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                                On BLACK FLAG...

                               by  David Tarling
                            (typed: Suicidal Amoeba)

                      >>> A CULT Publication......1988 <<<
                        -cDc- CULT OF THE DEAD COW -cDc-

This text is from the back cover of the Black Flag album, 'Everything Went
Black'.  It's the words of David Tarling, recording engineer, and talks of his
experiences with Black Flag in their heydey as one of the best of the earlier
hardcore bands in the U.S.


"We were all surfers.  We had skateboards.  Rollerskating, too, up and down the
Strand.  It made sense to revolt eventually..."

OK.  Here's where the Bop drops like big drum solos being played way out there
beyond the horizon, far past the waves pounding out the suburban rhythm of
Hermosa Beach.  Y'see this is what a lot of the Black Flag thing means to me."

Back in the mid-70's this dog gave up on the overly-glittered rock 'n' roll
world of Hollywood.  In Jermosa Beach I embarked upon my current engineering
activities (please, let's not call it a career!)  when i discovered Media Art,
a recording studio under construction.  So there I was fulfilling one of my
biggest dreams.  But on the other hand there I was recording some absolutely
godawful music played by people with absolutely no talent.  And then there was
the wonderful Disco Era!  Yuk!  But that's the life of a studio staff engineer,
uh, what the hell!

So what about Black Flag?  Sometime in 1976 I began writing music reviews for
the local newspaper (Easy Reader) in an attempt to supplement my nonexistent
income.  This is when I first encountered Greg Ginn who was one of the
strangest people I had ever met in the South Bay.  Here was someone totally out
of step with the sunshine and the surf and the skateboards, and although you
did have your outcast types who blended into the environment he even seemed out
of step with them.  But leave it to my knack of communicating with these
strange individuals.  Greg and I ended up in many discussions on music.

One night we got into a particularly opinionated discussion about one of my
reviews.  During the course of it he said how he wanted to start his own band.
I thought: "What?  This geek in a band?"  So I asked:  "What kind of band?"  He
answered:  "A punk band."  That was it!  I couldn't hold it back!  I laughed in
his face and said: "That's the most ludicrous thing I've ever heard!"  But the
geek didn't blink.  He just kinda twitched a little without seeming any less
determined.  Oh, what the hell?  That was my first real encounter with a music
that I considered to be a lotta noisy bunk (Yeah, I admit it.  Back then I was
into the progresso-sophisto music thing.)  Anyway,  Greg and I continued our
association and one day he loaned me the Ramones' first album which I thought
was great.  Not quite a religious musical experience, the Ramones at least had
an overload of grinding chainsaw noise and straightforward rock 'n' roll 4/4
energy.  Y'know, the kinda stuff that was missing from modern music.  I loved
to play it for people.  I like to watch them cringe...

Transition: 76-77 About this time Ginn formed his first band, a 4-piece unit
which was minus one member.  Greg invited me to play bass with them and I
accepted.  Sure, it's something to do.  The band rehearsed deep within the
bowels of the Hermosa Bath House.  So one night I walked down to the Strand,
banged on the door and went in.  Greg gave me this funky cheapo bass guitar and
I plugged it in.  He picked up his guitar and started playing loud distorted
atonal riffs and I cringed and wondered what I was doing in this dank decrepit
dungeon with these strange cretins.  The band had a total of six songs, each of
which lasted no longer than one minute.  Greg showed me the simple repetitive
chords--"Ok, do you want to try it?"

Sure, why not.  "Ok, here we go, 1-2-3-4!! and BANG!! the drummer started
smashing out a fast trashy straight 4 pattern and the wiry little singer
started bellowing and jumping around wildly and Greg's body lurched forward as
he underwent a remarkable transformation from Jeckyl to Hyde.  His head shook,
eyes flashed and teeth bared maniacally as he began to grind thick chords out
of a guitar that in the shadowy light could have been mistaken for a chainsaw.
Within seconds it was over.  Jeckyl calmly stepped out of his Hyde as if
stepping out of routine nightmare.

