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Music / Black Flag

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Black Flag is an American Hardcore Punk band formed in 1976 in California. The band was established largely as the brainchild of Greg Ginn, guitarist, primary songwriter and sole continuous member through multiple personnel changes. They are widely considered to be one of the first bands of their genre.

Black Flag forged a unique sound early on that mixed the raw simplicity of The Ramones with atonal guitar solos and frequent tempo shifts. The band was also known for the intense and evocative lyrics found in their songs, most of which were penned by Ginn. Like other punk bands of this era, Black Flag gave voice to an anti-authoritarian, non-conformist message, featuring songs punctuated with descriptions of isolation, neurosis, poverty, and paranoia, themes that would be explored further when Henry Rollins became lead singer in 1981. Most of the band's material was released on Ginn's independent label, SST Records.

Black Flag was, and remains, well respected among their underground culture, with their influence primarily in their tireless promotion of a self-controlled DIY ethic and aesthetic. They are often regarded as pioneers in the movement of underground do-it-yourself record labels that flourished among the 1980s punk rock bands. Through seemingly constant touring throughout the United States and Canada, and occasionally Europe, Black Flag established an extremely dedicated fan base. Many other musicians would follow Black Flag's lead and book their own tours, utilizing a word-of-mouth network.

Over the course of the 1980s, Black Flag's sound, as well as their notoriety, evolved in ways that alienated much of their early punk audience. As well as being central to the creation of hardcore, they were part of the first wave of American West Coast punk rock and are considered a key influence on the punk subculture. Along with being among the earliest punk rock groups to incorporate elements and the influence of heavy metal melodies and rhythm (particularly in their later records), there were often overt freestyles, free jazz, breakbeat and contemporary classical elements in their sound, especially in Ginn's guitar playing, and the band interspersed records and performances with instrumentals throughout their career. They also played longer, slower, and more complex songs at a time when many bands in their milieu stuck to a raw, fast, three-chord format. As a result, their extensive discography is more stylistically varied than many of their punk rock contemporaries. Their later, sludgier, metal-influenced material in particular was cited as an influence by Grunge bands.

In 2013, Black Flag reunited with Ron Reyes after over twenty years of not performing to mixed reviews from the punk community, with their newest album What The... being widely hated by fans. Another group emerged in 2013, consisting of ex-Black Flag members, simply titled FLAG. Greg Ginn sued almost immediately, however the courts ruled in FLAG's favor, citing the fact that people can distinguish between Ginn's band and the band led by people Greg had kicked out as the reason why they ruled in their favor. Regardless, Ginn continues to tour with Black Flag to this day, with several hired guns performing on bass and drums, and pro skateboarder Mike Vallely (who literally fired Reyes onstage) on vocals.

The pre-Henry Rollins Black Flag is featured prominently in 1981 Rockumentary The Decline of Western Civilization.


  • Nervous Breakdown (EP, 1979)
  • Jealous Again (EP, 1980)
  • Six Pack (EP, 1981)
  • Damaged (studio, 1981)
  • TV Party (EP, 1982)
  • My War (studio, 1984)
  • Family Man (studio, 1984)
  • Slip It In (studio, 1984)
  • Live '84 (live, 1984)
  • Loose Nut (studio, 1985)
  • The Process of Weeding Out (EP, 1985)
  • In My Head (studio, 1985)
  • Minuteflag (EP with Minutemen, 1986)
  • Who's Got the 10 ½? (live, 1986)
  • Annihilate This Week (EP, 1987)
  • I Can See You (EP, 1989)
  • Live at the On Broadway 1982 (live, 2010)
  • What The... (studio, 2013)

"TV Trope party tonight! TV Trope party tonight!":

  • Album Cover Designers: Raymond Pettibon's artwork, used between My War and In My Head for studio albums as well as all of their EPs, remains iconic among punk rock fans.
  • The Alcoholic/Alcohol-Induced Idiocy: "Six Pack," "Thirsty and Miserable"
  • Bifauxnen: Bassist Kira Roessler. Often the only thing gave it away was her affinity for wearing dresses on stage (and even then mostly for shock value) during concerts.
  • Careful with That Axe: A lot of their songs their songs have this, most notably the last chorus of "My War".
  • The Cover Changes the Meaning: They completely rewrote "Louie Louie" into an Anti-Love Song:
    "This pain in my heart
    It just means I'm not very smart

