Spray Paint the Walls – The Story Of Black Flag

January 24, 2010

Spray Paint the Walls - The Story Of Black Flag - by Stevie ChickOnce while in high school I was discussing the legacy and mysterious aura of Black Flag with a couple of friends and I paused to say "Dude, there's only so much that we know about Black Flag." At the time this statement was fairly accurate. Henry Rollins had published his tour diaries from when he was in the band in Get In The Van but otherwise there was seemingly no information available about Black Flag that was readily available. Greg Ginn and Chuck Dukowski were out of the limelight, Keith Morris was playing with the reunited Circle Jerks but his short tenure with Black Flag remained mysterious, Dez Cadena was not yet playing with the "Misfits," and Ron Reyes seemed to have fallen off of the face of the Earth. Black Flag had broken up years before any of us had even heard of punk rock and it wasn't hard to imagine that somewhere there was a vault full of classified information on the band. It seemed strange that such an iconic and influential band had left behind these incredibly diverse and hard hitting recordings but otherwise were largely unaccounted for.

Today things are a bit different. As the result strange reunion shows, and interviews in the American Hardcore movie/book,much more information is out there about Black Flag now. With Stevie Chick's new four hundred page book, Spray Paint The Walls, a wealth of new stories from many different perspectives have now helped to fill in many of the holes that that were missing in Black Flag's history. Through exclusive interviews with Keith Morris, Chuck Dukowski, Ron Reyes, Kira Roessler, and members of the Black Flag/SST family such as Mike Watt, Mugger, and Glen E. Friedman, this book helps to tell the story behind hardcore Punk's most influential band.

The most interesting part of Spray Paint The Walls is the beginning of the book where Chick explains how all of the members of Black Flag and their crew came together in the early years. In the past there never seemed to be too much documentation of the "First Four Years" era of Flag and the Punk rock community that the band helped to harvest outside of Los Angeles in the South Bay region of Southern California. There is a lot of emphasis on the relationships between the band members before Black Flag formed and the evolution of the band between their first three singers. Keith Morris and Ron Reyes are particularly revealing in this part of the book and they help to explain what it was like when the band was rehearsing and often living in an abandoned Church in Hermosa Beach. They explain how having this centralized location helped to establish a tight knit connection between band members and their early fans. It also tells the story of the kinship formed between Black Flag and bands like the Minutemen, The Last and Red Cross.

Black Flag History
While Henry Rollins' career with Black Flag was already well documented from his own point of view, Spray Paint offers a more complete perspective. Kira Roessler, Chuck Dukowski, Mugger, and Glen E. Friedman in particular add valuable insight into the group psychology of the band. Greg Ginn is often shown in an unflattering way, but perhaps if he had been willing to participate in an interview with the author he would have had an opportunity to tell his side of the story. Nevertheless he is generally described as a control freak who was resentful towards Henry Rollins for getting the most attention as the band's front man. It seems that he struggled to deal with other human beings in an artistic setting and that ultimately he saw Black Flag as a product of his own vision rather than a group effort.

Overall Spray Paint The Walls provides an engaging read and offers a professional and intellectual look at Black Flag, but it does have its weaknesses. Predictably it depicts Punks from Huntington Beach ("Huntingdon" as Chick spells it) and the rest of Orange County as mindless and violent without offering a single perspective from anyone who was involved in the Orange County Punk scene. While there certainly is some truth behind this stereotype, Chick fails to recognize that H.B.'s helped Black Flag to create their own scene while they were largely often overlooked or rejected by Hollywood Punks. The book also does tend to become a bit redundant in that it repeatedly tells the story of how Black Flag followed a formula where they recorded albums that alienated their fans, played in cities where they were mistreated by their audiences, and then put out another even more experimental record just as people were starting to appreciate the sound of their most recent output. While Chick is simply telling the story of how things happened, perhaps this notion could have been discussed with fewer redundancies.

