The new Black Flag album, featuring Greg Ginn and Ron Reyes, proves difficult to separate from its surrounding drama and suffers from a watery feel, lack of interesting ideas, and an absence of the personality dynamics that made the band’s original run so interesting.
Now is a good time to be a Black Flag fan. 27 years after the band’s breakup, 2013 has brought two simultaneous reunions. The one officially called Black Flag—led by founding guitarist Greg Ginn and featuring Jealous Again-era singer Ron Reyes—promises an album of all-new material later this year. The other is a supergroup of Black Flag alumni—Keith Morris, Chuck Dukowski, Dez Cadena, and Bill Stevenson, with Descendents/All guitarist Stephen Egerton completing the lineup—playing songs from the back catalog under the name Flag. I got to see the Ginn/Reyes Black Flag over the summer, and I’ll definitely see Flag if they come to town (no San Diego dates, guys? C’mon). With so much attention being paid to this influential band at the moment, I want to delve into the history one of their most memorable songs, “My War”.
Why “My War”? Most immediately it’s because back in April, Flag—as their first official piece of media—posted a video of their performance of the song at the Redondo Beach Moose Lodge, the same venue where Black Flag had its first performance back in January of 1979. Flag’s take prompted a lot of commentary, and became the opening track on a playlist of new music I share with close friends (followed by a track from Ginn & Reyes’ new Black Flag incarnation). This got me thinking about the various versions of “My War” released over the years, resulting in a cross-town drive spent listening to all of them in a row (thanks iPod). I thought it’d be interesting, and challenging, to write an article about just one song, and really dissect its origins and influence.
Secondly, “My War” has an interesting story. It was written during a period in which the band, due to a dispute with their record label, were legally prohibited from recording or releasing music under the name Black Flag. As the opening track on their 1984 album of the same title, it was their first new song to hit wax following this court-ordered muzzling . Written by bassist Chuck Dukowski, and first laid to tape by a 5-piece lineup featuring 2 guitarists, by the time “My War” finally saw release it was recorded by a very different, 3-piece Black Flag incarnation that didn’t even include the song’s author. Subsequent live recordings by different lineups provide snapshots of the band at different phases prior to their 1986 breakup.
Finally, it’s just a great song. Of the many Black Flag tunes that came in the years following the epochal Damaged album, “My War” stands out as among the best, probably the best. Certainly it’s the post-Damaged song that’s had the most traction in terms of cover versions, not only by acts influenced by Black Flag, but by the Black Flag alumni themselves.
Read on to walk through the history of this influential tune. Some of the recordings are available as YouTube clips, but to hear them all you’ll need Spotify. Continue reading
There are 2 weeks left of 2012, and I’ve still got around 25 albums I’d like to comment on. So I’m going to blaze through 5 or 6 per post and try not to get wordy. In this one: MxPx, Cancer Bats, Pennywise, Off!, Matt Skiba and the Sekrets, and Best Coast.