Spray Paint the Walls: The Story of Black Flag by Stevie Chick is now available in a revised edition for U.S. readers via PM Press. The story of the band in all of its various incarnations, SST Records and their fellow travelers, comes in at a hefty 403 pages:
They were the pioneers of American hardcore, forming in California in 1878 and splitting up 8 years later leaving behind them a trail of blood, carnage and brutal, brilliant music. Throughout the years they fought with the police, record industry and their own fans. This is the band’s story from the inside, drawing upon exclusive interviews with the group’s members, their contemporaries and the groups who were inspired by them. It’s also the story of American hardcore music, from the perspective of the group who did more to take the sound to the clubs, squats and community halls in American than any other.
In the early ‘80s, Black Flag were at the center of the controversy about punk rock violence that hung over the hardcore scenes in L.A. and nationwide.
Two elements seemed at work here. First were the media reports about punk violence fueled parental hysteria, and likely prompted parents of rebellious teens to call the cops on shows that would probably have turned out fine. Second was the actual risk of potential injury at L.A. punk shows. This typically led ad hoc scene spokespeople to defensively compare violence levels at punk shows with those at metal concerts or football games. It also caused plenty of serious internal hand-wringing (mostly in punk ‘zines) about “scene unity”—which now of course just seems like naïve tribalism.
Obviously, Black Flag shows weren’t sedate affairs. Of my two encounters with the band in the early Rollins era, one featured a quick half-stampede away from the stage and towards the door, while the other comprised watching a riot unfold outside a sold-out Flag show with the Ramones. Black Flag would eventually settle into the proto-grunge route to self-destruction in 1986.