All criticisms aside, Spray Paint is a long overdue look at Black Flag and their complete legacy. Without this book a large and significant gap would be missing from the story of punk rock and Stevie Chick has managed to collect invaluable interviews and information about a band who otherwise have been shrouded in some degree of mystery. The story of Black Flag is one that is inspiring for any musician who has ever tried to deviate from the norm and play music their own way, and Chick has delivered this story in an interesting and thought provoking way.

Here is a source for the book:
Spray Paint the Walls - The Story Of Black Flag   from




Burning Fight: The Nineties Hardcore Revolution in Ethics, Politics, Spirit, and Sound

December 14, 2009

Burning Fight: The Nineties Hardcore Revolution in Ethics, Politics, Spirit, and Sound bookA lot of people involved in hardcore were pretty relieved to see the 1990's coming to its end. The Dark Years of hardcore were something that could be buried and forgotten. As a kid who got involved in the hardcore scene in the mid 1990's when I was in my early teenage years, I considered myself lucky to come in as a lot of bands were forming (Ten Yard Fight, Floorpunch, Fastbreak) who were interested in getting back to the musical roots of hardcore. To me the more that something was influenced by metal or noise the more that it sucked. This was the age of unlistenablecore where hardcore bands were often striving to be sophisticated and ideals were more important than music. Metal, hip hop, noise, and indie all had their way with hardcore and from about 1990 to 1996 the musical definition of what hardcore sounded like could be called loose if not obsolete.

Just as soon as the 1990's were over though there were already people who were missing the serious tone that bands like Earth Crisis and Chokehold had taken and the weirdness of bands like Groundwork had created. With just a little time 90's hardcore had its own mystique for young kids who didn't experience it first hand and just as us young kids in the mid 90's sought out Youth Of Today, Gorilla Biscuits, and Chain of Strength, younger kids were now seeking out Shelter, Earth Crisis, Path of Resistance, and Integrity. Eventually a few bands started popping up who were more influenced by hardcore from the 1990's than hardcore from the 1980's. Verse, Maintain, Lion Of Judah and Soul Control embraced the weirdness and political and spiritual overtones of the 1990's while Guns Up! and Shipwreck embraced the heaviness and dark themes.

With 90's hardcore being romanticized, revered and given its own mystique, it actually seems very appropriate that a book like Burning Fight would come out. Burning Fight documents the phenomenon of 90's hardcore and how the musically oriented scene of the 1980's became and ideologically oriented scene in the 1990's. Covering the political aspects of the scene, along with social aspects such as straight edge, vegetarianism, and spirituality, Burning Fight takes a decidedly academic approach. As serious as the bands and individuals at the forefront of the 90's hardcore scene were, author Brian Peterson matches their passion and intellect.

In many ways politics were at the forefront of the 90's hardcore scene. It was certainly common to find bands passing out literature at their merch tables on topics as wide ranging as racism, sexism, animal liberation, and the evils of capitalism. Bands lyrics sometimes read as manifestos. Some of the most impressive of the politically oriented hardcore bands included Los Crudos, Trial, and Born Against. These bands all took an intelligent approach to singing about complex subject matter and made it cool for kids to think. Unfortunately the other side of the coin was that it sometimes discouraged impressionable kids from forming their own opinions and also the musical aspects of hardcore were sometimes sacrificed. Crudos/Limp Wrist vocalist, Martin Sorrondeguy comments in the book that "I didn't like all of the music in the nineties but it was the first time where there was this incredible amount of dialogue and amazing voices being heard in punk and hardcore. . . It was like music was secondary and the message was the primary thing, which was amazing!" HeartattaCk Fanzine editor Kent McClard also helps sum up the philosophy of the era stating that "Hardcore isn't about a musical style; it's about emotion and anger and hope and you can express those feelings in a variety of ways and not necessarily rely on traditional hardcore sounds."

