To the joy of every punk in Georgetown, Black Flag celebrated St. Patrick's Day this year at the 9:30 Club. Coming all the way from California, these guys brought with them a reputation of being one of the hottest punk bands in the US. They recently gained some notoriety when cheir bass player appeared on the Tomorrow Show and stories of violence at their shows quickly spread throughout the media. It was certainly evident that this was no ordinary group. No, you wouldn't be hearing Black Flag mini-concerts on your favorite AOR station, but were they worthy of their growing status in underground music? That's what I wanted to find out.
Black Flag currently consists of Dez Cadena (vocals), Charles Dukowsky (bass), Gregory Ginn (guitar), and Roberto "Robo" Valverde (drums). After their two sets at 9:30, I managed to speak with Dez and Chuck (Charles, a.k.a. Duke). Greg and Robo did not appear too excited about the prospect of an interview and by the time it started they were nowhere to be found. I am Tony Lombardi, by the way. My good friend Brian Kiviat helped greatly with the interview and so I offer him my thanks.
The show itself I thought could have been better, though most of the people there seemed to enjoy it immensely. Generally, I find that those who were into '77 punk don't think too much about this band. I think that maybe that's good. Maybe it proves that the '77 crowd is getting old, and now the new punks have their own bands to identify with--bands that don't alienate their fans and bands that don't give two shits about politics, just like your average American kid. These new punks and the bands that they follow are more interested in having fun and who can blame them? And what good does it do to call these bands just bad imitators of the '77 bands? It's not true, anyway. Most of these bands have their own distinct style. Nobody can tell me that Black Flag and X and the Dead Kennedys sound anything alike. I found Black Flag very dedicated to what they're doing and personally think they deserve any kind of fame they get.
One further note--not to cut down Black Flag or anything, but I was very impressed with the two opening bands, Youth Brigade and Minor Threat. If Minor Threat doesn't go anywhere then there is definitely something wrong with this city. Ian & Co. are a group to be reckoned with. And hey guys, don't let that go to your heads. What this city doesn't need is another band who think they're the greatest thing to get on a stage. [Who do we have now who thinks that? D.G.]
C.C. How long have you guys been together?
Dez About 3½ years. The present union has been together for about ten months. That says me. I'm the new recruit.
C.C. What band were you with before?
Dez Red Cross. I played guitar.
C.C. A lot of bands don't like to be labeled. Do you call yourselves a punk band?
Dez Well, yeah. I don't really like labels myself, but we do call ourselves a punk band. So does everybody else.
Chuck The only weakness in that is that it's an old label and it seems like it eventually incorporates a lot of rules and everything. It ends up standing against what it actually stood for to begin with, because of apathy.
C.C. Do you ally yourselves with the '77 bands? Do you like those bands?
Dez Well, we like some of the '77 bands but we like bands from the early '70s.
Chuck I liked a lot of the bands. I like this stuff better.
Dez Yeah, I like a lot of the new bands. I also like heavy metal bands.
C.C. L.A. is famous for its hardcore punk bands. Do you feel there's something special about that city or could this have happened anywhere?
Chuck It can and will happen anywhere.
Dez L.A. has one person on the radio [Rodney Bingenheimer on KROQ] who helps it out.
Chuck It took a long time to get there.
C.C. A lot of the other L.A. hard-core punk bands are considered to be imitators of you. Is that true?
Chuck [laughing] It does happen, you know.
Dez Maybe it's a compliment, maybe not. We don't care.
C.C. What do you think about playing places like D.C.? Do you like that as much is playing L.A.?
Chuck To be honest, I like it better.
C.C. The crowds are better?
Chuck No, you can make a big impact on a lot of people who don't necessarily want to have that impact
C.C. What did you think of the D.C. crowd?
Dez Good, good! Wild! People let go!
Chuck It's reassuring. People let loose in a place like 9:30. People go nuts. It's like the thing that happened when we first started playing in New York. We played with a vengeance because we were playing to a lot of people who need it. They need to be hit over the fucking heads or something.
C.C. What are "beach punks" really like?
Dez They're not very different from the people you saw here today. There are assholes in every group.
C.C. What turned all these L.A. kids onto punk?
Chuck The same thing that turns them onto AC/DC.
Dez A Lot of them were just bored surfing and skateboarding.
Chuck It's like, hey, if you skate hard, surf hard, ski hard, ride a motorcycle hard, you lose yourself in it. It's the same thing.
Dez Instead of listening to Zeppelin and skating, they were listening to, maybe, the Clash... the old Clash.
Chuck Zeppelin lost its energy. Face it. Something new had to come along.
C.C. I've heard you make no effort to control your fans. Does this mean you condone their acts?
Dez Well, no, it doesn't necessarily mean that. It just means we don't want to be police. Eventually that turns out to be very fascist.
C.C. Speaking of fascism, what do you think about some of your fans wearing swastikas?
Dez Well, I wouldn't wear one, but here we go again, I'm not going to tell people what to wear, how to dress, how to act. I don't think they're really fascist. I think they're wearing them just to be cool.
C.C. Does Black Flag stand for anarchy?
Chuck Yes, it does.
C.C. Bug spray?
Dez We have a new thing now; Black Flag Kills Ants.
Unidentified Antcreatures! And roaches--they're like roaches.
C.C. You said Black Flag is a symbol of anarchy. Though most of the lyrics to your songs don't put forth any political beliefs, do you have any you'd like to mention?
