I guess I was never what you could call a very orthodox punk. There were plenty of bands that were considered canonical that I just never could get into. Cases in point: though many would have dubbed me straight edge throughout high school and college, I despise Minor Threat (though “Filler” is a damn fine exception) and think Ian MacKaye is a self righteous prick. I also hate the Misfits and take an immediate loathing to the kind of toothless meatheads you see in pretty much every mall Hot Topic sporting that goofy skull logo.
Likewise, Black Flag was a band I struggled with for many years. A lot of it is because the whole Henry Rollins persona irritates the shit outta me for reasons I can’t quite articulate.
I eventually made my peace with Black Flag much later in life, backing my way into the band through the music of those they influenced. But I still thank Damaged is painfully overrated, particularly in light of Greg Ginn’s later masterworks. Ginn is simply the greatest punk to ever sorta tune a guitar and it was hearing his atonal template trickle down through the next few generations that brought me back around to the original.
Here are three bands that radically altered by thinking about Black Flag.
Sick of it All
If anybody can claim Rollins’ caterwaul/catharsis crown, it would be hardcore stalwart Tim Singer. Dude had a band called Family Man, f’fuckssakes, but most of you probably know him as the guy popping forehead veins in Deadguy. Now I loved Deadguy just as much as the next 'banger, but, for me, Kiss it Goodbye was always the most interesting and cathartic of Singer’s bands. And if I’m going to reach for one song by Singer, it’s going to be the titanic drone of “Sick Day,” which has helped me come to appreciate the B-side of My War more as I get older. In fact, I doubt this amazing song would even exist without that polarizing Black Flag album and the sepulchral misery of “Nothing Left Inside.” It defied the “play faster” ethos of the era by daring to get down with the doom. Hell, this was an era when Saint Vitus and Black Flag shared a label, something that still astounds 20 years later.
If any band in recent years has fully embraced Black Flag’s proposition that punk is a process and not a product, it would have to be Canadian audio provocateurs Fucked Up. With a swing like Class of ’77 Brit punk band, Fucked Up also channeled Black Flag’s unique blend of down and dirty punk and elevated aspirations from the transitional Slip it In and Loose Nut albums with a toe tapper like the scorching “The Black Hats.” It sends a shout out to that era when Black Flag was coming out of a crippling lawsuit that essentially sidelined their efforts but gave them the space they needed to nurture a sound that just couldn’t be contained by the strictures of what passed for punk at the time. A song like “Bastard in Love” still had one Doc Marten firmly planted in Los Angeles’ grimy underbelly, but Ginn and (sigh, yes, even) Rollins were beginning to grapple with the expanded possibilities of lyrical narrative and sonic dynamism.
As I said, Black Flag’s more e/in-volved later albums are far more interesting to me than their early generic punk works, and nobody in hardcore has really pushed the songwriting aspect as much as Kurt Ballou and his co-conspirators in Converge. Converge’s quiet mastermind has fully embraced the notion of abrading traditional song structure with a scouring pad of atonal awesomeness filigreed with amazing single note runs that jolt me into immediate attention. In fact, it was songs like album of the decade contender Jane Doe’s opening “Concubine” that lead me back to late catalogue goodness like In My Head’s title track, which shames all of the Flag’s narrow minded three chord contemporaries for its shifting tempos, textures and trills.
Here’s a quick comp of the songs that lead me back to an appreciation of one of punk’s finest practitioners. Enjoy.
Meanwhile, this is my list of other supposedly classic bands that don’t do shit for me. What classics can’t you stand?
Black Sabbath without Ozzy
Ozzy’s solo material