Can I Get in the Van? – I Hitchhiked to Texas and Almost Joined Black Flag
Illustration by Todd Ryan White
In the summer of 1981, a young and unknown 20-year-old punk from Washington, DC, named Henry Garfield jumped up onstage to sing an encore with Black Flag at a show in New York City. It so happened that the band was looking for a new singer. A couple days later, they tracked down Henry and asked him to come back to New York for a proper audition. They met him at the Odessa diner on Avenue A by Tompkins Square Park and took him to a nearby rehearsal space, where they ran through a set together. Afterward, the band went outside to talk it over. As Henry later recounted in his tour diary, Get in the Van, guitarist Greg Ginn and bassist Chuck Dukowski returned a few minutes later and Dukowski asked, “Well? Are you going to join or not?”
Henry, of course, was in. He immediately quit his job as the manager of a Häagen-Dazs, left behind an abusive family situation, and went on the road with his favorite band. Shortly thereafter, he changed his last name to Rollins and moved to Los Angeles. Within six months, the band recorded Damaged, a record that is widely credited with inventing American hardcore.
Back when I was a Black Flag-obsessed teenager longing to escape my own dead-end hometown in south Florida, the story about Henry’s complete reversal of fortune captured my imagination. In 1989, after Black Flag had already split up, I read an interview with Greg Ginn in which he lamented how hard it was to find dedicated, hardworking musicians. Being an idealistic 16-year-old, I called SST Records and left a message on their answering machine, offering to drop what I was doing and hitchhike to Los Angeles to play bass in his band. Ginn, unfortunately, never called back. Still, Black Flag’s uncompromising DIY ethic continued to inspire me, and eventually, I left home, worked hard, and carved out a fulfilling life for myself as a writer and musician.
I still sometimes think about how exciting it must have been to just walk away from a life you didn’t like, as Henry did, and start over completely. One gloomy, late night last winter I found myself sitting at the Odessa diner, ruminating over a lukewarm cup of coffee. I was sick, rent was due, my new book was going nowhere, and a snowstorm was raging outside. I thought of Henry, sitting so long ago at the same counter.
Later that week, to everyone’s surprise, members of Black Flag announced that they were reforming. In fact, there were two reunions: one led by founder and principal songwriter Greg Ginn—claiming the official moniker of Black Flag—and the other by former bass player Dukowski and Keith Morris, the band’s first singer, which would simply be going by Flag.
While fans debated feverishly which of these lineups was the true Black Flag, I was captivated by one tiny detail from the flood of news stories announcing the dual reunions: Ginn said that he would be playing both guitar and bass on the new, as-yet-untitled album.
It dawned on me: Black Flag did not have a bass player. I could be that bass player! I decided right then and there to find out where Ginn was living, hitchhike across the country, and persuade him to let me try out—just as I had attempted to do at 16. I knew all the old songs, and I figured that thumbing it instead of flying or taking a bus would prove to Ginn that I had dedication.
By now you’ve probably heard about the Black Flag reunion that everyone is creaming themselves over. Unfortunately, as of right now it looks like they’re only playing three shows, so you’ll probably miss it, then tell everyone how bad you wanted to go and what bullshit it is that you couldn’t get tickets, before eventually just carrying on with your life. But there’s this other Flag-related thing happening too. A truly interesting new publishing venture called Sorry House has surfaced and their first book is one of poetry (gay) from the strangely intriguing internet ghost Mira Gonzalez. I was going to make the headline for this article “Black Flag Offspring Does Poetry” because I thought she was Chuck Dukowski’s actual spawn, but it turns out he’s her stepfather, which is still fun.
The title of Mira’s book is I will never be beautiful enough to make us beautiful together. But I’m not so sure about that. Have you ever seen yourself, Mira? I have a feeling a lot of boners with your name on them are out there. Hell, I’ve even got a small internet crush on you, and I’m a goddamn faggot who sucks fat guy dick and eats fat guy ass ON THE REG.
Maybe I’m overselling you. I should stop.
Tomorrow night Mira will be celebrating the launch of her new book with a reading at Housing Works bookstore in New York. In addition to Mira, Victor “Kool A.D.” Vazquez (the Das Racist guy), Melissa Broder (the Queen), Willis Plummer (he is too young to write as well as he does), Spencer Madsen (taking on despair toe to toe), Marshall Mallicoat (don’t know her/him, but like his/her tweets), and myself (the worst) will be reading as well. There will be drinks.
I asked Mira some questions about some things.
VICE: Who is your dad? Mira: My daddy is a Mexican-Jewish businessman who I think is trying to kill me. My stepdad is Chuck Dukowski of Black Flag.
Not sure about the ages of the parties involved, but I’m assuming you were born after the Black Flag years? I am 20; Black Flag is before my time. My mom and Chuck got married when I was a baby, and I’ve lived with both of them my whole life. I was always aware that he was in a band, but I didn’t really understand how important that band was until high school when I met people who liked Black Flag.