"You want to try it again?"  "Uh, uh, uh, uh, uh, well uh, yeah...."  I was
dumbfounded, shocked, my eyes wide in amazement, my mouth hanging open in
disbelief.  We played again.  1-2-3-4!!  Jeckyl became Hyde,  Music became
noise.  Punk rock became a resident of Hermosa Beach.

Ten minutes later we had played the entire six song set twice.

Within a week Chuck Dukowski had joined the band as the permanent bass player.
I continued on with my recording activities and eventually convinced the band
to record their first record at Media Art, which they did in early '78.  Being
still an apprentice engineer my involvment in the Nervous Breakdown sessions
was limited to setting up microphones and later running some rough mixes for
the band.

"...using the record as a badge of legitimacy we were finally able to get our
first L.A. club gigs.  The first was a two night stand at the Bla Bla Cafe.
The club hated us and our friends who had come to hear us.  They cancelled the
second night and refused to pay us.  Our second was with another South Bay
band.  The Last, at the Honk Kong Cafe in Chinatown.  We played anywhere and
everywhere we could and plastered the city with our posters and etc. with a
literal vengence.." -C.D.

From '77 to '79 I was fanatically involved with radical rollerskating of the
vertical kind and, except for studio work and photography, I did almost nothing
else.  Some of the sessions I did during this period were early Dangerhouse and
Posh Boy projects, jazz sessions and, of course, the usual godawful disco shit.
And it was when most of my rollerskating friends turned to learning (ugh!)
disco steps that I said later with noise!

"By its very nature Civilization dictates the need for undisciplined
acts."--"Beyond every horizon is an expanding Universe that grows out of tune,
out of sink with itself. Harmony  No Harmony  Jazz  Uncontrolled Expansion  The
only universal order is questionable.  It may not exist...it probably doesn't
exist at all,"--"In a recording studio Jazz and Punk can be very similar.  The
performances are often brilliant though lacking in polish."--"When in doubt go
directly to Punk,  Do not pass Jazz, do not collect $200 in Disco chips."-
         -exerpts from the continuing SPOT journal

So there I was gone back to basics, back to music, back to a new insanity, and
to Polliwog Park.  This was the gig that made me want to "produce Black Flag's
album before they get killed."

"...People threw everything from insults to watermelons, beer cans, ice, and
sandwiches at us.  Parents emptied their ice chests so that their families
could throw their lunches....Robo's shiny head made a great target...Afterwards
I enjoyed a lunch of delicatessen sandwiches which I found still in their
wrappers..."   -C.D.

Yeah, a whole brand new insanity.  Shortly after the Polliwog gig I fell asleep
in my house while the exterminators were spraying for bugs and nobody knew I
was there.  True story.  I don't think I've ever recovered all the parts of my
brain since then, but so what!  I had the Black Flag album to work on so it
really didn't matter.

The first session was nothing more than having the band tape a live rehearsal
in the studio.  A few weeks later came the real thing.  One night while laying
down the basic tracks of "No Values" we had one of Greg's guitar cabinets out
in the echoey hallway turned up full blast at 4:00in the morning with both
kitchen windows open onto the still night air.  That was enough to bring at
least one complaint.  So without further ado two night prowling cops invited
themselves up by uninvited means.  Some could call it breaking-and-entering,
others could call it whatever they want, but Greg insisted that he had closed
the door behind him when he last came in.  As the cops were exiting they asked:
"What band is this?"  I should have said something other than Black Flag
because they rejoined with "Ah, yes!  We've seen their graffiti on the Edison

Once they were gone I immediately deadbolted the front door, closed the kitchen
windows and helped Greg put an attuator on the cabinet in the hallway. We then
went on with another take of "No Values".  The next day while analyzing the
previous night's tracks I was certain I could detect the sound of footsteps in
the hallway and the moment when one of the cops opened the studio door.

