Spray Paint the Walls: The Story of Black Flag
We all pass through life attaching meaning to moments we will likely forget; days and minutes that seem so important--at the time--can fade just as quickly as the memory of what you had for breakfast last Tuesday.
But some events are like a deep groove cut into vinyl, permanent, and from the time of their occurrence, so much a part of our personality that to separate them out from who we were would not allow for a good picture of the person we've become.
Much Needed Company
For me, one moment that has stood the test of time, and made its indelible mark, was the first time I listened to a Black Flag record. Hearing my own teenage frustration eloquently explained by the heaving, thrashing guitars of Greg Ginn, and the rabid, angry singing of Henry Rollins somehow made those frustrations seem so much more bearable.
Somewhere, hidden between the lines of songs like "Damaged", and "The Bars", was a whisper left unsaid, something that at once excited and calmed. I heard in those songs the message "You are not alone, you are not alone" and for me, that's what I (as a surly teen) needed to know. As absurd as life already seemed, it often just didn't look that way to me.
Black Flag kept a lot of kids going, and hopefully still do. In Spray Paint the Walls: The Story of Black Flag, author Stevie Chick does what few punk rock historians have done--he offers a concise, well plotted history of a band and its members.
Chick covers the band from their humble beginnings in an abandoned church (that several members also called home) to their cross country tours playing hundreds of shows for little or no profit, save being heard, and spreading the word.
Contagion in the Best Possible Sense
As the band's rise and fall is described, we also hear from people across the country who watched their hometown music scenes explode after contact with the 'Flag. The idea of DIY music spread like wildfire, trailing from a poorly running tour van like cans from a newlyweds car.
Something Worth Doing
Spray Paint the Walls does a good job of explaining how things started, but a better job of what the band members became by giving a strong account of how a few teenagers from the suburbs of LA, through hard work and dedication, proved to a lot of other kids that they could positively affect the world around them.
That was Black Flag's greatest contribution to the world of music, and it makes Spray Paint the Walls worth reading even if punk rock isn't your music of choice. If it is, listen to Black Flag and other memorable groups on Left of the Dial: Dispatches from the 80's Underground.
Alan Couch is the Branch Manager of Woodside and Portola Valley Libraries. Before moving to California in 2008, Alan, who is a native of the Gulf Coast, lived in Philadelphia, PA for several years where he was the Director of Chester Springs Library. His interests and meager talents run the gamut from racquetball, rugby and watching college football, to playing the drums, reading dry history books, and going to the cinema. In high school, he had the rare distinction of being the only member of both the football team and chess club.