"What Black Flag Means to Me"
by Editors' Picks

Black Flag week is rolling along now! For today's feature, we asked a bunch of artists about how Black Flag affected them… for better or for worse… We talked to Jack Terricloth, Ara from the Slackers, Jarrett of Screaming Females, 50% of Bad Cop/Bad Cop, Chris from Crazy and the Brains, and a whole bunch more! Check out what a lot of really cool musicians had to say about those four bars below!

Jack Terricloth of World/Inferno Friendship Society

"Everyone I have ever been friends with has the black flag bars tattooed somewhere on their person. Arms, sure, back of the neck, one on the cheek, biceps, some covered up with ghosts or gnomes on fire! I am a firm believer that the tribal tattoo craze of the nineties was largely caused by people trying to cover up bad tats with wide swaths of ink, and underneath them all; four bars which are supposed to represent a flag, a black flag, waving in the wind over a battlefield under the rockets red glare. I have never been in any line up of any band in which at least one person did not have the bars on their skin. I understand they also put out some records. check them out. Don’t start with “Family Man” though, left me a very confused 14 year old. This is Hardcore Punk? Alright, here we go. Thanks fellas."

Gazelle Amber Valentine of Jucifer

"The first time I heard Black Flag was around 1984. It was the 'Nervous Breakdown' EP. I immediately loved the aggression, the riffs, and the lyrics that were basically everything I felt as a teen --- cynical, trapped, angry and broken, yet still hanging on to a sense of humor. Luckily for me this band with the perfect name, logo, sound, art, and attitude had already released most of their albums. I collected 'em all ASAP.

Living pre-internet and in rural east coast territory I knew little about lineup changes, disputes or even the scene Black Flag came from, but their records helped me survive hard years. And unlike a lot of music that carries nostalgia but became unappealing through the lens of adulthood, theirs remains as solid, cathartic, and fun-within-its-hostility for me as it was 30+ years ago. My War forever and ever amen."

Emma of Natterers

"For me, Black Flag was one of a few ‘gateway’ bands to the more ‘underground’ punk and hardcore bands, old and new. The distinctive Pettibon logo, frequently popping up on t-shirts and tattoos of slightly older people at the Green Day and Rancid gigs I went to as a teenager, was my first connection with Black Flag. Being introduced to the concept of a DIY punk scene by researching the band behind the logo, and the scene they were part of, I discovered it was all still happening! There was much more to music than what the mainstream media told me and I found a thriving DIY punk/hardcore scene in the city I was living in (Leeds, UK). Personally, I do prefer pre-Rollins Black Flag – the songs, the sound, the vocals (especially Keith Morris’). A gnarly, fucked up Ramones. ‘Nervous Breakdown’ is my favourite Black Flag record. I do, however, have a lot of respect for Rollins-era Black Flag for breaking the’ punk rock mould’ – constantly evolving, slowing it all down, being darker and more experimental – I bet it pissed off a lot of the punks at the time! However, I love a whole load of musical genres but I’m pretty particular within them…. And when punk starts getting mixed up with metal, and jazz, I start to struggle a bit.

In Natterers, we have frequent discussions about ‘WHO WAS THE BEST BLACK FLAG VOCALIST?!’ (..it’s Keith). John (drums) absolutely loves Rollins. Thomas (guitar) and John are both getting the logo tattooed in a few weeks and were (half) joking about getting ‘Keith’ and ‘Henry’ alongside their respective new ink….

Love, hate or be indifferent to them, Black Flag have all the ingredients for iconic band status - genre-defining, idiosyncratic logo and artwork, charismatic and outspoken members, band bust-ups, court cases, multiple line-up changes, controversy and musical experimentation. I saw Flag last year at Rebellion Festival in Blackpool, UK and they did not disappoint. Keith and Dez were particularly amazing?"

Chris Urban of Crazy and the Brains

"I love Black Flag.The music is very necessary. This level of honest and urgent expression will always be necessary. These guys seemed to be one of the only few punk bands who listened to music other than punk. Every album was a step into an alternate universe almost completely unrecognizable from the last. A journey outside of your comfort zone. No matter what the shape of the sound you could always rely on the FEELING. The emotional energy on every record was constant. Without Black Flag there would have been no Nirvana.There is no grunge without Black Flag. Without grunge there would have been no motivation for nerds in the 90s to get up in the morning. Without nerds from the 90s continuing to get up in the morning there would be no current employees at Guitar Center. Guitar Center owes Black Flag some big fucking money.

Black Flag has had an influence on just as many shitty bands as they have great bands and this proves they are legendary. You cant even really wear a Black Flag t-shirt anymore. It's kinda like wearing a Beatles t shirts or something. Its obvious. We all know they are GOAT's. In some sections of the indie scene its become cool to announce your distaste for the band. come on BRUH! Tell me you don't like Black Flag or The Ramones and I immediately see right through you. GOODBYE!

When I put on a Black Flag record I follow it up with a NWA record every time. It just puts me in that mood.It gets my blood boiling and lights a fire in my brain. Revolutionary music does this.

Pharrell is a fan of Black Flag and he produced over 20 + platinum records so really what more is there to say. The man knows whats good. Black Flag is good."

