It’s true. I absolutely hate the iconic hardcore band that gave a voice to the anti-establishment punk movement in the 1980s. In my opinion, Black Flag is a group of whiney, litigious, white guys who used the ideas of rebellion as an opportunity to feel sorry for themselves.
I used to bear the band’s abrasive, muddled music with a spirit of defiance. Henry Rollins’s gravely voice and Greg Gin’s intrusive guitar allowed me to prolong the tormented self-pity that most of us lose after puberty well into my twenties.
Then one day I pulled my head out of my ass and found both my self-pity, and theirs, completely embarrassing. A band of healthy white men singing about rising up against cops to take what’s “theirs” started to seem so self-indulgent and disingenuous.
The system we live in is flawed and deserves to be rebelled against.
When I got my first writing job, I wanted to be the hard-hitting music journalist that made musicians struggle for words. So, when Black Flag came to Denver with their newest musician, Mike Vallely, I saw it as a perfect opportunity to do just that.
I wanted to know how a band founded on such anti-establishment values could turn into the most litigious group of men I’d ever heard of, suing each other for years over the rights of the Black Flag name. I wanted to know how Vallely could justify having a Hummer while singing about revolution and non-conformism. I wanted to know if they, white men, still found relevance in singing about a war that they had to fight against cops.
When Vallely agreed to an interview with me, I wrote all of these questions out neatly and respectfully in an email, agonizing over grammar and phrasing. What I got in return was a message with one single, maddening sentence: “No thanks.”
Feeling a Black Flag-esque sense of rejection of the establishment is, by all means, warranted. The system that we live in is flawed and deserves to be rebelled against. There is, however, a distinct line between rebelling against the system and being a whiney, self-pitying brat.