Saturday, May 31, 2008

Albums You Should Own Pt. II

Black Flag
My War
SST, 1984

Black Flag were formed in SoCal (I can't remember the specific area, and I'm one of those people who refer to everything south of Santa Barbara and north of San Diego as "Los Angeles") in the late 70s by Greg Ginn (who is a cousin or brother of artist Raymond Pettibon, who designed the Black Flag Bars). Their early incarnation featured Circle Jerks singer Keith Morris on vocals, and was straight ahead hardcore. Their 1978 EP Nervous Breakdown is essential early hardcore punk.

They went through a revolving list of singers and musicians before finally settling on a young Henry Rollins, who jumped onstage to sing at a show in DC. Rollins brought his own element of angry, tough-guy alienation to Black Flag, and purists often say he ruined the band. Personally, I was a huge fan of Rollins, and I much prefer Rollins-era Black Flag to the earlier stuff. The band had some label drama after they released 1981's Damage, which resulted in them not being able to put anything out for three years. When the embargo was lifted, they were insanely prolific, putting out SIX albums between March 1984 and October 2005. My War was the first.

The album marked Black Flag's shift from a hardcore punk band to a Sabbath-inspired metal band. The first side of the album contained heavy punk songs, but the entire side two is just three long, slow dirges. Again, purists freaked out. Where were the two minutes blast of angst? Who needs a six minute metal blues jam with Rollins screaming lyrics like "I might be a big baby/But I'll scream in your ear/until I find out just what it is I am doing here?" Well, I did. As a 13-14 year-old, I thrived on Rollin's brand of alienation. The entire lyrics to "My War" are essentially "My war/you're one of them/you say you're my friend/but you're one of them." That is pure teen angst. Fuck my parents! Fuck the popular kids! they're one of them!

I listened to My War endlessly as a teen. It was heavy, it was angry, it was awesome. It had a huge influence on my as a kid, how I viewed others, and how I viewed myself. Music in general, and Black Flag specifically, were this oasis where I could retreat to. They echoed a lot of the feelings I was having, they acted as a surrogate for emotions I couldn't express, and they validated all the dramas and traumas I was going through, from the minor to the major. It's tough being a kid, and being able to look up to these burly older guys who were screaming their heads off was incredibly therapeutic.

I downloaded My War from emusic the other day, and I have to say that while it is still awesomely heavy, the lyrics don't quite move my soul the way they used to. For example: "My life's a piece of shit that got caught in my shoe/and i've been grinding that stick in the dirt for a long time now!" At 14 that sounded awesome, at 33 it's just kind of embarrassing. It's shocking to think that My War is twenty-four years old. It is an album that has loomed large in my life since I first saw its iconic cover in a Cymbaline record store in Capitola circa 1987. It remains one of my favorite album covers of all time. I think Raymond Pettibon's art is genius. I've considered buying a t-shirt of it, but I feel like I'm too old. I still have a soft spot in my heart for My War, and I'm looking forward to burning copies for my nephew when he comes of age. Although hopefully he will be a much better adjusted kid than I was.

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