Every modern punker has a story relating to Black Flag's Damaged, which turns 30 years old today. Some hate it, some love it, some blame it for the everything good or bad that happened in their lives since they first heard it. For Houston scene vet Bill Fool, it was the beginning of a personal revolution.
"It's the single most important record to ever be slipped onto my record player. After the music kicks in and old Henry starts his verbal assault, you just can't stop the transition that is about to happen from normal human being to punk," he says. Fool currently plays in Hell City Kings, and has been in a host other Houston punk bruisers.
Released on SST Records on December 5, 1981, Damaged is still converting the punk youth, along with Minor Threat's First Two 7"s on a 12", the Sex Pistol's Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols, The Clash's first self-titled album, and a host of others. But the kids who used Damaged as their gateway drug are different, heartier breed it seems.
Guitarist Greg Ginn's project - let's face it, the band was his baby since 1976 - would grow to become one of the most influential bands to tour the world, acting like a traveling bag of Miracle-Gro wherever they went, making bands sprout up in their wake. Ask Rad Rich next time you see him about Black Flag in Houston.
Damaged was Black Flag's first full-length album after a slew of singles and EP's, and their first release with new lead singer Henry Rollins, who was plucked out of his job at a Baskin-Robbins and the DC hardcore scene to replace Dez Cadena on vocals.
The album is a meaty 15-song set, featuring now-classic cuts like the novelty track - as far as punk in '81 went - "TV Party," the anthemic "Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie" and the vandalism ode "Spray Paint." In music critic Robert Christgau's opinion, the second half "drags more painfully than intended."
"The closing track, "Damaged I," is foreshadowing of the Black Flag to come. Experimenting with extreme repetition, the band showed that they are not going to be afraid to veer off the beaten path in the future," says Hank Doyle of Houston punk bands Titan Blood and The Burden.
As much as Damaged is heavily-adored, it's still seen as somewhat inferior to the Black Flag work that came before it. With Damaged, and Flag to an extent, there exist two schools: those that prefer the proto-Rollins version of the band, and those that think he improved the band.
"Damaged contains many re-recorded songs that Black Flag had been playing for some time. Tracks such as "Six Pack" and "TV Party," as well as a few others. All versions of those two songs suck, if you ask me," adds Doyle.
"The Rollins recordings of these songs suck more than previously recorded versions, the ones with other vocalists. Taking this into account, its easy to why people wanted to hate Henry Rollins right off the bat. Not to mention the fact that the Nervous Breakdown EP is literally the best shit ever."
All told, the band would have three different vocalists by the time Rollins came into the fold. Keith Morris, Ron Reyes, and Cadena all took turns on the mic. Of all four, the Morris-era seems to be the most revered by true-blue Flag fans. Morris would of course go on to front the Circle Jerks and OFF!, who turned in a great night at Warehouse Live back in October.
If you need schooling on early pre-Rollins Black Flag, your best bets are The First Four Years, and Everything Went Black, as any major dude will tell you.
It was the words that Rollins was singing on Damaged, written by bassist Chuck Dukowski, that resonate with Fool still, the singer be damned.
"Most of those songs went through four different singers but still kept their character due to the amazing words Chuck gave each one of them. Even after he stopped playing with the band he helped write lyrics, book all of the shows and handle all of the bands finances. Chuck Dukowski is Black Flag," he says.
This writer's favorite Black Flag material is the later stuff, after Damaged, which probably makes us some of poser. My War, Slip It In, Loose Nut, and the proto-grunge of In My Head.
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To us, their were three Black Flags, all with distinct differences and we have reasons for loving each incarnation. Before Henry, the Damaged era, and the long-haired Black Flag. The latter was a more serpentine version of the band which we have come to identify with more than the hardcore material. Even still, the mere sound of Ginn's guitar, and that wicked backbeat on all their songs makes us tingle, no matter who is up front.
"All in all, Damaged plays like a compilation album or a "greatest hits" or something. That really bugs me about it. Despite being their most well-known LP, I think it's the least memorable. As someone who is enamored with their entire discography, Damaged is intriguing mainly for its placement in their timeline. Bridging the gap between the perfection of a style with the early EP from Ginn and company, to the later, more groundbreaking material. It still serves as a relic to show us the two directions the band was torn between," says Doyle.
"I'm Black Flag. Every lifer is Black Flag," says Fool.