Even though Black Flag was included in the background soundtrack of my young adult life, I never had the passionate, deep rooted connection to them like some of my older friends. I was excited about the summer Black Flag tour, despite some of the super fans out there being totally up in arms over the current rival lineups. At first it meant a fun weekend road trip with friends to St. Louis, and then we found out they were actually booked in Fayetteville, AR by Ruben Medina of Pointless Promotions.
I was amused to see and hear my local community divided about this tour. On one hand, as previously mentioned, I never got caught up in the dramatic history of Black Flag. On the other hand, what else are we going to do on a Saturday night? Go down the street to see some other punk legends passing through?! It didn’t help that a majority of these complaints were super uneducated, from disgruntled Rollins fans oblivious to the existence of the band before his turn, to people not connecting the dots of Ron Reyes to THE credited Chavo Pederast like he was just some random growler they threw in front of a mic to sell out. There was so much excitement and so much tension, with Facebook event comment blowups and name calling about people most of us have never met (some of us weren’t even born yet when these songs were written!) and rumors about crummy set lists, that the week of the show, I was almost dreading what kind of drama a disgruntled fanbase was going to bring to the unruly arena of a wild punk show.
Nevertheless, we congregated from all corners of the state on that hot night at the newly managed Phoenix (formerly Rogue) . There were several mini reunions of old faces others hadn’t seen in ages, lots of chatter about teenage idols, old skate videos, and rowdy parties. Black Flag finally took the stage, and I looked fondly at some of my friends that had waited their whole lives for a chance to experience this live performance. There were a few “WOW THIS IS REALLY HAPPENING” moments standing next to my giant ol’ pal Scooter P, whom I spent some of my formative high school music discovery years with.
The night ended with merch table sprees and exchanges with the bands and buzzed chatter camera phone flashes. Greg Ginn walked among us, surrounded by a crew of normal ass kids all grown up now, sharing thoughts such as his humble fondness for the South. The night was no less than surreal.
Fuck haters, I had a good time.
Growing up running the streets of a shitty town in the mid 80s, barely on the cusp of becoming a teenager, skating to school every day or hanging out all night with friends at late night skate sessions at the Grand ramps, Black Flag seemed to be the soundtrack of my everyday life. It felt important, urgent, pissed, but most of all it spoke to me. I could identify with the feelings of social isolation and defiance being one of the only “punk/skater” kids in my school, or I should say “skater fags”…It wasn’t a very popular lifestyle to lead. Those songs seemed to play right along with all of the harassment, shitty asshole kids, redneck cops, and violence that we would have to deal with pretty regularly and in retrospect I remember it way more romantically than I should.
I remember being super bummed when they played Fayetteville, AR the first time in ’86, being thirteen and having no way to even get to a town an hour away, I often lived vicariously through stories from my older friends who saw that show, where Greg played guitar in all four of the touring bands, and by religiously watching the great Decline of Western Civilization with Ron Reyes (my personal favorite of the vocalists) singing.
So needless to say, hearing that Greg Ginn and Ron would regroup to tour and play all of those old songs live was a fucking treat! Through all of the controversy surrounding this current incarnation I remained completely stoked about the show. Drawing a surprising amount of old reclusive faces out of hiding, it took me back into a Jr. High street dream that I often fantasized about. With all of the years in between, the songs still had the same meaning and importance, regardless if everyone had beer guts and silver hair. The end of each anthemic song led to total nervous anticipation of that opening riff that was going to inevitably cause the whole audience to explode into a wild beer slinging sing along.
It felt like we had made it full circle and came out sweaty and smiling just like when we were kids…
I’m not gonna lie; I can’t name a single Black Flag song. I didn’t even know Henry Rollins was in that band, you guys. I mean, I knew he was in a band, but not that band. I probably only knew Black Flag was a band because of Hot Topic.
So my poseur self and I walked into their set having no idea what to expect but eager to be pleased. No one warned me about what was coming. Everyone failed to mention that Greg Ginn has some powers. I know this must be true, because as soon as I laid eyes on him and the dancing spiders of his hands, I was transported.
So there I was…….a weird, gangly, lightly zit speckled, bean pole at the ripe young age of sixteen. I am on a family trip to see my grandmother in her tiny East Texas town of Mt Pleasant. Fitting name, but not nearly as entertaining as it might sound. The only attraction this town holds is a slide on a hill, a giant bust of a chicken peddler in an old fashioned pilgrimesque buckled hat, your proverbial small town moth beacon that is a Wal-Mart, a cheap movie theatre, and my only a refuge…..a newly built Hastings.
It is here that I find myself perusing through any and all used CDs for something different, though there isn’t too terribly much that I wouldn’t be able to find in my slightly larger Arkansan home town. After digging through almost every goddamn Travis Tritt and Keith Urban CD, I finally found that album that I had no idea that I was searching for. The album had a collection of EP covers that consisted of pissed off men, and women donned in security guard outfits. It was Black Flag’s First Four Years. I ran back to my grandmother’s house. I sat down on that pink full sized guest bed that was louder than hell, and started listening to a fast and angry sound that would go on to change quite a bit of my life.
Fast forward ten years……
So here I am…….a weird, stout, lightly back haired giant at the stewed and bruised age of twenty six. I’m waiting to see Black Flag live in my working town of Fayetteville, Arkansas. Also on the bill is a band that I’m not too familiar with, but have raised hopes for, that consists of one my all time favorite skateboarders, Mike Vallely, and Greg Ginn on guitar, called Good For You. They sound exactly how I would imagine them to sound. Greg Ginn is blasting heavy hits on his guitar and Mike V is having a pretty stern and aggressive yelling-to with the mic. They weren’t exactly terrible, but a little off note when opening up for Black Flag. Interesting really, with a heavy caveman like tempo opening up for the complete and utter chain-saw onslaught that is Black Flag.
Looking ten minutes ahead……
So there I’ll be…….Greg Ginn and Ron Reyes will take the stage and deliver one of the greatest shows I will ever see. What I have always discovered to be key characteristics of what I would call “favorite shows” would be that the whole spirit of the show has to fit exactly what the show states that it delivers. The crowd will be energetic. The band will exceed what they sound like to me in my head. They will offer everything to the crowd, and be gracious that anyone would receive it. Black Flag will meet all of these characteristics. The show will be loud, fast, angry, and pure. I will imagine that this is what it would’ve been like to be a part of that hardcore scene in California, just replace 99% of the violence with drunken yokels and southern hospitality. It will be perfect, and I will walk away revved up and ready for a damn week.