Somewhere I have an old issue of Flipside from 1982 that featured a comic strip I found so memorable then that, of course, I still remember it. I can't recall the author of it but the strip featured a middle-aged dad sitting in front of the TV on a weekend night. This strip was set in the future; I don't recall the year, but we're close to whatever it was now. One scene shows his teenage kids dressed in Jetsons-style clothes. "We're going to Venus to hear some Space Rock," they inform him as they head out for the evening.
The dad grumbles something about, "kids today" and their "weird music" when one of those "Special TV Only" commercials comes on. The product is "The Best of Black Flag." "Hear Keith, Chavo, Dez, and Henry sing their greatest hits," it says. The next scene shows the dad sitting up in his chair and saying, "Honey, bring me a pencil!" I don't recall the rest of the strip, but I think the reason that this comic stayed with me is, that at the wise-old age of nineteen, I was absolutely sure that there would never be any punk nostalgia. My first hardcore purchase was Black Flag's Jealous Again in the spring of 1981 and as I delved further into the scene I found the music to be the most intense, anti-commercial, and dangerous-sounding stuff that I had heard since I'd been listening to punk, which, at this point, would have been a whopping two years. Mags like Rolling Stone and Musician gave good press to bands like The Clash, whereas they wouldn't cover hardcore punk at all, except in the form of a couple of articles that wrote off the entire scene in what I felt were gross misrepresentations. It was hard for me to imagine at that time what the future held for punk music and its then audience. The overwhelming negativity that the rest of the populace treated it with made me feel that punk nostalgia would never amount to much in future years.
As we all know, punk nostalgia is a very potent force on the scene nowadays. Obscure bands from 1977 to 1982 get more attention than good, new bands who need our support right now to keep going. Punk purists seem to crave authenticity or perhaps they just over-romanticize an era as a form of social (or anti-social) exclusivity, as in, "I was there and you weren't," or, "I wasn't there but I've got all the rare records from there." I mean, if it was recorded in an eight-track studio in Lincoln, NE in 1978 with a singer called Johnny Two Teeth, those collector dudes just know it's more authentic than New Mexican Disaster Squad.
Speaking of New Mexican Disaster Squad, I saw them play a great show along with Strike Anywhere to about fifty people at this same club on a Wednesday night a few months ago. I've been listening to NMDS's Abrasive Repulsive Disorder CD this week and thinking just how much some of those old Black Flag fans would appreciate a song like "Born and Razed." It could be considered a classic in 2023, but maybe the then old geezers (hey, I'll be one too) will just want to hear "Six Pack" for the thousandth time.
I wanted to state all of that up front because I don't have a problem with old punks doing their old songs; I just want to stress how important I think it is to listen equally to the new punks doing their new songs.
So, on what was billed as an "all proceeds go to the defense fund for the West Memphis 3" show, Keith Morris and Henry Rollins sang nothing but Black Flag songs. I hadn't heard the benefit CD that came out last year featuring these guys, but I was interested in the show. I wasn't all that interested in Henry; I'm old enough to remember when Henry was the "new Black Flag singer" and he was never my favorite. That probably would have been Dez, but in recent years I've grown more fond of Keith. Maybe his adult onset diabetes played on my sympathies a bit, such as when I learned that he was too sick to play a short set with The Circle Jerks at the Forming exhibit in L.A. in 1999. Since 2001, he's been touring with them again so, obviously, he's doing better. They were supposed to play the Carolinas then, but cancelled the last three dates of their tour and it never materialized. Of course, there's another breed of punk purists who would have a problem with The Circle Jerks charging fifteen dollars for their shows (I believe that is what the ticket price was here for their cancelled shows). On one level I understand their point, but, like Keith, I have a health condition that has to be monitored. Unlike Keith, I have a job that provides me health insurance and my band can go play someone's house on the weekend for twenty bucks. If I wanted to tour the country and keep my health insurance, twenty dollars a night wouldn't cut it.
This fifteen dollar-advance-ticket show began with AntiSeen. I've known these guys a long time and have appeared as a guest on one of their albums (Noise for the Sake of Noise) so I can't exactly review them without personal biases coming into play. I will say that I haven't followed them as closely in recent years, but back in 1989-1991 they were one of my favorites. Tonight, they concentrated on songs from their earlier records, perhaps thinking that the old-timers who rarely go to shows anymore would be there and they were right. They got a good response and were given more time than opening bands are usually allowed on big shows like this one. I'd say that there were between 600-700 people in the club by the time The Rollins Band went on.
For me, the highlight of the night was when Keith came out and did his twenty to twenty-five minute set. When he came onstage, he simply said, "This is The Rollins Band and my name is Keith," before performing a ripping "Nervous Breakdown." I believe he did all of the songs from that first Black Flag EP and most of Jealous Again, except for the title song which Henry took and "White Minority," which neither singer must have felt necessary in 2003. Keith also did "Depression" and "Gimme Gime Gimme," but not "Police Story" or "Clocked In" (the latter two taken care of by Henry). His set was too short for my tastes, but the highlight of the night nonetheless.
The Rollins Band are the crack musicians you would expect, with the guitarist doing his best to ape Greg Ginn. Once Henry came on stage, he seemed to lack something; whether his voice hadn't warmed up yet or he wasn't feeling well I don't know. The early songs that he did seemed to lack the fire that Keith had stoked. However, by the time that Henry got to later songs such as "I Can't Decide," "My War," and "Black Coffee," either the professional or the old punk in him took over and he definitely turned it up a few notches. As I had to be at work at seven a.m. the next day, I left when Henry came back for an encore. He stated something about this being one of his favorite songs and the band launched into "Damaged I," which was never one of my favorites. Had it been "Damaged II," I might have stuck around. The next day I learned that they also played "Modern Man" and the Ramones' "Gimme, Gimme Shock Treatment" for the rest of the encore.
So, yes, I had a good time at my night of punk nostalgia. I'd also love to see the Circle Jerks on tour this summer. I'm also hoping that I'll see more familiar, slightly wrinkled faces the next time New Mexican Disaster Squad plays here, but I'm not holding my breath. You should really check them out, along with Strike Anywhere, if you haven't seen or heard them as well. I play the one Strike Anywhere album I own a lot. Now, if you'll excuse me I have to book my flight to Venus. There's a big Space Rock Festival coming up soon that I don't want to miss.