Twenty years ago, my dad and I went to Eide’s Records and Comics in downtown Pittsburgh to do some music shopping. Acquiring at least one Black Flag tape was on my agenda that day. Mind you, I was NOT supposed to have anything to do with punk rock whatsoever. My parents were of the impression that what few punk cassettes I owned were responsible for their son going in a bad direction. However, neither of them could name a single punk band if you asked them to. If anything, I could dodge the issue by saying that I was checking out metal bands instead. Heavy metal was more acceptable because my parents had held founding fathers like Black Sabbath and Deep Purple in high regard earlier in life.
I was unsure of Black Flag album to check out first, but I knew the song “Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie” and that was a start. Damaged was probably selected via process of elimination. The intimidating cover artwork certainly helped as well. Somehow, I managed to keep my nervous excitement contained while under my dad’s watchful eye. When we got home, my dad went outside to do yard work. I stayed in so I could listen to my new Black Flag tape. Naturally, I plugged in the stereo headphones so my dad would not hear what I was listening to.
Black Flag took that fun feeling of “music I wasn’t supposed to hear” to a completely different level that day. Damaged was as appropriate of an album title as any, for that is exactly what happened to me upon hearing it for the first time. Rather than having fun, I was actually frightened by the album’s violent intensity. These songs declared war on my mind, already winning before I had a chance to fight back. Forget about what my parents would think; I was certain that this music was illegal. Surely, it was on the government’s list of controlled substances. I kept looking around the room as the album played, wondering when the police would kick in the front door. The SWAT team would come crashing through the windows at any time.
I looked out the window, but I only saw my dad working on the garden. No forces of law and order were in sight, but I was still convinced that I had stumbled across something akin to a top-secret document on the Kennedy assassination. I kept Damaged under wraps for the rest of that visit with my dad. Other tapes I bought that summer by bands like Fear and the Exploited could be confiscated, but the Black Flag tape was some revolutionary shit. The planet seemed to shudder on its axis and nothing was ever the same again. There was a new war going on inside my head and I needed weapons to be able to fight it. I felt like it was my responsibility to smuggle the contraband back to California by any means necessary. Of course, that managed to happen with no incident. The idea that punk rock was forbidden had somehow been forgotten about, which was fine by me. Life moved forward.
Black Flag may not evoke those same feelings of paranoia that they did for me initially, but I can still point to them and say that they are the band that had the biggest influence on me personally. Nothing that Henry Rollins or Greg Ginn do in the public eye will ever take that away. If I could recapture their insane work ethic, my life would be relatively problem-free. I suppose you could say the same for yourself too.