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“Hi Mom! Still alive!”: Black Flag and the punk violence hysteria of 1980-81

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As if you needed it: PUNK NOSTALGIA ALERT.

In the early ‘80s, Black Flag were at the center of the controversy about punk rock violence that hung over the hardcore scenes in L.A. and nationwide.

Two elements seemed at work here. First were the media reports about punk violence fueled parental hysteria, and likely prompted parents of rebellious teens to call the cops on shows that would probably have turned out fine. Second was the actual risk of potential injury at L.A. punk shows. This typically led ad hoc scene spokespeople to defensively compare violence levels at punk shows with those at metal concerts or football games. It also caused plenty of serious internal hand-wringing (mostly in punk ‘zines) about “scene unity”—which now of course just seems like naïve tribalism. 

This Reagan-era concern over local teen and twenty-something violence seemed completely bemusing at a time of mutal assured nuclear destruction and adventurous foreign policy.

Obviously, Black Flag shows weren’t sedate affairs. Of my two encounters with the band in the early Rollins era, one featured a quick half-stampede away from the stage and towards the door, while the other comprised watching a riot unfold outside a sold-out Flag show with the Ramones. Black Flag would eventually settle into the proto-grunge route to self-destruction in 1986.

Looking at it from an era in which more severe and socially tangible violence happens routinely at hip-hop shows, and punk is now fodder for a Broadway musical, Black Flag’s problems seems like they occurred less at another time than on another planet.

Here’s a 1981 segment from the local L.A. news show 2 on the Town.
 

 

Posted by Ron Nachmann | Leave a comment