Review Summary: The soundtrack for angry young men.
While walking through downtown Los Angeles, you somehow find yourself gravitating towards a crowded building. As you enter, you realize the smell of sweat in the air, surrounding you in a mist. The people around you are mostly, if not entirely, male and their bodies are oozing testosterone. The atmosphere is much like that of a weight room, except instead of working out on weights, the crowd is thrashing around violently. Soon, you notice the source of the energy. Looking forward, a band of five, just as filthy and masculine as everyone else, are producing the soundtrack for angry young American males who have been continuously screwed over by society. You are still out of it, dizzy, but then a spark tells you that you've heard this before. Suddenly, a chill runs down your spine. "Holy ****, this is Black Flag."
Rise above, we're gonna rise above!
By some miracle of God, you have time traveled circa 1981 and have landed at a Black Flag concert. Millions of hardcore punk fans for decades after would envy you for what your eyes are witnessing. Black Flag was one of the very first hardcore bands and one of the big four (Black Flag, Minor Threat
, Bad Brains
, and Dead Kennedys
) of the early '80s American scene. The others in a crowd may not know how lucky they are, but you sure do. The band, led by guitarist Greg Ginn, are causing a storm. The music is loud, fast, and in your face. It is not complex, but is beyond the typical three-chord riffs of The Ramones
that have always been the backbone of punk rock. The drums are pounding and fierce, the bass is deep and rumbling, and the guitars are raw and dissonant, via the use of power chords and quick, almost atonal solos. The music is everything that the crowd is; dirty, noisy, and pissed off.
Understand we're fighting a war we can't win.
Pissed off, but at what? Well, with Henry Rollins yelling in your ear, it is impossible to not know. While he is now a legend, the young Rollins and the rest of the band was clearly frustrated with society, other people, and themselves. With these stated anxieties, there is a sense of hopelessness. Like many of us, they hated the police, as shown in "Police Story." Even though they clearly are willing to actively protest police brutality, it is also clearly stated that "we can't win." The same vanity appears in more personal songs such as "Depression," where Rollins desperately cries out over the problems that affect him, and likely his entire generation of young adults. "Padded Cell" expresses a fear of being mentally insane. "What I See" describes emptiness and even suicidal thoughts.
It's hard to survive. Don't know if I can do it. Keep me alive. Only you can do it. I need to hang on.
At the show, you are personally being a part of the early hardcore fanbase. Punk rock has, and still often does, attacked society as a whole for selfish and hypocritical behavior. Hardcore is no different. Many of the songs assault people, perhaps even the writer (usually Ginn) himself, for destructiveness and greed, with satirical lyrics in "Six Pack," where alcoholics and drug abusers are laughed at for their pathetic excuses and needs, and "Gimme Gimme Gimme," in which the selfish are mocked for their attitudes. "TV Party," set up with gang vocals and a slightly different format, is almost like a hardcore party song, in which satire is again used to laugh at lazy beer drinking morons who will make any excuse to stay inside and watch television, instead of venturing out into the outside world. These songs only continue to tell about the vague hopelessness that plagues the hardcore community and humanity of a whole. Even so, "Rise Above" is still a positive anthem for a revolution, in which the powerful will eventually be defeated by the abused lower class, in strong contrast to the atmosphere of the other songs.
I no longer feel a thing, I no longer want to see, but you can't make me long for your life and security.
You are confused. The show is over, but the confusion is still overwhelming you. You still do not even know how you really got there. All you know is what you saw and what you felt. What you felt was the adrenaline from the band and the emotions spat out by Henry Rollins. You are confused, yet you understand everything. Like Henry, like Black Flag, like the crowd of sweaty people, like humanity, and like me, you are Damaged