UPDATED: Battle of the Black Flags: Which One Is Better?
UPDATE (Thursday, 11:22 a.m.): Ginn put out a press release this week saying that neither Robo nor Chuck Dukowski are part of his Black Flag. Dukowski remains in Keith Morris' FLAG, but Robo is not involved in either band. Greg Ginn's new Black Flag consists of himself, Ron Reyes, drummer Greg Moore of Ginn's former band GONE, and Dale Nixon -- a pseudonym for Ginn himself -- in the bass spot.
This past week the Internet was abuzz with the news that two different versions of the 1980s hardcore-punk pioneers Black Flag are reuniting. Since Black Flag is so iconic to almost any punk fan, this is big news indeed. But there's a catch: Neither of the two versions is the complete, real version of Black Flag.
Of course, as anybody who knows Black Flag also knows, the band had a wildly inconsistent, ever-changing, revolving-door lineup through the years. Aside from guitarist and founder Greg Ginn, few members have remained from one record to the next. So with that in mind, who can say what the "real" Black Flag is?
Which, I suppose, is why we now have two different bands. The question is, if we had the opportunity to see only one Black Flag, which one would we, as fans, want to see? Which is the blackest, flaggest one of them all? We'll break it down for you.
KEITH MORRIS VS RON REYES
When Black Flag first formed in 1976, their singer was Keith Morris. A truly insane front man, to be sure, he unfortunately only ended up performing on the band's very first EP, Nervous Breakdown.
Then, due to creative differences and his drug problem, Morris departed Black Flag and formed the Circle Jerks, who also became a legendary hardcore punk band. Today he fronts OFF! to mass critical acclaim. He'll also be fronting FLAG now, one of the two versions of Black Flag.
The band actually using the name "Black Flag" now will be fronted by Ron Reyes. Reyes was originally a big Black Flag fan who ended up becoming their singer after Morris left. He also only recorded one EP with the band, Jealous Again, right before quitting abruptly during a tour of Canada and reporting the band to customs officials because none of them had a work visa.
To this end, he was credited on the EP as "Chavo Pederast" as a show of disrespect, but lately he's become a born-again Christian and patched things up with Ginn.
Winner: While I love Jealous Again almost as much as Nervous Breakdown, I've got to hand it to Keith Morris here. He was the original and he's also been at it consistently throughout the years. He's proved himself to us with OFF!, showing that he still indeed knows how to rock.
Reyes is a bit of an untested commodity, having seldom performed in the intervening 33 years since he was a member of Black Flag.
GREG GINN VS STEPHEN EGERTON
Photo by Craig Hlavaty Greg Ginn (left) and the Texas Corrugators at Last Concert Cafe, February 2009
In the Ron Reyes-fronted version of Black Flag, Greg Ginn -- founder, original guitarist and owner of the Black Flag name -- will be performing his usual duties, a major hook for the Reyes lineup. To many fans, Black Flag is only Black Flag if Ginn is involved, as he has been the mastermind from day one. He has always been the primary songwriter and the only consistent member.
On the other hand, FLAG has legendary hardcore punk guitarist Stephen Egerton, a current member of the Descendents. While nobody can really replace Ginn in Black Flag, Egerton is certainly a draw in and of himself. Anyone who caught the Descendents at Free Press Summer Fest last year knows that those guys still have it big time.
Winner: As cool as Egerton is, he's not and will never be the Black Flag guy like Ginn is. (Understandable.) Ginn has been the one person who has kept Black Flag going (or not going) through every different lineup change, and he wrote the songs themselves. Nobody can step into those shoes.
ROBO VS. BILL STEVENSON
In the Reyes-fronted Black Flag, the other exciting news is that Robo is in on it. For those who may only know Robo from Iggy Pop's off-handed suggestion in the Jim Jarmusch film Cigarettes and Coffee that Tom Waits play with him, Robo was Black Flag's drummer through both Nervous Breakdown and Jealous Again. He also played on the band's first record with Henry Rollins, the classic Damaged.
But FLAG's drummer is no scrub either. Bill Stevenson, like Egerton, is a member of the Descendents, but in that band's down time he was also a member of the classic Black Flag through the majority of the Rollins years. He joined after Robo left the band and played on the remaining albums the band released in their lifespan.
Winner: Stevenson rocked it on the last several Black Flag albums.
this is Robo we're talking about. For all intents and purposes he was the original Black Flag drummer, as they didn't release any prior recordings with anyone else behind the kit.
At this point it's unclear who the bassist for Reyes's Black Flag will be. Some sources are saying original Black Flag bassist Chuck Dukowski is in, while others say he's out. Even the sources reporting that he's out haven't supplied any info on who else might be playing bass for group.
So until further notice, I'm considering Dukowski in. Like Robo, Dukowski wasn't the first Black Flag bassist, but he was the first to record so he might as well be the original. He even stuck around well into the Rollins era as well.
The confusing part of this, though, is that Dukowski is apparently part of Morris's FLAG too.
If he really is pulling double duty, that lends a lot of legitimacy to both versions of the band.
Winner: Since Dukowski is confirmed for FLAG
and on the fence when it comes to Black Flag, we're going to have to hand it to FLAG here. Of course, if Black Flag picked up Kira Roessler, my personal favorite Black Flag bassist, that might change my mind.
NERVOUS BREAKDOWN vs. JEALOUS AGAIN
While I mentioned earlier in this article that I personally prefer Nervous Breakdown, we must look at each EP objectively here. Nervous Breakdown is a serious fireball of unparalleled proportions in hardcore punk, especially in 1979 when it was first released. It set a benchmark for the punk that came after it.
But Jealous Again reflects a more mature approach to songwriting for the band. The songs on it are a little longer and more refined. While Nervous Breakdown showed a band just making a lot of noise as fast as they could, Jealous Again showed Ginn and Dukowski ramping up to the songwriting prowess that would make Damaged one of the most important punk records of all time.
Winner: In terms of importance to the history of punk, Nervous Breakdown takes the cake hands down. On the other hand, from a perspective of what we would want to see live, Jealous Again is technically better-written and might be more enjoyable to see them play. We're going to have to award a tie on this one.
BLACK FLAG VS. FLAG
After examining the membership, I'm going to have to go with Black Flag. Even though it came down to a tie and Keith Morris is a major factor, nothing can beat a Ginn-supported Black Flag lineup. Ginn is the ultimate determining factor behind a real Black Flag lineup, not to mention that he hasn't had to sub in any outside players.
If Dukowski is really in it with him, this would be the closest to the original Black Flag lineup since 1981, and that counts for a lot. Plus they even have the rights to use the name, which Morris's FLAG can't say.
Even better, though, Ginn's Black Flag is a living, breathing entity. There's talk of new recordings, and Ginn even performed a new song in a brief reunion with Reyes a while ago, proving that they've still got it in them to make some new music.
Morris's FLAG seems to be purely a nostalgia trip. As much as I love nostalgia, I've heard when Ginn can still do with his solo work and I have few doubts about his ability to write a great new Black Flag record.
In the end, though, I think I speak for all us Black Flag fans when I say we'd go see either lineup if one of them came to Houston.