That's how "Jealous Again" started.  Immediately after recording all the basic
tracks Johnny Bob left the band.

"...He decided he never wanted to sing again.  He smashed his records and
guitar and walked out disapperaing for a week.  He told me he had quit for good
and had no intention of finishing the album..." -C.D.

I had a real nervous breakdown.  Then Chavo was picked as a replacement but he
was nowhere near ready to record and the tapes sat on the shelf for months.  We
resumed recording when Chavo was ready but by that time he developed an
annoying practice of walking out of the session in mid-take.  Very
disconcerting.  He quit completely in a dramatic walk-off during a gig at the

"...When he sang Jealous Again he had just gotten back from the hospital where
one of two girls fighting over him was recovering from a bottle broken over her
head.  It seemed to help him understand..."    -C.D.

"...No food, love, beer, and ego drove poor Chavo crazy..."   -C.D.

-"I'd rather live in interesting exciting times than in placid dull times."
   -Joe Nolte (The Last)

The days of the Fleetwood were an incredible experience.  The epitomy of the
Hate-Kill-Destroy "Ethic" where the Huntngton Beach types reigned.  The H'Bers
were all leather jackets, chains, macho, bloodlust, and bravado, and exhibited
blatantly stupid military behavior.  It was never a dull moment.  There was a
mass brawl every five minutes and as stage manager I had a chance to witness
them all.  Sure, the fights were quite pointless but they were determined to
happen.  Face it, there were those destined to throw the punches and there
were those destined to be on the receiving end and a lot of us were destined to
watch it all happen.  But forget about the simple answers.  It was a real life
situation being played out with real life characters who dripped real life
blood.  John Lennon was once quoted as saying something to the effect of:  If
there were no fights, It was not a good gig.

When Chavo quit in the midst of BF's set he threw down the mike, jumped
offstage, and for a while no one knew what to do.  Neither did the band.
Imagine: hundreds of edgy, uncertain punks ready to use any excuse to create
mass violence; the remaining members of BF sitting dumbfounded onstage:  I was
about ready to grab the mike and tell everyone to "Go Home."  Greg told me:
"no, we're going to play."  They resumed playing.  Some young kid jumped
onstage, grabbed the mike and started singing "Nervous Breakdown"  All
hell broke loose.  A couple of other kids jumped onstage and started fighting
over the mike.  A guy named "Snikers" (ex-lead singer for the "Simpletones")
 jumped up and began singing "Louie Louie" and then proceeded to perform a most
disgustingly drunken striptease during which cans, bottles, spit, sweat, and
bodies began flying with a vengeance.  It was the finest rock & roll show I had
ever seen.

The ensuing Black Flag shows were just as inspiring.  Considering the fact that
they had no vocalist, anything was bound to happen.  "Guest" vocalists took the
stage and many of these people bragged up and down the west coast how they were
Black Flag's " new singer."

A few weeks after Chavo quit he and the band arrived at a mutual decision to
complete the project.  Recording the vocals in a posthumous manner Chavo was
suprisingly cooperative and I was moved to remark:  "This is so easy now!  Why
didn't you quit the band before this?"

"...We also were thinking that a friend of ours would be a good addition to the
band.  Dez joined as guitarist and we decided to try him on vocals if he could
pull it off..."  -C.D.

Summer '80 and Dez became the new singer.  In later July BF was kicked out the
Church in a crazy melee that easily brought the police forces of three South
Bay Cities to the scene but not before the band had split said scene to
eventually resurface in Torrance.

So "Jealous Again" was still not completed and had taken on a really
sisyphus/Pride and the Passion-type felling.  I mean I had nothing better to do
than remix a song here, remix a song there "just for practice", and one night,
about a week after he had joined VF,  I took Dez up into the studio as kind of
an experiment  "just to hear what it sounds like, y'know."  We put down a vocal
on "Jealous Again," made a fast mix, and damned if I didn't try to talk Greg
and Chuck into redoing all the vocals on all the songs with Dez.  Well they
didn't want to do that.  We recorded a few more of Dez's vocals but eventually
released "JA" with the Chavo tracks.  Finally!  More than a year after the
project was begun!

