In the punk rock arena, there are three bands that are revered above all others as trail blazers, bands that called it quits way to early: Minor Threat, The Misfits and Black Flag. Ian Mackaye has made it perfectly clear that Minor Threat will never reform (after almost 30 years of inactivity, he’s kept his word). With fits & starts, The Misfits have limped along in one form or another since their inception. It would be kind to refer to their line up as “fluid”, as I’m pretty sure there’s only one original member, and it ain’t Glen Danzig.
And there in lies the problem: I’m pretty sure most of us have been suckered into spending our hard earned coin on a “reunion” of a beloved band that we were SO sure would be worth it – only to find out that there was one lone original member. I can recall schlepping down to CBGB to see “Sham 69”, only to find out that it was Jimmy Pursey And A Bunch Of Unknown Guys Doing Sham 69 songs. Yeeeech!
Which brings us to Black Flag. Founded by Greg Ginn in 1976, they pretty much wrote the book on hardcore punk, indie rock & the DIY ethic that carries on to this day. There have been 15 members of Black Flag over the years: six drummers, five bass players, three vocalists and two guitar players (Dez Cadena is the rare Flagger who both sang and played guitar, though not at the same time). Their live shows defined hard core aggression, and they were the very first West Coast punk band to venture out of state to bring their sound to other parts of the country. And tour they did: under the Henry Rollins regime, they toured with a dedication scarcely seen since. How many OTHER bands have played New Haven, CT and NYC on the same night?? They were truly legendary, though they burned bright and faded very quickly during their final years. The tension between Rollins & Ginn was matched by Ginn’s uncanny ability to alienate & ultimately break down new members. When Ginn quit the band in August 1986, he effectively ended Black Flag forever.
Or had he? There were a few attempts at reunions over the past ten years or so, but never with Ginn. The closest that Rollins came to doing anything resembling a BF reunion was when he did some shows with singer Keith Morris to promote the “Rise Above: 24 Black Flag Songs to Benefit the West Memphis Three” project. Rollins had moved onto being an actor and stand up comic/spoken word/serious guy. He (thankfully) pulled the plug on The Rollins Band and gave up music for good. Ginn stubbornly maintained the SST record label, refusing to remaster or re release the BF catalog. Rollins grudgingly gave Ginn props as being a relentless task master when it came to being a band leader, but it was clear that there was no love lost between the two. The band supposedly played the exact same set list for their entire nine month final tour.
Now comes word of not one but TWO Black Flag reunions this summer. The first to be announced was a band named Flag, which is booked to play Belgium, Germany and Las Vegas. This band consists of Chuck Dukowski on bass, Bill Stevenson on drums, Keith Morris on vocals and Stephen Egerton of The Descendents on guitar. Chuck and Keith were both in the earliest version of BF, while Stevenson drummed with them for three years before heading back to The Descendents (Ginn supposedly forced him out of BF). Seemingly almost out of a sense of retaliation, Greg Ginn decided to get the band back together on HIS terms: Black Flag is playing the Hevy Music Festival in the U.K. in August. This line up will be Greg Ginn on guitar, Ron Reyes on vocals (only the second person to man the mic for BF) and Gregory Moore on drums. Moore drums for Gone, another Ginn project, though Ginn remains the lone original member of THAT band. See a pattern developing?? So far, no bass player has been named for this version of BF, though Dukowski’s name was floated around for a while.
The punk rock world on the World Wide Interwebs is all abuzz with “which version of BF is better” and “which version would YOU rather see?” As a die hard BF fan, I‘ll take a pass on BOTH bands. First, neither band will be playing here in the NYC/NJ area so it doesn’t matter much to me. Even if they were to play across the street, I don’t know how much enthusiasm I could muster to see either one. To me, Ginn’s fractured metallic guitar playing is the heart and soul of the band. The very first BF I saw was with Cadena on the mic, the other dozen or so were with Rollins. It WOULD be kinda cool to see Morris singing all those songs, I must admit. There was always a revolving door at the drummers chair, and let’s face it, being a bass player for BF was never too tough a gig, so the rhythm section doesn’t matter much to me either.
So honestly, as excited as I am over the prospect of one of my all-time favorite bands reuniting, they really AREN’T reuniting. Instead, two aging groups of former BF members are going to be hitting the road, bashing out classic West Coast punk rock classics to audiences of people who could easily be their children (or grandchildren, in Ginn’s case). If you want to go see them, be my guest. I’ve been burned too often by phony “reunion” shows, and I’ll bet you have been too. Instead I’ll stay home & regale you all with my “I was punk rock before you were even BORN” stories. Hit me up, I’ve got a TON of ‘em……
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