Black Flag at Grand Central September 7
No matter which current incarnation of Black Flag you may prefer to see or which former lineup is your favorite, there is no simply no arguing with the fact that the essential appeal of this band (beyond the imposing sonics, beyond Raymond Pettibon's vital imagery, beyond the legends chronicled in the pages of former lead singer Henry Rollins' memoirs) has always been its pure volatility.
Over the years, though, the anger and contempt that burned perpetually at this crew's core has begun to rage out of control. And most recently, longtime leader Greg Ginn has stoked the already white-hot flames (and potentially put the band's legacy at risk) by filing a nasty little lawsuit against fellow founding member Keith Morris and his version of Black Flag (currently touring as Flag) as well as Rollins, despite his choice to opt out of all reunions. It's a move many fans see as a petty undermining of the band's original ethos. And it's tarnished some of our memories.
But while it is certainly a despicable thing to see the members of a band that once rallied around antiestablishment concepts, a band whose name and logo represented anarchy itself, become involved in something so very clichéd as a postreunion lawsuit, we would all be foolish to forget that there is a reason Black Flag has had umpteen members since 1976 — Greg Ginn, by most accounts, is an impossibly difficult individual to work with.
Of course, this sort of tension may well be a major part of what's required for penning such earth-moving music. But it's also a major part of the reason there are enough Black Flag alumni out there to form two Black Flags and still have enough warm bodies scattered about the world to form a third.
Honestly, we all should've predicted the reunited Black Flag(s) and this fresh flare-up of intraband bickering. After all, uncomfortable punk-rock reunions that cash in on the festival circuit have become de rigueur, and they're going to happen whether we like it or not. True, Black Flag was the hopeful holdout — the one that just should not have happened. But it did, and no one should be surprised that a band with such a storied history of conflict is fighting — albeit with the unprecedented inclusion of lawyers.
And anyway, for the record, there is absolutely no reunion that could occur in 2013 that would do the canon, the legacy, or the intent of the original Black Flag any real justice. As a friend recently reminded me, the struggle that was is no more. No one in today's Black Flag is living in a shed, no one is eating dog food, and no one is fighting skinheads or longhairs in the pit.
Despite all of the tarnished memories and clichéd drama, I'm still excited to stand in the same room as Ginn and his guitar. I'm excited to hear Ron Reyes bark those lyrics — now archetypal documents of punk rock. I'm excited to experience the closest thing to Black Flag that I will probably ever have the opportunity to experience, because it's really all we've got, and for all the bullshit this band has brought upon itself lately, Ginn and his hardcore crew have earned the right to a final ride.
Not to mention, I'd bet my officially licensed, SST-approved Black Flag bars T-shirt that what's coming to Miami is going to be a hell of a better time than suffering through Keith Morris and the long-winded rambling that he insists on delivering between literally every song.
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