Where straight edge and vegetarian/vegan diets are generally regarded as positive choices that people can take on in their own lives, some of the bands that are covered in Burning Fight took a militant stance on these issues and in many ways ended up alienating as many people from their ideals as they attracted. Earth Crisis were the most well known hardcore band of the 1990's and their mix of Hardline Straight Edge ideals (which included an equally militant stance on animal liberation and environmentalism) with heavy metallic hardcore caught all sorts of attention. The ugliest side of 90's hardcore was the militant straight edge scenes that were most prevalent in Salt Lake City and Upstate New York. Earth Crisis were at the forefront of this movement and became a media spectacle. For a long time straight edge was unfortunately associated with gangs who had fucked up mentalities involving influencing people through violence. Surprisingly the guys in Earth Crisis come off as even more insane in Burning Fight than they did in the 1990's. There is also coverage of Vegan Reich who were more obscure and were around earlier than Earth Crisis but even more extreme in their views. These band's viewpoints are thankfully balanced by people with more positive ideals from bands like Outspoken and Mouthpiece.

The issue that comes off as the most marginalizing in Burning Fight is that of spirituality and religion. While Shelter and 108 espoused spiritual views that had been vaguely touched upon by the Cro Mags in the 1980's and Integrity preached strange ideas about Satan and the occult, there were plenty of bands who were vehemently against religion in all forms involved in the scene. Members of Chokehold and Charles Bronson flat out dismiss the Krishna influence on hardcore while  plenty of other interviewees in Burning Fight share more moderate opinions, stating that they accepted people discussing spiritual views when they were respectful about it.

The band spotlights in Burning Fight mostly prove to be pretty intriguing. Members of Raicetrator and Downcast have interesting perspectives. It certainly doesn't hurt that some of the bands who were more musically appealing than some of their counterparts are covered. Avail, Mouthpiece, Inside Out, Trial, Los Crudos, and Undertow all had musical appeal in addition to offering their own unique philosophies. It does seem strange that a band who was as influential both musically and politically as Chokehold do not get their own chapter in the book, but rather are only mentioned occasionally within the context of the members' perspectives on some of the pressing issues of the day.

For the most part Brian Peterson does a superb job of covering the diverse ideals that were discussed in the 90's hardcore scene. Where he has biases they are barely discussed. As mentioned before much of the book is approached from a strictly academic perspective. The only major criticism that could be given is that some of the less desirable elements that the 90's hardcore scene attracted are completely passed over. The violent aspects of the scene that came along with the "tough guy" crew mentalities of the 90's go almost completely unmentioned, as does the commercialization of the music that came along with major labels and the mainstream media showing an interest in the activities of profitable record labels like Victory. While these aspects of the scene are rarely looked back upon fondly, one cannot completely talk about 90's hardcore accurately without talking about these issues in depth.

Beyond the aforementioned criticisms Peterson does manage to rather thoroughly discuss a scene and era that has otherwise not been discussed in a meaningful way. And while I am obviously very biased when it comes to the 90's hardcore scene it would be hypocritical to complete dismiss the era as it has clearly had some influence on my life. It is more than likely that if I were not involved in the 1990's hardcore scene myself I would not be straight edge, vegan, or actively politically minded. Perhaps the 90's were not quite as bad as I remember, or it could just be that Peterson stated his points so eloquently that he even has me somewhat convinced.

Here is a source for the book:
Burning Fight: The Nineties Hardcore Revolution in Ethics, Politics, Spirit, and Sound   from




Banned For Life by D.R. Haney – book review

November 14, 2009

Banned For Life bookBanned For Life is an autobiographical novel (a.k.a. a thinly disguised memoir where the names are changed) which tells the story of a Punk rocker who eventually turns to film making after years of failed attempts at starting a successful band. Taking place in North Carolina, New York City, and Los Angeles, this book is in a way an attempted reconciliation of how the 1980's became the 1990's. The core of this novel is centered around a generation that was expected to self destruct from its own nihilism and how they tried to figure out what to do with themselves when they didn't all end up dying before the age of thirty like the world predicted. Haney criticizes his peers that ended up settling into a bland existence in the novel's most memorable quote, stating that "nothing comes from comfort but the fear of losing it, and that's exactly where my generation made its big mistake."