Dez Political beliefs? We just want people to let go, that's all. That's not very political.
Chuck We wanna be able to do what we want. To be able to go nuts. We're not involved in...I mean, personally, I see government as something that tries to control me, all the time. And all these people have these big dreams of systems that work. Systems, like, should eliminate suffering. I mean, I don't see any kind of possibility ever of any future and, therefore, why not let go of the whole thing, 'cause actually it's like I said...this is a quote of Ronald Reagan's: "The system is good, what's wrong is the people." That kind of thinking breeds fascism. It breeds control. It breeds cops on the street telling you to stay home and not go out. It tells you to watch TV and not move. It says sit down, don't think, don't move, and by the way, have a good time.
Dez I guess in a way we have political beliefs, but we don't conside ourselves a political band.
Chuck I'm not for or against any government in particular. I figure you've got to fight control, always.
Dez People may find that very political, because we're against politics...well...I don't know.
Chuck Political involvement is the problem. That's the problem.
C.C. Your philosophy of "no rules"--how far do you carry it?
Chuck As far as I can. My own rules are bad enough. I don't need anybody else's.
C.C. If you don't mind me asking, why are you angry?
Dez [surprised by the question] Why are we angry? Well, come on, man, you live and...you can't...that's an odd question. 'Cause, like, to me it's very obvious.
C.C. Well, what makes you angry as a person, as compared to a power pop group?
Dez When we're trying to go out and put up flyers to get people at our gigs and we get arrested, and me and Robo get thrown in the tank for 5 or 6 hours...just a waste of a bunch of fucking time. We're trying to go out and play. This is all we're doing. This is our life. Sure we're going to be angry.
Chuck When my girlfriend fucks somebody else, I'm angry.
Dez You're right!
Chuck When I'm depressed and no one seems to understand and it seems like it just doesn't fucking work, then it's "why me?" and I'm angry. And when everybody gives me a bunch of bullshit...
Dez Like, why are you doing this? What are you here for? What are you trying to do?
Chuck When I see bullshit. When I see people who are totally illegitimate and just writing things out and rising above people who are really inspired, I get angry.
Dez Why don't you get a job?
Chuck When I gee punched in the face, I get angry.
Dez And grow up straight like your grandparents?
Chuck When someone cuts off my work I get angry. I mean, any number of reasons. The songs are about that stuff; when you sing the song you re-feel it.
C.C. Did you see the other bands tonight? [Youth Brigade and Minor Threat]
Dez Yes, I did.
C.C. What did you chink of them?
Dez I thought they were pretty wild. Crazy.
C.C. Who are some of your favorite bands?
Dez A band from L.A. called the Stains.
Chuck The Stains are the best band in the world.
Dez And the Minutemen; really good friends of ours.
Chuck My favorite bands are, in this order, the Stains, Saccharine Trust, Minutemen, the Last, and then the Adolescents.
Dez I like bands from D.C. I like Black Sabbath.
C.C. Your fans have been criticized for being close-minded about music.
C.C. Yeah, critics seem to think your fans only like hardcore punk and nothing else.
Chuck They're a bunch of sickies.
[Who, critics, fans, or hardcore punks?]
Dez No, no, I don't think that's true. I think a lot of the so-called beach punks still like AC/DC. And Led Zeppelin.
C.C. I do myself, I'll admit it.
Dez Our roadie still likes Led Zappelln. He doesn't like the new stuff, he actually listens to Led Zeppelin IV. But his favorite music is punk rock.
C.C. Do you all listen to any music besides punk rock?
Dez I listen to a lot of stuff--heavy metal, funk, but I don't like those weird white funk bands. I like the black groups.
Chuck I like all kinds of music. I like old rock and roll.
Dez Old rock and rock! Yeah?
Chuck And I like Iggy Pop. I like Fun House.
Dez That's one of the all-time best albums.
Chuck I like UXA. And, hey, UXA are getting back together, up in New York.
Dez Yeah, UXA: the best album of the year.
C.C. You have two E.P.s, right?
C.C. You're also featured on the Rodney on the ROQ. Do you have any plans for more vinyl soon?
Dez We're also on an album called Cracks in the Sidewalk. The song "Clocked In" is on that LP. We're planning on a single called Police Story with about three songs on it. We have to listen to it more to see if it sounds good. As soon as we get home we're going to start recording an album.
C.C. Your label is SST. Does thac stand for something?
Chuck So Stoned Today.
C.C. Well, I've heard you guys don1t do drugs.
Dez Yeah, well, we tike to get drunk and stuff, but not when it comes to playing.
C.C. How widely has the movie The Decline of Western Civilization been discributed?
Dez Just in California.
C.C. Do you know of any plans for having it released in the east?
Dez I'm not sure. They have to gee some money together in order to distribute it around the country. I have no idea when it's going to be out, or anything like that.
C.C. How close are you co the other L.A. bands? Are you all friends?
Dez Almost everybody. Ninety-nine percent.
Chuck We're even good friends with our enemies.
C.C. Do any of you have regular jobs?
Chuck No, but I used to make scuba gear. That was the last job I had, about a year ago.
C.C. You're going back to L.A. after this?
Dez No, actually we're going to Boston, then Chicago, then Lansing.
C.C. Do you have any plans for the immediate future?
Dez I'm gonna go to my mom's house and just lay around for two days.
Photo 1 uncredited. Photo 2 by SW. Photo 3 by Susie.