Punk OFF!: The Merits of Greg Ginn’s Black Flag and Keith Morris’ OFF!
Published: August 6, 2014
It’s the punk equivalent of John Lennon and Paul McCartney playing the same venue two days apart from each other. In a cosmic event of synchronicity, or just some coincidental booking, Black Flag and OFF! both visit San Antonio this week. Though Flag’s Greg Ginn and OFF!’s Keith Morris aren’t on speaking terms today, in the late ’70s, the twosome helped forge hardcore punk with manic speed and a blistering work ethic. To celebrate the pair’s separate arrivals in San Antonio this week, here’s a brief matchup of these two heavy music pioneers.
As the only permanent fixture of Black Flag through its many years, Greg Ginn continually pushed the band’s aesthetic beyond the expectations of punk. Beginning with the four-track, five-minute Nervous Breakdown EP in ’78, Black Flag embedded themselves within the tradition of the Ramones and New York Dolls. At the same speed as their progenitors, the Hermosa Beach quartet burned away all but the essentials, placing Ginn’s growling power chords and Morris’ high groans.
By the first LP in ’84, Morris was long gone, while Ginn had fundamentally switched his style for the savage and emotionally exhausting Damaged. In Our Band Could Be Your Life, Michael Azerrad’s seminal document on the American underground, Azerrad cites the absence of bass in rehearsal as the motivating nudge for Ginn’s stylistic change. Ginn in ’84 sounds almost nothing like he did in ’78, manipulating the low end of his instrument with a crafted sloppiness. When he breaks out of these depth charges, Ginn jams atonal on the upper register, like he’s trying to break the guitar, not play it.
Though Ginn’s DIY work ethic and unrelenting commitment helped take Black Flag to new heights, these traits would prove to be his tragic flaws. Through the band’s ’78-’86 run, Ginn managed to alienate almost every Black Flag member through personal potshots or by implementing a grinding tour schedule. Like a veteran athlete overworking a bum ankle, Ginn pushed the band harder than it was willing to go.
In 2013, with Jealous Again-era singer Ron Reyes, Black Flag set off on tour, only to be confronted by FLAG, a Keith Morris-fronted outfit playing the BF discography. As the Morris band succeeded and Ginn’s rendition faltered, Ginn switched out Reyes for tour manager Mike Vallely.
Though Vallely, a pro skateboarder, doesn’t have a claim to the glory days of the band, as a dude charged with a unique opportunity, his energy helps fly Black Flag as high as possible.
Black Flag feat. Good for You, Cinema Cinema
Wed, August 6
Throughout Black Flag’s original run, Ginn’s brother Raymond Pettibon graced the band with his ink-drawn iconography. From the epochal four-bar logo to the gnarly black ink cartoons on the EP covers and gig posters, Pettibon’s work nailed the attitude and intensity of his brother’s music.