Mental illness bears a crushing social stigma in our society, even
within the supposedly open-minded underground/punk scene. In contrast, Black
Flag’s My War album brandishes the ugliness and desperation of mental
illness like a knife in the listeners face, leaving no option for escape. With
the same brutal honesty, author Kurt Morris (any relation to Keith?) dissects
the dark and deranged lyrics (and music) of the Black Flag album and uses them
to mirror his own struggles with mental illness, helping to derail the commonly
While lauding the fearless sincerity of the lyrics on Black Flag’s album, Morris uses the same tell-all policy to share his stories of mental health emergencies, some of which could be considered candid. The author’s story of an emotional breakdown following a failed attempt at communicating his feelings to his friends by playing them a song by “emo-hardcore” band Boy Sets Fire is shared with the same gravity as the story ending with blood-soaked floors. Morris’s tales toggle between serious mental illness and what might seem like standard teenage depression (that’s mid-thirties depression in “punk time”), making them easily relatable.
The nine chapters of Morris’s book correspond in sequence to the songs on the album. Lyrics and analysis of each song, including some quotes from the band members, are followed by a story from Morris’s life that he ties in with the lyrics. Yes, I was expecting more of a direct link between the album content and mental illness, but the author does a fantastic job of capturing the same emotional turmoil without making the reader feel like they’ve been pinned in a corner by a totally insane muscleman bearing more than a passing resemblance to a buff Charles Manson on a violent LSD freak-out. Additionally, this is the second book I’ve reviewed in the last year in which the author mentions unlimited breadsticks at Olive Garden.
In the pilot episode of The Sopranos, the protagonist/anti-hero, Tony Soprano, tries to convince his new psychiatrist that he doesn’t need help: “Could I be happier? Yeah. Yeah. Who couldn’t?” This kind of dismissal of mental health issues (even within ourselves) is the prevalent attitude in our society and in our subculture. This is where Morris’s work in My War really stands out: by using the backdrop of the Black Flag album and by telling stories that are both familiar and relatable, Morris reminds us that mental illness is a problem faced by many of our friends, our loved ones, and ourselves.
The true beauty of some of the best rock’n’roll albums, albums like My War, is that they become our secret friends—friends that we can relate to on some level when we can’t talk to those around us about how we feel without fearing some level of shame or rejection. –Buddha (kurtmorris.net/mywar)