Spray Paint The Walls: The Story Of Black Flag

Posted by Gomez Comes Alive!, September 18, 2011 11:25pm | Post a Comment
By now most most Amoeba customers know about our expanded book section. From time to time I'll be pulling out some books from the section and recommend some I find of interest. The First one that caught my eye was Spray Paint The Walls: The Story Of Black Flag, written by Stevie Chick. Here is a small review of the book, which you can currently buy at Amoeba Hollywood.

By the time I finally saw Black Flag live it was early 1986, shortly before the band broke up. Fenders Ballroom in Long Beach, which only held 500 people, was only a quarter full. I had just seen The Circle Jerks at the same venue a few weeks before and the place was packed. Still, the band was amazing and everything I thought it would be. The band was so loud that the vibration from the speakers shook my clothes as if I was caught in a windstorm. Henry Rollins looked like a younger Charles Manson in his running shorts and tattoos, trying to sing between bouts with a group of skinheads. He just glared at them and kept singing, occasionally swatting at a few of them when they came to close to hitting him. Greg Ginn stood away from Henry, eyes closed, obliviously playing guitar and shaking his long hair as if he was Carlos Santana. This version band was light years away from the band that had released the Damaged album, which was released only five years before. It was indicative of the progression of the band, a decision to progress musically rather to continue to play the same music and retain a fan base. In the end, that choice ultimately destroyed one of the most influential bands of all time. Black Flag’s music was not the only legacy they had. The way Black Flag toured, release records independently and even the sound systems they took on the road are still linked to modern day bands to this day.

In Stevie Chick’s biography of Black Flag, Spray Paint The Walls: The Story Of Black Flag, Chick explores the phenomenon of Black Flag through exclusive interviews with the former band members and people closed to the band. He also uses quite a bit of outside sources from fanzine interviews to other books previously written about the Black Flag experience. The book story predates the actual formation of the group, outlining the story of Hermosa Beach, the small once liberal town where the band grew up that was soon run over by defense contract conservatives. It brings back a time when people were actually scared of Punk Rock and how the police treated punks as bad as they treated minorities from the inner city.  Chick’s ability to link the conservative 80’s back-story and how it affected Black Flag music is a story that 80’s retro babies need to hear; The days of Black Flag and other outsider artists were far from the MTV/John Hughes version of the 80’s. It was a time when individualism labeled one as crazy or worse, dangerous.

Chick covers the band from the formation of the group, through their grass roots uprising, harassment from the police, their constant touring, legal problems and changes in music styles and personal through the eyes of former band members. It through their story you get a glimpse of what it was link to be in Black Flag. All the hard work, sacrifices in having a life outside of being in Black Flag and their mutual respect for the band’s creator, Greg Ginn. But it also their falling out with Ginn that eventually gets each member replace until the last line up of the group, in which rather the fire the popular singer Henry Rollins, quits the very band he created, knowing full well the band can not continue without him. For the exception of Ginn and Rollins (both are heavily quoted through past interviews and through Rollins own book on the Black Flag days, Get In The Van) Chick manages to interview almost every past member.

Chick makes a point to dismiss what he calls; “The hipster version of Black Flag” which is that Black Flag started to suffer (or as the hipsters say, “suck”) once Henry Rollins became the lead singer. He does this by showing how the band's energy is never lost once Rollins is in the group, the energy is only transfered. Albums such as My War and Slip It In are just as influential to musicians such Mark Arm and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez (both interviewed for this book) as Black Flag's early releases. Chick makes the connection from later Black Flag to the Grunge movement and Stoner Rock groups of today. Not to mention the independent tour circuit started by Flag that is still used today. Even if you had never been a fan of Black Flag music, it was their popularity and money that brought to the mainstream such bands as Husker Du, The Meat Puppets, Sonic Youth, Dinosaur JR., Soundgarden and The Descendents, bands that are hugely influential to modern rock music today.

This is another fine publication about Black Flag to go with Henry Rollins account, Get In The Van as well as Joe Carducci's Enter Naomi: SST, L.A. and All That... and Michael Azerrad chapter on Black Flag in his book, Our Band Could Be Your Life. I think the fact that Chick is an outsider from England and not someone in the band or who had covered them over the years gives a fresh outside point of view of the band.

Still, no matter how excellent most of these books will read, I would love to hear the story from Greg Ginn’s point of view, no matter how crazy he might come off as. That hopefully will be the next publication about the band that would make the whole story complete.

Spray Paint The Walls: The Story Of Black Flag
by Stevie Chick: Omnibus Press 2009

Relevant Tags

Black Flag (28), Punk Rock (16), Los Angeles (205), Hermosa Beach (2)