The story is told in a conversational tone of voice which has its pros and cons. While this technique keeps the reader interested, at times the narration gets to be a bit choppy and the pace of the story telling is a bit slow at first. In fact the first one hundred pages were a bit hard to get through, but once the story picked up it transitioned into being an engaging page turner.

The appeal of the book lies in a colorful cast of characters, from the narrator (called Jason in the book), to Peewee- his intellectual counterpart and Punk rock mentor, and Irina- a Serbian women with whom Jason has a love affair behind her husband's back. Added into the mix is Jim Cassady- a former member of the L.A. Punk scene who has disappeared from the public eye. A large chunk of the story revolves around Jason's attempts to track down Cassady whose role shifts from being a Jim Carroll meets Darby Crash type Punk rock star to becoming a washed up Punk rock version of On the Road's Dean Moriarty.

Sprinkled throughout the book are subcultural references of all kinds. It doesn't take long to realize that Jim Cassady's name is derived from Neal Cassady and either Jim Morrison, Jim Carroll, or both. Haney's cultural lexicon also includes nods to Punk bands like Rhino 39, X, the Germs, Minor Threat, the Replacements, the Cockney Rejects and Beat writers like Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. Likewise location plays a central role in the story and Angelinos may get a kick out of references to Echo Park and Atwater Village while New Yorkers may recognize the Lower East Side of the early 1980's and landmarks like the A7.

Haney manages to incorporate some social and political messages into the book without ever coming off as too preachy or in your face. He criticizes cultural homogenization, U.S. imperialism, and the inescapable grip that large corporations have on both politics and our day to day lives. He does so through debates that his characters are engaged in and on a subtler level through the plot itself, which often focuses on trying to make a decent living while also trying to keep both artistic and personal integrity. The intricacies of Haney's characters allow him to cleverly express his own values through his characters' words and actions.

While Haney's first novel may not have a mass appeal to the status quota, it certainly does cater rather nicely to a niche audience. The themes that the book addresses are ones that any man who has tried to juggle both career aspirations and a commitment to going against the grain can relate to. Likewise anyone who has an interest in the American Punk scene of the 1980's will find plenty in this book to latch onto. Haney has proven himself to be a very promising writer and hopefully in future writings he will be able to maintain his gritty style and his ability to present characters in multiple dimensions. These are all rare gifts and Haney should be proud of his abilities as a novelist.

Here is a source for the book:
Banned for Life   from




Barred For Life – Pre release book review

February 13, 2009

Barred For Life book image
After the Ramones and perhaps Minor Threat, Black Flag are undoubtedly the most documented out of any American Punk band and for good reason. Black Flag were in no uncertain terms both iconic and brilliant. In the legacy of Punk rock they were simultaneously inspiring, mystifying, and undeniably terrifying if nothing else for the allegiance that they commanded from their fan base. This sort of devotion that the band inspired is most visibly proven by the thousands of fans over the years who have paid the ultimate tribute to the band by permanently tattooing their bodies with the instantly recognizable Black Flag "Bars." This phenomenon is in the process of being documented in an upcoming photo album appropriately titled Barred For Life. Here at Big Wheel we have been lucky enough to receive an advanced preview of this book and will vouch for the authors saying that it promises to be an essential volume for fans of Black Flag, graphic designers, tattoo artists, and sociologists alike.

The Bars are in a sense a symbol of a symbol, an adaptation of an anarchist symbol created by Raymond Pettibon. However over the years this logo has come to transcend its original political symbolism and in an ironic twist in someways it even transcends Black Flag's music. The Bars themselves have been adapted to market skateboards, clothing, and even tacos. As Barred For Life's preface states Black Flag's logo has come to represent Punk rock, America's underground music legacy, and rebellion in general. This point is skillfully illustrated by photos of people all over the United States who have the Bars tattoo'd on them and accompanied with captions containing quotes about the significance of Black Flag and their logo to each individual. Probably the best of these explanations comes from a Philadelphia bike messenger named Kevin Stewart who states, "the Bars are a symbol of an idea that I try to live by: Go your own way and do your on thing."

