Hardcore Wednesdays: Black Flag
It seemed like too obvious a choice to launch Hardcore Wednesdays with Black Flag, but fuck it. I recently dusted off my copy of Henry Rollins’ personal memoirs, Get In The Van and I couldn’t think of a more appropriate pick than Black Flag‘s 1981, 3-song E.P., Six Pack to kick off this weekly series. When Black Flag first made the trek to the UK in 1981, Six Pack was the latest release circulating abroad. This was before the debut LP, Damaged would hit streets several months later via SST and quickly climb the ranks. This E.P. also featured Dez Cadena (guitarist) on vocals and would soon see Rollins go on to perform them live as he he joined the band shortly thereafter. Reagan had just been elected President of the US and was rolling out a hard-right capitalist agenda. An upswell of fascist sentiments would see Nazi skinheads crash a number of Black Flag shows throughout the UK tour with ensuing violence. The subsequent travels would mirror the strong feelings of isolation and angst recorded on the Six Pack 7″ E.P. particularly tracks “I’ve Heard it Before” and “American Waste”, while seeing the band deal with the cold, hunger, downtime, and near constant stream of violence from both agitators and comrades alike.
Henry Rollins described the first leg of the trip stating:
We were miserable. There was not a lot of money for food and we were hungry and cold all the time. We all sat on the floor and watched Greg practice scales for hours. Time passed slowly and it was depressing as hell. It was the first time I had to do deal with the downtime of touring. It’s the endless hours of nothing that can crush you harder than the rigors of playing…Finally we got to play in Manchester. We spent all our remaining doe on petrol just to make the drive. We find out we’re playing with a band called Chelsea, a well-known English punk rock band. For some reason Black Flag was headlining. I smelled trouble immediately. We didn’t even have an album out there yet, just the Six Pack single. We were headlining? Someone, somewhere was going to be really pissed off. The dressing room was huge and was to be used by all the bands on the bill that night. I fall asleep on the floor next to the wall, out of the way of everything and everyone. Fine. I am woken up by a boot in my ribs. I grab my side and look up and there’s Gene October, the singer in Chelsea. ‘Excuse me Los Angeles, sorry bout’ that- I just tripped over you.’ Yeah right. I go back to sleep, I get woken up by the same boot. ‘Oh. Los Angeles, so sorry.’ I remain cool being the only Flag member in the room, which is now full of Chelsea and crew. The Prick- he starts talking to me, ‘You really don’t have much good music in America- do you Los Angeles?’ The Dickies and the Ramones? I mean they are a load of shit aren’t they Los Angeles? What a drag. I had two Chelsea records at home. I just stare and nod my head. I was hoping I’d get to talk to the guy about all the bands he’s played in over the years and what his band is up to seeing as I am a bit of a fan- this is hard to take. Hours later Chelsea is on stage and old Gene is talking to the crowd in between songs, ‘There’s some long-haired hippies in the crowd from Los Angeles tonight. It’s Black Flag. I want you to get them.’ The crowd cheers. Me and Ian [MacKaye] walk into the crowd smiling and waving saying ‘Here we are motherfuckers! Come and get us!’ No one came and got us. Not one. Personally I was kind of hoping one or five of them would have so I could have had the pleasure of taking nine days of misery out on one of their faces. Finally we get to play. This kids in the crowd were really cool. I thought we were doing alright. This one boy kept spitting on me for the whole set and I didn’t do anything about it. I was trying to be cool with these people. The spitting thing was just too much for old Ian [MacKaye]. he walked up and smacked the guy upside his head. After that the entire audience took a few steps back. I apologized for Ian’s actions even though I thought what he did was right on. – Get In The Van