular groups who all teased their bangs and played the same stadium rock-type choruses? No, there was definitely something going on in California’s burnt out beach communities at that time in the late 70’s/early 80’s. Take another SST band – St. Vitus. They were essentially the Proto-Stoner Rock band and it’s in the books that the more the punk crowds who came to see Black Flag, The Minutemen and the Descendents booed and hissed for them to get off the stage, the slower and the sludgier they played. I feel like this is the root of what this thing called punk was – a healthy smattering of antagonistic ‘fuck you and your scene’ sentiment going on, as f they wanted to rebel even against the people who tried to find their own identity by clinging to their rebellious attitude. A good friend of mine once said, ‘You can tell some of the people to fuck off some of the time, but you’re better off telling all the people to fuck off all of the time’. I feel this is the very heart of what was going on in Southern Los Angeles at that time. Everybody’s guilty, so like the guy on the bicycle stoutly conveyed with a single upturned finger, ‘Fuck Off!’ should really ring out across the board. Even, I often think, to the person who looks back at you from the mirror in the morning.
How else can we evolve?
Chaos Magician and co-founder of the Illuminates of Thanateros Peter J. Carroll said, ‘The only clear view is from atop the mountain of your dead selves.’
I tend to agree, although holding to that aesthetic is not always the easiest ideal to adhere to. Especially, one would think, for a band consisting of several autonomous entities who all make their living from their music. To evolve can then become the equivalent of running your financial livelihood into the ground. So bearing that in mind, I was blown away recently when a friend brought over a copy of Black Flag’s THE PROCESS OF WEEDING OUT (on vinyl no less!!!) – an album, or E.P. rather, that I don’t think I had ever heard of before. The fact that I’d never heard of it before wasn’t the surprise. No, the surprise was that it was all instrumental.
Yes, I am talking about that Black Flag.
My timeline* with the group is a bit off, but being that I’m pretty sure they broke up around ’86 and this was released in ’85, this was right at the end of their lifespan. Everything from the title and art to the music seems to suggest that Ginn, the brainchild of the group, was flipping the middle finger to all those ‘fans’ who wanted one thing from his band – one thing he had never necessarily wanted to give them in the first place – a fucking fashion statement.
The music on ‘Process…’ is great – a scaggy, dirty barbed-wire jazz from a three-piece consisting of Ginn’s razor guitar, Kira playing some unbelievable bass lines and Bill Stevenson holding down the kit with oft times mind-numbing precision and endurance. Obviously intended as a process for ‘weeding out’ the ‘fans’ who wanted the fashion of the Flag instead of the actual music, this is exactly where I think punk went, not in the endless parade of three-chord monte billy joe’s of the world who have come and gone in the last twenty years. I’m reminded of seeing bands like GOLDEN and TRANS AM at the Fireside Bowl (R.I.P.) in Chi-town back when there was a pretty healthy underbelly of noisy, inventive instrumental bands making the indy club rotation on a regular basis. I miss the ‘punk’ instrumental stuff – if anyone has any tips drop me a line and let me know of some bands to look up and support. In the meantime, I’m planning a pilgrimage to Amoeba soon to try and find a copy of this piece of musical history on vinyl for myself.
* I’ve always been partial to the pre-Rollins era of the group. Not that I have anything against Henry – End of Silence is one of my archetypal albums from that period of my life and I still love it dearly and jam it on a regular basis. And despite how some folks love to dis his screen career, I’m always pleased to see Hank on screen – whether it’s trying to lead a small band of dirtball survivors through a monster attack while dressed in pink sweatpants or uttering the line, “there’s something wrong with the wife killer” he’s always brought a smile to my face. And I love TV Party and Damaged and all the rest, but there is just something about the Flag in those earlier days – something a bit more raw and dangerous.