Adam Davis of Gnarboots / Link 80

"When Gnarboots did a string of shows with the Minibosses in 2012, we decided to close every show with a dual-band cover of "Rise Above". Every night, it was like setting off a bomb in the venue. That song has the ability to take the most laid back uninvolved crowd and turn them into an energetic slam dancing, finger-pointing, singing-every-word audience. Also, around that same time, we played a show with Greg Ginn, who sipped a glass of red wine through our whole set. He told us we reminded him of the Minutemen."

Linh of Bad Cop/Bad Cop

"Black Flag… what can ! say… they introduced me to the punk rock world. I wouldn't be where I'm at if i had never listened to Damaged!

Alex Knudson of Hiccup

How am I supposed to get into a band that has four different lead singers, and everyone has a different opinion over which was the best one? I don't have the patience for this. Good name though!!"

Ara Babjian of the Slackers

"I love Black Flag because they sound like depression feels. They just don't fit in. They are at war with everything, all the time. I love that Greg Ginn's guitar sounds like murder, like he's stabbing Henry Rollins and Chuck Dukowski to death. I love the sheer fascist will to self in songs like Rise Above and Damaged. I love that Slip It In is so perversely euphoric. I love that Black Coffee is so committed to its own philosophy. I love that nothing is ever taken lightly with this band. Even when they try to inject levity into the situation with songs like TV Party and Six Pack, I don't believe them. When a bunch of manic depressives try to be funny it just comes out sounding awkward and weird. I don't want Black Flag to be funny. I want them to burn the motherfucker down. Forever."

Morgan Enos of Other Houses and Medium Mystic

"Forget hardcore crews and Hermosa Beach. Maybe I’m crazy, but I think Black Flag secretly wrote pop songs, like the Beatles, and that’s what made them special. Get beyond the shaved-head bravado, and “Rise Above” and “Nervous Breakdown are a two-minute songs that are absolutely fat-free. This isn’t to deny that there’s a real, confrontational element to this music… Greg Ginn’s guitar is like Ornette Coleman’s sax wrapped in barbed wire, and Henry Rollins’ lyrics stake an “us vs. them” situation that feels terrifyingly real even if I’m just calmly sitting in my Williamsburg apartment with the cats.

Their sound still makes me feel powerful, like I have a baseball bat against the hypocrites and naysayers. But, what I take away is the economy. They weren’t perfect – a lot of their post-Damaged songbook fell prey to lyrical clunkers, inexcusably stupid album covers and often just one turkey after another. But just from a compositional point of view, hearing their strongest songs speak their piece and then peace out, Black Flag makes me less want to stage a police coup than tell my best girl that I wanna hold her hand."

Brian Walsby of Davidians and Manchild comic series

"At some point last year, I was very much looking forward to seeing Flag play in Virginia Beach. Not necessarily because I was going to Virginia Beach of course. That place is pretty weird, and I went with three other guys, one of which grew up there (he confirmed that yeah, it is a weird place for some reason) and couldn’t believe it that I was going to witness this set, and that I was finally going to get a chance to see these five guys, some of them who I knew a little bit, some I met but didn’t really know..but still! These five guys certainly had an influence on me, four of them actually were in Black Flag at various points of their history and the other one (Stephen Egerton) I had known a little bit and who is a very creative guitarist who certainly studied the guitar work of BF founder Greg Ginn a lot. So this was going to be cool. Black Flag changed my life. They were and are, one of my favorite bands ever. Plus they were selling t-shirts of some of the art I had drawn and one of them was getting me in the show for free! You combine that with the hopeful prospect of being able to say hi and shoot the shit, and you have a pretty cool evening in the horizon.

Then we got there. The audience were mostly full of the kind of people who say “bro!” a lot. Do you know what I mean? And there wasn’t going to be any meeting up with anyone when I took a good look at everyone in this weird packed strange club. There is no way any of those guys are going to come out and fetch me, because that would mean that whoever it was would have to get cornered by someone saying something like, “Bro! It is Keith Fucking Morris!” or whatever. Hell, if I was in Flag I would NEVER leave the backstage area if it meant being cornered by some excitable sketchy bro-like person. So I was on my own.

Suddenly the band got ready. Stephen saw me and said, “I thought you were coming tomorrow in Asheville!” Nope. Tonight. Chuck Dukowski and Dez Cadena got on their guitars and Bill marched behind his Robo type new drum kit. Keith took the microphone. The audience was ready and so was I.

“It’s not my imagination. I got a gun on my back!”

Stephen kicked off “Revenge”. The audience reacted. I soon got a crash course in feeling really old and not with the program at all. It wasn’t at all Flag’s fault. I just mostly hated the audience so much, most of which were showing off and being very “punk”. It was everything I had spent thirty plus years hating about punk rock. People getting on and off the stage, people stage diving and insisting that they were the show, and not the band. Yeah, I am glad you know the lyrics to “Fix Me” and “Jealous Again”, everyone knows those songs. My mother does too. Whatever. I soon retreated to the back just like any self-respecting person of “elder stature” would have done. I thought to myself, “These people are ruining the show!” Which of course sounds just like an old square who was threatened by the good time that everyone else had. Holy shit! I have turned into an old square.

