VH’s Things Haven’t Been The Same Since: I Laid Eyes On A Black Flag T-Shirt

I wish I had a cool story about how punk I was as a teen.

Instead my love-story began when I was already in my late teens, flicking through a skateboarding magazine. Despite the image of a guy jumping down a stair set with a spinning skateboard beneath him, my eyes were drawn to the words on his black tee: ‘Listen to Black Flag’. Being the loyal pawn I was, I did – and for the first time I really understood the hook behind hardcore. The thing to remember, younger readers, is I am old, and in order to find new music you had to either own it or find someone who did.

I picked up a copy of ‘Damaged’ from an independent record shop and I had a long look at the cover image, and the track listing, and the longer I surveyed it the more excited I became. After removing the cellophane I was immediately blown away. There is something incredible within the low drone of the guitar line to ‘Rise Above’ the album opener – before any hint of vocals there is this anger with a purpose. And as the intro sets for the vocal assault, the hairs on my neck stood to attention.

This track, this whole album, still has the same effect on me now. The moment just before Henry Rollins’s opening vocal is so tight and as close to perfection as I’ve ever encountered. If the build-up started to hook me, the snarled opening line ‘jealous cowards try to control’, followed by the gang vocal ‘rise above, we’re gonna rise above’ had me reeled in completely.

As track follows track this album stays golden throughout. There’s definitely something to be said for this honest song writing style. Despite the snarling anger that comes through there are moments of pure pop bliss hidden in tracks like ‘Six Pack’ and ‘TV Party’ are infectious hooks and singalong moments. I’m nearly halfway through 39 of the most important musical minutes of my life and I know this is going to be a definitive moment for me.

This record sounded like home when ‘Police Story’ started. This is a song which was written nearly two decades before I heard it. From the buzzing feedback that starts the point to the opening snarl this song just resonated in me. It was the moment that hardcore allowed me to connect the dots between every album in my collection. The anger and the themes in the hip hop that started a teenage rebellion in me, the brute force of British rock and post hardcore, the fuzz and distortion of grunge and the brash honesty of the Fat Wreck Chords/Household Name era punk and skacore that made me go to shows were all hidden within this one song. To this day my heart skips a beat as ‘Police Story’ starts, I know every groove in that vinyl and this is still the song that surprises me.

There are a lot of records that I relate to now but it took a long time for this to be the case. In ‘Damaged’ I found the political distain I was feeling combined with everyday life. I also found a wry smile and lyrics that I grew into, there are so many references to a hardcore scene that didn’t really change mentality in two decades and probably still hasn’t. As I started attending shows and observing/meeting people all these characteristics popped out of the record. That’s the difference between Black Flag and everything else at the time, there is an understanding and they are not idealistic or preachy; these are songs about everyday life and regular people.

Damaged is the album that put Henry Rollins on the map, Keith Morris had a stylish vocal delivery but there is something about the brash the charisma of HR, he just has that indescribable presence meaning everything he says sounds important and somehow profound. The lyrics within this record are immersive and seem to get more intelligent in every listen. It is the delivery that really creates this at times even the droll becomes important and insightful.

The first thing I did as soon as ‘Damaged 1’ finished and the album ended, was hit play so I could hear the whole thing over again.

I still do the same now.

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