The Decline Of Western Civilization: Black Flag

the decline of western civilization

Punk rock. I blame Todd Danielson.  In eighth grade, I liked him, and he liked the Ramones. To impress him, I bought the only Ramones album I could find- the soundtrack to Rock and Roll High School, which started me on the Road to Ruin.  We wound up going on two dates: the Ramones at the Henry J. Kaiser, and the Decline of Western Civilization. But that was it, I never talked to Todd again as we went off to different high schools.

The movie introduced me to Black Flag.  The next year I dragged my high school boyfriend, Maury, to the 10th St Hall to see them play- Black Flag, Flipper, the Minutemen and the Stains. I don’t really remember much about the music except that it was loud and fast. We were harassed about our hair and clothes, knowing nothing about the “uniforms” of punk rock. Maury was pretty appalled by the whole experience, and probably hates punk rock to this day. I think he got tired of being dragged to Ingmar Bergman and Andy Warhol films, and eventually we broke up. He later went out with the most normal, boring girl in our class. I don’t blame him for wanting to be with someone who liked romantic comedies and listened to Rick Springfield. You don’t get spit on in that crowd.

black flag at 10th st hall

Then Slip It In came out.  When I met Tom he was seriously into Damaged and the Six pack EP. He was more of a Dez fan; but I loved Henry. I didn’t come to appreciate Dez until years later.  Henry was good looking, he was angry, and his songs were about sexual frustration and hypocrisy, which at the time I responded to more than songs about depression and drugs.

slip it in

So, we loved Black Flag- the band who launched a unique sound, who toured when no one  else did, and who had their own record label.  Short Dogs Grow was just hatching- we had only played one abortive show at the Sound Of Music. Tom had set his height higher and he was a natural salesmen. I was at work when I got the call.

“Mellie, guess who’s playing at the Farm?”

“Who?”

“Black Flag!”

I was excited, I hadn’t seen them with Kira, their new bass player, who also happened to be female ( a phenomenon in the 80s).

“Guess who is opening for them ?”

It had to some other SST bands. “The Descendents? No,wait,  the Meat Puppets?”

“No, Short Dogs Grow is opening for them. We are opening for them. On the same stage. At the Farm.”

I was in shock. Tom had gotten us on the gig- we would not be paid, but WHO CARES WE WERE OPENING FOR BLACK FLAG!

Flag 001

(flyer for the gig, unfortunately we weren’t on it)

We only had about 10 songs at the time. At the gig, we got through about 8 of them by jumping around and making lots of noise. I took a few too many steps backyards and wound up falling down the back stairs of the stage. I was lying in a heap, bass on top of me, and discovered I had pulled all the electronics out. The only other person back there was Greg Ginn. He walked over towards me, looked down at the bass, and said one word.

“Bummer.”

Mortified, I ran back up the stairs. The band went on to play the last two songs without me. I was heartbroken, but later all our drunk friends (i.e. the only people who had been there to see us) said we were great. Needless to say, we didn’t get signed to SST that night.

We did get signed later to Rough Trade and did a few U.S. tours. By then Henry Rollins had left Black Flag and put together the Rollins band. We played with them a few times.  They guys in his band were fun and friendly when Rollins was not around. Greg Foot even managed to get them to drink a beer with him (not cool in the Rollins camp.) Rollins would sit in his van and do bicep curls, and kids would ask him for his autograph.  Apparently I once ran into the backstage while Rollins was completely naked, but I didn’t get to see who had the 9 and 1/2.

rool 001

We played a certain club in Florida which looked like the set of a Blues Brother’s movie. The stage was completely encased in chicken wire, spurring jokes about  “both kinds of music, Country and Western!” The promoter called for a meeting with all band members present. He told us that this was the last space in this town that would let him, or anyone else, put on shows. He understood the lameness of the chicken wire, but that was club policy, and he had put down a huge deposit.  Under no circumstances was anyone to fuck with the wire.  If anyone messed with the wire NO ONE, REPEAT NO ONE, WOULD BE PAID THAT NIGHT.  Most of us were starving on the road. It really was “36 dollars and a six pack to my name.” The promoter was cool- so we were cool.  The Dough Boys opened and they were cool. M.I.A were cool. The Descendents were cool.

Rolling gets on stage and about three notes in, he takes his fist and smashes it through the wire. My heart sank. As cool as it looked, I knew we would be leaving with no money that night, and we were broke. Most likely one of us would be calling home for cash.  By the end of his set, Rollins had pulled down the entire cage.

While I was packing up the remains of our stuff, Tom handed me an envelope with something like a $100 in it,  BIG MONEY in those days. The promoter had paid him, and one of the Dough Boys. He said we were cool, had nothing to do with Rollins’ actions and shouldn’t be punished for the Decline of “Country and Western!” Civilization. The rest of the money was going to the club to play for the chicken coop, and an attempt to save punk rock for the youth of Florida.

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