Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Witzard Presents: "It's Nostalgia, Only If I Can See It" (Brian Walsby on Black Flag/FLAG)

FLAG. Black Flag. FLAG. Black Flag. Flag Black. Flack Blag. It does get confusing, no? Well, not for me. Black Flag was a band that changed my life. It was like entering a portal and I would never be the same ever again afterwards. The band dominated over everything in my little universe. No matter how many line-up changes, no matter how many drummers, no matter whatever stylistic change the band went through, I liked ALL of it. And it wasn't until the very end of their career that I realized that something was wrong in my perceived Punk Rock paradise. Black Flag were the band that almost broke up in time. With a major emphasis on the word "almost." Also, I had decided that Black Flag founder Greg Ginn must have lost his marbles. And this was BEFORE he broke up his own band. Here is why: The month is January. The year is 1986. Black Flag are playing their first big show with yet another new line-up at The Stardust Ballroom in Los Angeles... D. Boon of The Minutemen had died recently. All of that seemed like it was floating in the air, it was hard to not notice that. Gone were Bill Stevenson and Kira Roessler. They made up the last great line-up of the band, along with Ginn and long-standing frontman Henry Rollins. The two newer guys, although decent players, seemed more akin to being in a band like Quiet Riot than Black Flag. At least that was the impression I got watching them. Bassist C'el [Revuelta] looked like Lou Diamond Phillips and played like Rudy Sarzo. Drummer Anthony [Martinez] was a decent drummer, but no Bill Stevenson. I mean, they were okay but the vibe seemed sort of... sub-par, at least for Black Flag standards. Before Black Flag played, Ginn's new instrumental trio Gone played. He seemed obviously WAY more into that than Black Flag. He even had a better guitar sound. Sim [Cain] and Andrew [Weiss], the drummer and bassist that Ginn played with, were monster players, and if you go through the material that Ginn wrote for the Gone record, you have a lot of great riffs that would make up some good Black Flag material. So, the question I had for myself as the night unfolded was this... "Why aren't Sim and Andrew in Black Flag? Why does Gone exist?" It made no sense to me.

Bringing things up to date in the year 2013, the world is a far far different place. We live in a world where information is more easily available thanks to the internet and computers. The world is also a much smaller place because of it. And going along with all of that, there is also information that no one really has any business knowing. So, it has been interesting realizing that as a huge fan of Black Flag, none of these guys had stayed real good friends through their ordeal, all of that hard work with little reward, constant touring, an uncompromising vision of total self belief... well, let's just say that even though some of the ex-members get along, there aren't any annual "Black Flag Picnics" where everyone gets together and toss Frisbees and share good times. In the center of all of this is Greg Ginn. Ginn's reputation has been covered and dissected so many times that it is sort of pointless to bring it all up on another blog like this one, time and time again...All I can say is that he remains a contradictive personality; equal parts detested and admired. He played the greatest guitar solos and wrote the coolest riffs ever, and is admired for it. He is equally detested as a counter-suing businessman who is famous for not paying SST [Records] bands for whatever they were owed. This is all water under a very old bridge. Everything I have heard by him since Black Flag ended stinks. That is just my own personal opinion. Like I said at the start of this, I think he lost his marbles even before Black Flag broke up. Enter FLAG: It's an ensemble consisting of a bunch of key ex-Black Flag members and one Descendent. In the band is first vocalist Keith Morris, first bass player and songwriter Chuck Dukowski, third singer and then second guitarist Dez Cadena, drumming god Bill Stevenson and his longtime partner in The Descendents, guitarist Stephen Egerton. It's a pretty great line-up for a bunch of dudes to hammer out old Black Flag songs. Taken at face value, its sort of a tribute band and I have no problem with that. They serve the songs very well. It makes me smile. I like the idea of FLAG. And these are some of my favorite players period. Look at Stevenson and Dukowski playing together. You can't really beat that, I think.

In the meantime, Greg Ginn has recruited Black Flag's second vocalist Ron Reyes and teamed up with two other dudes to put together...the new Black Flag! Unfortunately, the whole thing seems (to me, at least) rooted in paranoid spite. That is just the impression I get. They have released two new songs on The Internet and both of them are not as bad as people are saying but also not as good as what people are saying. They are both merely okay. Even sort of crappy later day end-of-the-line Black Flag throw-aways like "Kicking 'N Sticking" or "Society's Tease" seem more brutal in comparison. I would love to be surprised by the new official Black Flag [album]. I don't think I will be, but we'll see. Since both of these two ensembles appeared, there has been sort of an Internet war over who is better or even the idea that both of them just suck, and it is an embarrassing thing for all concerned, that the "legacy" of the band needs to be left alone. The words "legacy" and "Punk Rock" just don't go together for me at all. Who cares. They can all do whatever the hell they want. No one is forcing anyone at gunpoint to do anything (although that would be an interesting sort of twist...members of Black Flag storm-trooping into people's homes and yanking them off their computers and marching them to their concert at gunpoint) and so I shrug my shoulders at any perceived sense of legacy. The words "cash grab" and "nostalgia" also pop up. Last I checked, you need money to survive. Unless you would rather be a train-hopping hobo that eats dirt. If people can make money playing instruments, I am all for it. No one is getting hurt. And the horrible idea of "nostalgia" is always thrown around as this horrible, living in the past sort of nonsense. But I ask you. Do you have a record collection? You do. It's pretty big. Well, isn't that nostalgic? What's the difference? So much for nostalgia. If this was a competition, I am totally on the side of FLAG. I just think that ultimately, Black Flag's founder obviously didn't really take care of business on his end of things. The various ex-members of Black Flag obviously "have had it" and they are paying tribute to this music and these songs in a way that they just could never do with their once fearless leader. They look happy doing it, there is joy there but also some unspoken "FUCK YOU" sort of thing too. Maybe I'm wrong there. Look at it this way: The member of the equally legendary Minor Threat all GET PAID for their work all of these years later, thanks to Ian MacKaye. Perhaps Greg Ginn needs some advice? Who knows. This moment will not last forever, so enjoy it or not.

Ever since anyone can remember, Brian Walsby has been an active member/fan of the Hardcore Punk scene, since around 1984 by most accounts. He's a very talented graphic artist and skilled drummer who's drawn cartoons for countless long-gone zines including but not limited to Maximum Rock and Roll, Flipside, Ink Disease, XXX, Suburban Voice, Sixty Miles North, and Guillotine. Walsby has also designed album/single artwork for everyone from The Melvins to Scared Straight. Upon moving to Raleigh, North Carolina in Spring '86, he took a brief hiatus from drawing to focus on his other budding passion: ferocious drumming! Brain Walsby has self-admittedly "been in too many bands," which includes time spent with WWAX, Double Negative, Snake Nation, Patty Duke Syndrome, Shiny Beast, and Polvo. Once the 90's hit, Walsby got back into doing his artwork nearly full-time and currently does freelance work upon request; quite often uploading black-and-white caricatures and zany album re-creations to his personal Facebook page. Brain Walsby has even managed to compile and publish a book-sized collection full of artwork dubbed MANCHILD, which is currently up to Vol. 6. Lastly, I'd lie to thank Mr. Walsby for penning such a comprehensive piece and look out for an EXCLUSIVE, in-depth The Witzard interview, coming soon to a computer screen near you!!!

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