The above should therefore explain why there are so many different versions of
so many songs with all three singers.  Needless to say, remixing some of these
tracks two years later was like an audio treasure hunt.

The latter half of '80  was also ripe with some of the wildest, craziest,
"police participation" gigs.  Y'know, the Black Flag "Creepy Crawl" era that
prompted all the major and minor newsservices to jump onto the coverage of the
good ol' "PUNK ROCK VIOLENCE" issue.
F'rinstance:  At the infamous Baces Hall gig in East Hollywood I was once again
acting as stage manager.  Outside the hall was a state of near pandemonium with
hundreds of punks milling about, dozens of cops wanting to shut the place down,
photographers, reporters, and TV cameras waiting for the inevitable riot.
Inside the hall existed a state of real pandemonium which I was trying to hold
together.  At one point I was given the thankless job of announcing that "The
LAPD riot squad is outside and we have to shut it down!  Black Flag will not be
able to play!"  To which I was showered with angry "Fuck You's!", beer cans and
bottles with or without their contents, and hundreds of warm slimy globules of
spit.  I then thought: "Well maybe I can talk the cops out of stopping the
show." I pushed through the thick sweaty crowd and under the icy, quivering
light of the circling helicopter I somehow managed to convince the officer in
command to let Black Flag play a short set.  Which they did.  The cops then
came inside and joined the party.

Of course, not content with in-town destruction, Black Flag took their unique
brand of Creepy Crawlism across the country in December of '80 on their first
U.S. tour.  By this time I had "volunteered" as BF's full-time live soundman.
Whatta job, lemme tell ya!  Have you ever tried to mike a 100-megton blast?

In the wonderful windy waste of Chicago was where we met our new hero, the
legendary Harold Schvenkel, former session musician who "aaah...worked with all
the greats!  Like yer Steely Dans, yer Eagles, yer Joi Mitchells, yer Queens,
yer uh.. what the hell!  There's no integrity left in the business these day
and I need to... uh, let my nose heal, uh.... what the hell!"  Well Harry
 really dug the Black Flag thing and decided that the only way to kick a nasty
cocaine habit was to change his life, move out to California, and become a

Arriving back in LA, we embarked upon our first 24+track recording session (all
previous recordings were 16-track) which became known as the "Aborted Police
Story Project".  From this came the "Louie Louie"/"Damaged I" single.  This was
also the final session done at Media Art which lost its lease and ceased
operation in spring of '81, and where I had been living throughout all this
madness.  The vocal on the version of "Louie, Louie" contained herein was the
very last track I recorded at the studio.  The next day was when the control
board and the machines were disconnected and carried out the door.

In March came U.S. tour #2 which was a particularly fun one.  Back in LA we
made another attempt to record the album, this time in a new studio (Golden
Age) with Geza-X coproducing. From this was released the "Six Pack" single and
two other songs "Machine" & "Police Story" for compilations.

And that's about it, y'all.  Except for the commercials but there we have a
clear-cut case of combined Black Flag/Merril/Spot overgelatination being fed
too many pots of generic coffee during those crass midnight hours.  But like
our hero H. Schvenkel once told us:  "Aaaah....  What the hell!  Why get
punched when you can get fully blasted?"


"I guess I was the first person to record Black Flag.  They looked real strange
and they had these big amplifiers.  Then they started playing, they kept
playing, they kept playing, I asked them to stop, but they kept playing, they
kept playing, I said please, but they kept playing, they kept playing, I still
hear them, they keep playing, they keep playing, they keep playing, inside my
eyball, this eye here, they keep playing,  they keep playing, they keep ..."

             David Tarling, former recording engineer
             Jim Jones Memorial Wing, Patton State Mental Hospital

 (c)1988 cDc communications  by Suicidal Amoeba                       1/0/88-36
 All Rights Worth Shit