    Who needs love when you've got a gun?
    Who needs love to have any fun?"
  • Darker and Edgier: Ginn said that after Rollins joined, "We couldn't do songs with a sense of humour anymore note ; he got into the serious way-out poet thing."
  • Disproportionate Retribution: The narrator of "Police Story" is beaten "across the head with a billy club", arrested, fined, and is looking at a potential sentence to jail...for flipping off a group of policemen and subsequently yelling at them to "go get fucked".
  • Doom Metal: Added elements of this starting with My War.
  • Downer Ending: Damaged has a pretty intense one with "Life of Pain" followed by "Damaged 1". Side B of My War, on the other hand, is probably the most epic display of abject misery to ever close out an album.
  • Double-Meaning Title: The Process of Weeding Out is both a reference to marijuana and the idea that an instrumental, avant garde and jazz-rock influenced release would "weed out" unadventurous fans who were only interested in hearing the band play conventional hardcore punk.
  • Drunk Driver: "Drinking and Driving"
  • The '80s: Though they started in The '70s, this was when they were at their biggest, and basically 90% of their body of work is concentrated here.
  • Epic Rocking: "Nothing Left Inside", "Scream" and "Three Nights" from My War are all about 6 minutes in length. "Armageddon Man" from Family Man clocks at 9 minutes. "Your Last Affront" and the title song of The Process of Weeding Out are both just under 10 minutes and "You're Not Evil" from Slip It In is about seven minutes while the titular track is just over six minutes.
  • Female Rockers Play Bass: Kira Roessler was their bassist from 1983-1985, the only time they had a female member.
  • Free-Handed Performer: Henry Rollins focuses on singing and spoken-word performances.
  • Genre Shift: Starting with side B of My War, they started getting slower and more experimental.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: "Jealous Again"
  • Hardcore Punk: Trope Codifier alongside Minor Threat.
  • Grunge: Not part of the genre, but had a large influence on its formation.
  • I Am the Band: Greg Ginn.
  • Intercourse with You: "Slip It In," "Loose Nut," "Annihilate This Week"
  • Jerkass: Rollins once said to Ginn "Why don't we make a record that was like the last one so people won't always be trying to catch up with what we're doing?". As revenge, Ginn buried his vocals in the mix of their last album In My Head.
  • Miniscule Rocking: This is Punk Rock, after all. The First Four Years packs 16 songs into a brisk 24:40.
  • Post-Hardcore: Started to go in this direction in their later years.
  • Protest Song: Well, they are a punk band. "Rise Above," "Police Story," etc.
  • Revolving Door Band: Ginn was the band's only constant member, although towards the end of their career they toned down the lineup instability somewhat.
  • Self-Deprecation: Henry Rollins has said numerous times he thought Black Flag's best work was before he joined the band. Ginn has stated the same, but he's more of a dick about it.
  • Slut-Shaming: Played with (in a way) in "Slip it In". The song takes multiple shots at an woman who is regretful for "what [she] did the night before", hitting on (and sleeping with, if the spoken word intro is anything to go by) other guys when she claims to have a boyfriend, and blaming her actions on having too much to drink, among other things - however the song later states "You're getting around/I'm not putting it down/It's just what it is/Getting it while it's around", so this song plays the trope straight and subverts it at the same time.
  • Stage Names: Two notable examples: their first bass player used the name "Chuck Dukowski" as a protest against the then-prevalent anti-Polish prejudice (and "Polish jokes"), and after several falling outs Ron Reyes was credited as "Chavo Pederast" for the Jealous Again EP, to which he retaliated by hitting his replacement Dez Cadena with a brick and smashing the windshield of the band's touring van. Rollins changed his name upon joining the band (his last name is actually Garfield), which he claims was to avoid trouble with the police.
    • On My War, Greg Ginn used his own name for guitar, songwriting and production, but credited his bass playing to Dale Nixon - this was meant to hide the fact that they went into the studio without a full-time bassist. Unrelated punk bands subsequently started crediting Dale Nixon on their albums as a Shout-Out, usually because they couldn't list the real name of a performer for contractual reasons - for instance Melvins' King Buzzo EP credits Dale Nixon on drums, which were actually performed by Dave Grohl. Dale even "returned" to bass duties for What The..., as per the liner notes.
  • Take That!:
    • "You Bet We've Got Something Personal Against You!" was a blatant one against Keith Morris after he'd left the band. Much later, Morris' project Off! recorded a Take That! to Greg Ginn called "I've Got News For You", which included the lyric "You bet I got something against you too".
    • When Ron Reyes was fired, he was credited as "Chavo Pederast" (which, in colloquial Spanish, means "Kid Pedophile") on Jealous Again and Everything Went Black.
    • Damaged was originally going to be distributed by Unicorn, a subsidiary of MCA records - Though the records were already pressed and packaged with the MCA logo, MCA president Al Bergamo objected to its "anti-parent" content and MCA refused to distribute it. SST then distributed the album themselves, and covered up the MCA logo with a sticker reading "As a parent, I found it an anti-parent record", throwing his words back at him.
  • Terrible Artist: Former frontman Ron Reyes is definitely this. Just look at the artwork he drew for What The...
  • Wouldn't Hit a Girl: From "Jealous Again":
    "No I won't push you around
    Because if I do the cops would grab me for doin' it"