It stayed punk even when Keith gave the mike to Dez and he sang his songs. I just sat back and marveled at my own weird feelings of seeing some of the people that changed my life all of those years ago, and having to feel conflicted over it because I just couldn’t enjoy the show with the “bro” thing hanging over the event like a thick cloud.

In fact, afterwards I was so bummed out that I didn’t even stick around to say hello. It was the weirdest feeling. I never even got one of those t-shirts! Talk about being conflicted. I let an audience ruin my good time seeing music! That never would have happened when I was younger. But I guess I am not young anymore and there is a difference.

I would like to once again stress that the band played great. I just wasn’t in a position to enjoy it, and that felt really…strange.

Everyone else I went with had a great time.

I also thought about how NONE of audience reaction would have had happened if somehow FLAG would have suddenly morphed into some of Black Flag’s alienating non punk later period recordings. What would have happened if the five guys onstage broke into “Rats Eyes” or “Three Nights” or ANYTHING from “The Process of Weeding Out?” Well, just like all of those years ago, the punkers would have hated it, stayed far away and it would have suddenly been a far different vibe. But of course most of the guys in Flag didn’t have a lot to do with that period or that stuff. But it would have been interesting, that is for sure.

I should have waited till the next night and saw them in Asheville North Carolina instead."

Myra of Bad Cop/Bad Cop

"Black Flag are pioneers punk and DYI ethic and huge influence on me growing up!"

Jarrett D of Screaming Females

"Nervous Breakdown is obviously the best Black Flag release. Besides that I've never really been partial to Damaged even though that's supposed to be THEE album. For Rollin's era Black Flag I prefer Slip It In except that the title track makes my skin crawl. Also I would be remiss if I didn't mention What the… which has some of the most iconic album artwork of all time."

Chris Candy of Chotto Ghetto

"Black Flag . They are the Hardcore scene's jam band, with so many different members floating in and out of the band, but always to be anchored by the one nasty guitar tone, Greg Ginn. I am a fan of this band, from the early Keith Morris days to even the post Damaged era, and yes I mean the In My Head era Black Flag. The band is drama, I can remember excitedly waiting for another post to pop up on my Facebook feed regarding the Flag and Black Flag controversy. It may as well have been an episode of reality television. The artwork , well that goes with out saying, Pettibon set a tone for punk rock flier work that has been copied and stolen time and time again. Love the band or hate them all I am here to say is that they are one of Hardcores most interesting stories. Even if you cant stand seeing yet another meat head at the gig with a Black Flag Bars tattoo on his arm and and IPA in his hand."

Leora Colby of Thulsa Doom

"My gateway to punk rock was not through Black Flag. And I should add, I did not have the luxury of YouTube or Blogs to guide my journey. At an early age, I stumbled upon UK ’82 punk and developed my taste through bands like The Exploited, Chaos UK, Vice Squad and so on. When I was finally introduced to hardcore, it had already become something completely un-punk, full of macho tough guys with boring haircuts and clean clothes. Not my scene at all. As I delved into American punk I foolishly avoided anything that was labeled as hardcore, which included bands like Cro-Mags, Agnostic Front, Warzone and yes, Black Flag. My first impression of Black Flag was defined by the ultimate tough guy, Henry Rollins. I still don’t like him and for the longest time, he was the reason why I didn’t give Black Flag a fair listen. It wasn’t until I heard “Nervous Breakdown” that I ever gave them a chance, and honestly I thought it was a Circle Jerks song at first.

In those days, if I wanted to hear a band I needed to find the record or CD or someone that would play it for me. What made Black Flag stand out was its accessibility; those bars were everywhere. And so was SST, the record label that really put American Punk on the map. Whether you like Black Flag or not, it is an undeniable fact that they are essential to punk history. Black Flag toured extensively during punk’s infancy and helped to inspire a DIY punk movement across the country. Not to mention the opportunities for independent bands to be heard thanks to SST having faith in their music and releasing material for future greats such as Minutemen, Dicks, Husker Du and Saint Vitus just to name a few.

To make a long story short, you don’t have to like Black Flag to respect them. That being said, I’m a “First Four Years” kinda punk and Rollins can stuff his ego in a sack."

Monty Messex of DFL

"Halloween, 1979. I was a 16 year old snot nosed skater. I hated life. I felt like shit. We pulled up on the Hong Kong Café. Me, Taz and Drew, my first punk gig. I’d never seen punks before, they looked as bad as I felt, fuck - I was home. Black Flag, Chinas Comidas, Fear and the Germs playing a Halloween gig at the Hong Kong Café. The Hong Kong smelled like sweat, beer and Chinese food. Black Flag opened, Keith Morris was crammed into one of those cheap dime store Spider Man costumes; you know the ones they make for little kids. From behind his plastic mask he spit out lyrics that hit me hard; Nervous Breakdown, Wasted, Fix Me. FIX ME. Keith writhed on the beer soaked floor. Punks pogoed, almost touching the Hong Kong’s low Chinese ceiling. Black Flag raged." I never looked back.