While Black Flag's music and history have been documented fairly meticulously in books like American Hardcore and Henry Rollins' Get In the Van, Barred For Life is unique in that it solely documents Black Flag's influence on their fanbase. By collecting stories and photographs of people who have gotten Black Flag tattoos this book shows us how wide of an affect Flag and their logo have had on people. The book promises to be a captivating read and a visually stunning volume of photography and tattoo art. This is yet to be released and is still in the treatment form, yet the final will be 12x12 and close to 400 pages. Just remember you read about it here as you slap your ducts on the counter to buy this book, this is gonna be a book you will want to get.

Barred For Life MySpace:


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The Encyclopedia of Punk by Brian Cogan book review

January 18, 2009

Encyclopedia of Punk book imageThe Encyclopedia of Punk  by Brian Cogan

From the Adolescents to Zero Boys this book so far has to be one of the most thorough guides to punk music and culture out there. It starts out with prefaces from the author and Decline/Suburbia director Penelope Spheeris and then from that point there are articles on everything from the Sex Pistols, to Negative Approach, skinheads, fanzines, crust Punks, Suicide Girls, straight edge, Warped Tour, and Dischord Records. Even a few more modern bands such as Los Crudos and Against Me! have articles dedicated to them. In his preface Cogan does state that the subject matter is mostly limited to the American and U.K. punk scenes, but there are a few entries about Japanese pop punk bands. With a few exceptions the information is reliable and unbiased,  though there are a few jabs at bands and institutions that Cogan deems mindless or overly commercial. In any event The Encyclopedia of Punk is obviously a labor of love and its great to see a book by someone who loves the music and appears to avoid being jaded. Up the Punx!

Here is a source for the book:




Radio Silence / A Selected Visual History of American Hardcore Music book review

October 19, 2008

Radio Silence/A Selected Visual History of American Hardcore MusicRadio Silence / A Selected Visual History of American Hardcore Music by Nathan Nedorostek and Anthony Pappalardo (MTV Press)

Who would have guessed that hardcore punk would ever have its own coffee table book? Radio Silence is just that and as the title suggests it documents significant moments in the history of the hardcore movement through images. The book is filled with everything from hand written letters between Kevin Seconds and Ian Mackaye, to hand drawn t-shirts and production mechanic designs for records like the Faith/Void split, Gorilla Biscuits' "Start Today," and Dag Nasty's "Can I Say." More than anything else Radio Silence highlights and showcases the efforts that went into creating the aesthetics of punk rock in an age before Photoshop. It documents the forming stages of hardcore in the late 1970's and goes up to the "post hardcore" years of the early 1990's. Each image has its own caption which tell stories about bands like SSD, the Circle Jerks,  the Misfits, Uniform Choice, Youth of Today, Slapshot, Token Entry, Bad Brains, Inside Out, No For An Answer, 7 Seconds, Chain of Strength, Fugazi, Mouthpiece, and Earth Crisis. Also included are an introduction by coauthor, Anthony Pappalardo (Ten Yard Fight/In My Eyes) about the significance of hardcore music, a closing chapter on Minor Threat's records from a graphic designer's perspective, and images of record covers and vintage t- shirts.

Although this book documents history, Papalardo makes it clear in his introduction that it's not about false nostalgia:

It's quickly forgotten by older generations that their salad days are always going to be another generation's check-out time. The critical ears of yesterday's fans forget hardcore is the sum of many parts. What you don't get in those two- minute anthems is the importance of those parts, and what they mean when the engine is humming along. No matter how much you romanticize your 'remember whens' stomachs didn't growl harder in your heyday. Hardcore is living right now and it's just as vital as the first note of 'Pay to Cum' to its audience. Bands are forming and kids are plotting. The world sucks, hearts are being broken, and parents are still as fucked up as their children. America's youth is just as bored and fed up as you were at 15.




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