It being the summer of all things Black Flag, PM Press has released Barred For Life, a book exploring the history and significance of that famous logo when applied to skin. To help celebrate the book's release, the man who in all likelihood has the very first Black Flag tattoo, Dez Cadena, held several events around New York City on June 23, 2013 to toast those four vertical lines.
In the early afternoon, Cadena and the book’s author Stewart Dean Ebersole hosted a Q&A in the lower section of the famed Generation Records. The conversation was low-key, but Cadena enthusiastically spoke about the history of Black Flag as well as his own experiences. Splitting the conversation between well-known tales in service to the younger attendees, as well as specific minutiae only of interest to us Black Flag fanatics, Cadena addressed how he joined the band, why he left, his recollections of touring with the band, and other, more esoteric stuff. Did you know that Dez once, at another band’s prompting, took acid to cure himself of a stomach flu (which worked) and ended up playing a 45 minute solo blues set after the Black Flag set? Did you know that Dez is a sports fanatic? Did you know that Dez’s dad is kind of a big deal in the jazz world? Did you know that Keith Morris developed a cure-all for viruses? (Of course he did!)
Ebersole also recounted some stories about how he collected the interviews of Black Flag members for the book and interviews with people that had the bars tattoo. Apparently, the audio recording of the raw Cadena interview, which was taken while the pair watched the superbowl, has breaks where Cadena shouts at the TV screen, admonishing players for bad plays. Likewise, Ebersole talked about getting some interviews with people who had the tat in Europe.
But, the real event was later that evening at New York's famed Bowery Electric. To salute the book, Cadena and a bunch of hardcore legends put together a once in a lifetime gig. The show opened with Chesty Malone and The-Slice-Em-Ups. While the band’s name leaves something to be desired, their set was actually really rocking. Taking equal parts from Plasmatics, Avengers and Motorhead, the band tore through a wild and rapid set based in snappy riffs. Chesty Malone herself pulled off the careful balancing act of being fierce, tough, and nasty, but still remaining feminine. Punk needs more self-assertive, wild gals.
Then the first of the two main acts. Cadena came out with his band, the Superbas. In order to salute Black Flag, the band played a bunch of songs that influenced Black Flag in its earliest days. Bands of wildly different concept were covered with equal reverence, including the Weirdos, a Hawkwind spinoff group, Wire, and the Minutemen. Throughout the set, Cadena’s guitar playing carried the show. Black Flag conversation often bases itself in discussion of Greg Ginn’s style (and rightfully so) but Cadena’s own style and contributions are understated. Wildly different than Ginn, Cadena’s playing was energetic, sharp, but kept the multi-texture intonation only heard in the soul music family tree. Cadena really snapped down on the Wire and Minutemen covers, making the songs fiery and dangerous. They slipped an original into the set, suggesting that the band has future plans and also did two Black Flag songs, including a Dez vocal version of “Jealous Again. “ As with the FLAG shows earlier this summer, Cadena’s unique vocal dynamite chords exploded out the speaker, making the song sound like a mine-blast while keeping its character.
After that set concluded, an all-star lineup came out to continue paying tribute to Black Flag and the book. Guitarist Todd Youth of Murphy’s Law (AND DANZIG, BABY!) directed the show while the Adolenscents' Steve Soto handled bass and Scissor Sisters' Randy Shrager took the kit. (You could argue that Shrager was an unusual choice, but it’s actually pretty cool in that it shows Black Flag’s influence extends outside the grasp of most of their contemporaries).
The set began with Murphy’s Law ‘s Jimmy Gestabo taking the stage for a fierce rendition of “Nervous Breakdown.” He also took time to fiddle with his shorts and lament that he did not wear a pair of the famous Rollins’ black gym shorts. Quicksand’s Walter Schreifels took the stage for two Black Flag songs and as he whipped his tall, thin frame about the stage, portrayed an influence that was certainly collected by Paint It Black’s Dan Yemin.
Sheer Terror’s Paul Bearer came out and in his trademark bark, exhibited his uniquely wonderful combination of Curly Howard and John Brannon. Drew Stone of Antidote then appeared and ripped through faithful renditions of two Black Flag songs and Rizzo of the Misguided did his first vocal performance in over a decade.
Admiral Grey of Cellular Chaos, who was lesser known than the other participants, made up for the difference by doing an insanely berserk rendition of “My War.” Her version, which borrowed from Lora Norton’s own manic scream and from Ari Up’s unique cadence and expression, was on fire as she whipped herself up and down, moved like a plastic doll, only to lunge forward at the audience like a tiger. Damn! Unfortunately, just as she was singing the last line, a stage diver was flipped over and accidentally delivered a brutal kick to the back of her head and sent her down to the ground. She was a trouper, but you could tell that it hurt. Still, because “My War” is able to be performed in so many incarnations, it just goes to show the genius of the song's composer Chuck Dukowski, who was able to craft a tool with which so many people identify, and can meld into their own unique expression.
However, the most fun part of the set was when Cadena again took the mic for several more Black Flag songs. Backed by Youth’s ripping guitar, Cadena did his own firecracker version of “Rise Above.” It was fitting as Black Flag first did the song with Cadena before Rollins, and also as Morris’ is handling the song on the FLAG tour. As before, Cadena was explosive. But, where Cadena excels is that while his is at once harsh and unrestrained, there is still a certain soul and character lingering behind the blades, which makes the lyrics have a deeper meaning then just “I’m angry.”
Because these songs were so fitting for all the different interpretations, it was clear as to why this music is so herald and also why so may people would affix the band’s image to their own skin. Once you get this music inside of you, you can’t ever get it out.