Wednesday, June 10, 2020


As some of you know, I wrote a book about my favorite band, Thirsty and Miserable; A Critical Analysis of the Music of Black Flag. Some have poked fun at that title as a little much, but it's supposed to be a little much. That book is the whole reason I started Hardcore Wednesday, because I had to resist multiple digressions into talking about other bands, because I was bound and determined to stay focused on just the album or albums each chapter was specifically about. So, I came out the other side of that book wanting to talk about a shit load of other bands and albums. This is where Thirsty and Miserable and Hardcore Wednesday come together.
Black Flag's debut "Nervous Breakdown" EP  (1978) was a mere four songs, about five minutes total and it changed punk rock. "Nervous Breakdown," "Fix Me," "I've Had It," and "Wasted," were short, fast, brash, kinda funny, but also heart wrenchingly sincere. It captured lightning in a bottle and, though, Black Flag would go on to get better and better with each release (fight me, dude, I don't care what some old scenester thinks about Henry Rollins or My War, haha) within the world of punk Black Flag changed things.
And then the singer left. Keith Morris was/is an explosive front man, brimming with energy and charisma. He's one of punk's great lyricists and recognizable and beloved figures. To this day you'll find people who say "Nervous Breakdown" is Black Flag's best albums. Cool, that's an opinion I can respect for sure. It was less than a year from the release of "Nervous Breakdown" that Morris left (highly recommended-go read his autobiography My Damage. Essential book) and formed The Circle Jerks with Redd Kross (and future ex-Bad Religion) guitarist Greg Hetson. The original rhythm section was Roger Rogerson on bass and Lucky Lehrer on drums, but that would change frequently through the years with a number of legendary names like Zander Schloss, Earl Liberty, Flea, Chuck Biscuits, and Charlie Quintana coming and going.
Morris took his songs he'd written during his Black Flag years to make up parts of their 1980 debut album on Frontier Records, Group Sex, which featured an iconic colored shot of a black and white pic of a Circle Jerk audience, taken by the amazing Ed Colver, who also shot the iconic cover of Black Flag's Damaged. Two notable inclusions was a version of Flag's "Wasted" and "I Don't Care" (which later appeared on Everything Went Black) that pissed off Flag guitarist/founder Greg Ginn, but what could he do other than respond with a re-write of "I Don't Care" as "You Bet We've Got Something Personal Against You," sung by bassist Chuck Dukowski on the "Jealous Again" EP (which is my second least favorite Flag song, right behind "Rat's Eyes"). "Red Tape" and "Behind the Door" were also originally Flag songs, the latter surfaced on Damaged as "Room 13."
Group Sex had a lot more going for it than just old Flag songs though. Ripping out of the gates with "Deny Everything," the album burns through fourteen tracks in a mere fifteen minutes, never belaboring the point, never tripping over filler. It's as pure a manifesto of hardcore punk as you could ask for. "I Just Want Some Skank," "Beverly Hills, " "Operation," "Back Against The Wall," "Wasted," "Behind The Door," "World Up My Ass," "Paid Vacation," "Don't Care," "Live Fast Die Young," "What's Your Problem," "Group Sex," "Red Tape," this album is as iconic as the first Ramones album and beat Black Flag by a year with a debut full length. Impassioned, aggressive, tongue in cheek, and packed with anthems. It's one of the purest punk albums ever recorded.
My first exposure to the Circle Jerks came via the Alex Cox punksploitation films Repo Man ("When the Shit Hits the Fan") and Sid and Nancy ("Love Kills") (The Jerks also briefly appear in Repo Man as a lounge act). It was Morris's vocals as much as anything else that lead me to Group Sex, which at the time, came on a super saver double length CD with their second album Wild in the Streets.
As much as I loved Group Sex, I was even more into Wild in the Streets, which opens with the title track, the theme song to a 1960s youth gone wild film of the same name written by Garland Jeffreys.
"'64 Valiant, handful of valiums
Couple of beers really do me right
You better believe us, better trust us
Teenage jive, walking wreck
I've never heard the original and don't even want to. Its a Circle Jerks song as far as I'm concerned and I'm as happy to drive around with it blasting out of my car today as I was over twenty-five years ago. Musically, it's a better album than Group Sex, showing a lot of growth for the band in a mere year, but it contains fewer really memorable songs, but the highs ("Stars and Stripes," "Murder the Disturbed," "Letter Bomb") are really high and the lows ("Forced Labor," "Political Stu") are simply average hardcore, still highly listenable, they just stand out. At any rate, Wild in the Streets remains my favorite Circle Jerks album, but I don't think they recorded a bad album. Critics and fans weren't as kind to Wonderful or their 1995 reunion album Oddities, Abnormalities, and Curiosities, but to me they're still as worthy a spot on your shelf as Golden Shower of Hits and VI. Hell, I generally hate live albums, but I love Gig. 