Since I was young I have always heard Black Flag songs around the house, so it was difficult for me to get any distance from the music. As I grew older I understood the songs more and began to enjoy the music independently. I think Black Flag influenced my writing a lot, as well as my taste in music.
Chuck now plays in a band called The Chuck Dukowski SEXTET. Chuck plays bass, my mom sings, my brother plays guitar, and our family friend plays drums. They play a cover of the Black Flag song “My War” at the end of their set. It’s fun to hear my mom scream “fuck you!” at the audience. My brother is also a contortionist and bends himself in half while playing guitar during their set.
A lot of your poems’ titles sound like tweets. Were they? I can only think of one title that was originally a tweet (the title is “McSweeney’s Caused Global Warming”). Sometimes I write a tweet and save it because it would work better as a poem title, and other times I write a poem title and tweet it instead.
Usually titles are just recycled images from their poems, but I wanted to use titles as a place for actual content, instead of just pointing to what’s inside (it seems pointless to title a poem about bluebirds “Bluebird,” for example).
I view both Twitter and writing as a way to identify with people. If someone reads my Twitter feed and doesn’t immediately think I’m a massive shit head, then I probably want to be friends with that person. If someone reads my Twitter feed and does think that I’m a massive shit head, then I probably want to have sex with that person.
It feels really good when I think Rick Ross should sit on my face right now, then post it on Twitter and receive affirmation that I’m right.
Kate Carraway’s Obseshes - Obseshes ≠ Endorsements
My actual obsesh this week was rolling out of bed and onto the hard floor before the clock striked (Stroked? Struck? Struck!) six, because I was bizzzeeeee and sick and am doing this thing where I am trying to conceive of hateful snow-times as somehow insular and cozymaking and early bedtimes and work work work but instead I’m just kind of bored and sad and my roots are at Threat Level Infinity? Anyway here are some competing obsessions of the week.
The tidy neckline, buttoned up and arranged just-so-ishly with a necklace of Chiclet-gemstones or ironic pearls, has been a definitively nice/solid neck-look for a little while. I’m not mad. But, now it has all my style-attention on the neck (well, actually, my style attention for the month of January has been about whether or not it’s OK to clash pajama separates if it’s just you and a cup of coffee all day long) (it’s not OK). So, what can we expect next, neck-wise (Haaaa, EXPECT YOUR NECK! My matching pajama separates liked that one a lot) in the approaching months? I’m guesstimating a wide-but-not-so-wide-it-compromises-your-bra-strap kind of neckline, not as limited as a boat neck or as 90210-slutty as a tight scoop, but open and flowing and without an underlayer, in a serious fabric like thick cashmere or a rough linen, all the better for the mysteries of the post-winter clavicle to be reveaaaled. Wait for it, this is happeninginginging.
I have this new Philips-brand “Wake-Up Light,” which is a Max Headroom-shaped clock radio-cum-quasiorb that you can set to chirp bird sounds at you. So, instead of waking up by sleep-chasing after a slippery iPhone and its tinny melodics you wake up to a butter-warm glow and pre-dawn summertime sounds that you will think, at first, only existed in an ancient fever dream that you had once. It’s rilly, rilly cool.
We gave little kids “beer” and taught them to smash the state and circle the pit. Then we made them listen to Black Flag’s “TV Party”. Now they want to smash Henry Rollins in the face and “kick him in the willy”.
You ever get weird flashbacks to things from high school that you both did not learn and did not forget? I get that a lot with the Wheel of Governmental Something Something. I don’t know what it’s called. I couldn’t find evidence of it on the internet. It might just be one of those things that tenth grade civics teachers have written on chalkboards since they crawled out of the primordial ooze and began droning on about checks and balances.
You know, the Wheel of Governmental Something Something? Kind of looks like this:
I think it’s supposed to teach teenagers not to get all carried away with their political beliefs. The idea is that if you go too far in one direction of wanting things to be a certain way, you come back around, and the most extreme ways to be are actually dead in the middle of two other things.
Like for example: If there’s only one person in charge of the country where you live, it’s probably not going to matter to you a whole hell of a lot if that person is ideologically more of a fascist or a socialist, because either way you’ll probably get your head chopped off for bitching and moaning about them in public. Or if everybody is equally in charge, you can never find a way to be conservative or liberal because every single decision is like nine people on their iPhones taking fucking FOREVER just to figure out how to pay for dinner. So the most left or right you can get politically are actually from the most medium-authority style governments that go all the way in one direction.
We’ve all heard the insane and seemingly implausible urban legends surrounding the Black Lip’s Arabia Mountain album. Producer Mark Ronson almost dying from eating liver sashimi, using a real human skull as a reverb mic, naked recording session, Sean Lennon and Q-Tip secretly played on the album, the mysteries go on and on. Well now is your chance to get to the bottom of it all.
Here’s what you do… buy the album on sale at eMusic for $5.99, think about what you really want to know from the Black Lips, think on it some more, don’t just go with your first question, this is your one-time shot, then ENTERHERE to get that question answered. If you win, not only will we record the band answering your questions to you personally, but we’ll also send you some Lips swag. Signed vinyl anyone?