Keith Morris and Greg Hetson kept Circle Jerks alive off and on into the 2000s when they finally parted ways for what seemed like for good. Along the way Morris has remained a force in music, fronting the Red Hot Chili Peppers for one gig while Anthony Kiedis was in jail and joining fellow ex-Black Flag members Bill Stevenson (Descendants/ALL), Dez Cadena (DC3/Misfits), and Chuck Dukowski (Wurm/Chuck Dukowski Sextet) with Descendants/ALL guitarist Stephen Egerton replacing Greg Ginn for an all star Black Flag live tour as FLAG. While the material was mainly the first four years covering Morris and Dez's years as the band's singers, Morris does sing the definitive Rollins era anthem "My War," and it will give you fucking chills. But more importantly than anything, is the super group hardcore outfit, OFF!, Morris formed with Steve MacDonald of Redd Kross, Dimitri Coates of Burning Brides, and Mario Rubalcala of Rocket From the Crypt. Initially releasing four four song EPs featuring cover art by Black Flag artist Raymond Pettibon, OFF! has consistently released the best punk albums of the 21st century (fight me, dude, there's a lot of good punk out there, but OFF! is the band to beat).  Hetson, left Redd Kross and did double duty in Circle Jerks and Bad Religion for years. He left Bad Religion a few years ago, but I have no idea why. Morris and Hetson were set to reunite with Zander Schloss this year to do a 40th anniversary tour, but thanks to Covid-19 that's been postponed until next year.

To get your copy of Thirsty and Miserable; A Critical Analysis of the Music of Black Flag click HERE.

Thursday, June 4, 2020


I was driving through New Jersey in the middle of the night, back in 1997, on my way to do a spoken word show in Boston at The Lucy Parson's Center, back when it was still in Cambridge. They had taken most of my book-zines on a previous trip up there and agreed to have me and another writer come back and do an in-store spoken word performance. We'd exhausted most of our CDs and cassettes by the time we'd crossed the state line into New Jersey and we decided to start looking for any local college rock stations that might be playing something cool. We weren't disappointed.
We landed on a station playing something that sounded punk, but the song was ending, but it was followed by a rockabilly sounding riff that heralded an impassioned voice that yelled, "You don't care about a nuclear war/How many people die/You're always laughing in the face of death/I'll look you right in the eye/And say...I hope you get drafted!" We laughed with surprise and joy. What a great fucking song! The DJs came on right after and told us that was "I Hope Ya Get Drafted" by The Dicks. "Probably the meanest song I've ever heard," they joked. I wrote the song and band down really fast, determined to find their work.

Now, I had read a little about The Dicks and saw their name in old punk flyers, and I actually knew who their lead singer, Gary Floyd, was, but I knew him as the singer of Sister Double Happiness, who had albums on Alternative Tentacles Records and Sub Pop, and had appeared on the Tribute to the Dead Kennedys album. I made no connections, though. I had no luck finding any of The Dicks' albums in Boston, but I found the 1980-1986 Anthology from Alternative Tentacles when I got back to Knoxville (thank you Disc Exchange for always being awesome).
1980-1986 was an eye-opening, infectious, and exciting collection of 7" and EP tracks, split between the Austin Texas days of 1980-1983 (lineup of Floyd, Buxf Parrott, Pan Deason, and Glen Taylor)  and the San Francisco (lineup of Floyd, Tim Carroll, Sebastian Fuchs, and Lynn Perko) version that lasted until 1986 (the band would go on to play sporadically up until 2016). Is it hardcore? The first era, I'd say yes, the second era leaned more towards a blues influenced punk, so if you're looking for loud/fast only, I'd recommend having a more open mind, because this is an essential document. The opening track alone, which, sadly, remains extremely relevant to this very day, to this very moment as I type this, is one of the purest punk songs ever recorded. "Dicks Hate Police" doesn't hold back and goes for the throat...
"Mommy mommy mommy
Look at your son
You might have loved me
But now I have a gun
You better stay out of my way
I think I've had a bad day
Daddy daddy daddy
Proud of your son
He got himself a good job
Killing N- and Mexicans
I'll tell you one thing it's true
You can't find justice, it'll find you..."
From there, the band never backs down from fighting authority with songs like "Anti-Klan," "No Nazi's Friend," "The Police (Force)," and "No Fucking War," but they were also on the frontlines of standing up for gay rights, as Floyd was a bigger than life front man and openly gay. In Texas! The gay community has actually always had a place in punk, whether it was the bi-sexuality of Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, and David Bowie and the androgeny of glam that gave way to the New York Dolls and Wayne County or the fact that gay clubs in London were safe havens for punks, not to mention the BDSM that inspired the UK punk scene's fashion sense. In addition to The Dicks, Texas also spawned The Big Boys whose lead singer Randy Biscuits was gay as well. Within hardcore though, it was rare to find openly gay bands, which were less rare in punk and other off-shoots, like death rock and goth.

The original Austin line up of the band reformed in 2004 and did live gigs until 2016. Floyd has stayed busy with Sister Double Happiness and Black Kali Ma. This past Monday, during protests against police brutality, where the cops and white supremacists started a wave of brutality that swept the nation, Floyd posted on his Facebook page this heartfelt note;

"When The Dicks first started we wrote a lot of songs about oppression...sexual, class, racial, etc. I used the N-word in a few songs. I wanted to use the shock element of punk with an anti-racist message...trying to show, and mimic the world we had grown up with. When I was a little kid I said the N-word to a woman who worked at our the words left my lips a sharp quick slap on my mouth from my mother stung and taught me STOP, THINK and YOU'VE BEEN TAUGHT BETTER...I'm thankful for the slap...I will not use the word in those few songs again...I'll use something else...another word. Buxf gave me the idea to think about it and he was certainly right. No one needs a white guy trying to shock or be punk to teach lessons regarding racist cancer language. The songs were always the language will be.
Gary Floyd"
In these times, where everyday we feel like we're on the precipice of a Hell mouth, its reassuring to know we still have heroes out there we can count on, who get it, and who give a shit enough to keep talking about the problems eating away at the heart of our country.