Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Rollins and the Ruination

Recently I came across this 2001 interview with Jack Grisham of the original TSOL in which he touts Black Flag as a great band but at the same time clarifies that only “pre-Henry” Flag was any good. “Early Black Flag -- I f***in' loved 'em,” he says, “I think Henry [Rollins] ruined 'em.” I have encountered this sentiment elsewhere, and it puzzles me.

What, exactly, did Rollins do wrong? Grisham offers no explanation except that the Keith Morris Flag was his Flag. He “f***in’ loved ‘em” and that’s that. Perhaps he's simply confusing Rollins's Black Flag tenure with the later machismo-core of the Rollins Band. I don't know.

I saw Black Flag in the more experimental Kira-era, and they certainly delivered the goods. Besides, Greg Ginn himself tapped Rollins to replace Dez, didn't he? Plucking Rollins from the D.C. scene wasn’t the act of some mersh-minded manager cobbling together a radio-friendly supergroup. And Dez's throat was hurting.

So, Grisham should cut Rollins some slack. Damaged, My War, and Slip It In are amazing albums, despite Flag’s less-than-impressive later releases. The hair-waving duo of Rollins and Ginn was pure rock chemistry onstage. Mixed with Dukowski's neck-snapping bass presence and Dez's deceptively aggro hippy style, the Rollins five-piece phase captured on Damaged is anything but a ruination of the band. More like a fulfillment.

Maybe Grisham is just sensitive about what happened to his own band. After releasing the brilliant Beneath the Shadows, TSOL dumped him—or he bolted—so that they could eventually become a hair band. So, Grisham knows firsthand what it’s like to be the original and better lead singer in a band, but that’s no reason for him to project the “TSOL tragedy” onto Rollins.


Henry said...

Personally, the Beatles were ruined when Ringo entered the band. The Pete Best Beatles is the only group for me...This is a silly argument, can't forget Bill Stevenson too, who ruled. Seems like having a contrarian opinion for the sake of it.

Anonymous said...

When I'm feeling kind, I like to think all them lame anti-Rollins types out there were turned off by the absolute MASSIVENESS of his presence. Henry was right there in your face all the time talking yelling screaming - he'd never fade away and you couldn't ignore him no matter how hard you tried. Which was the fucking point! And a big point that point was. Only Keith rivaled Rollins for that kinda presence - but Keith bailed real early. Ron Reyes is loved cause he was the most trad HC and Darby-like; in retrospect, he was the weakest imo. Dez was totally singular, but pretty limited vocal-wise. Dezo couldn't've pulled off amazing performances like "My War" or "Slip It In" or even "Now She's Black". No: BLACK FLAG needed Rollins like Taxi Driver needed De Niro.

Hey! I've just added you to my blogroll. Thanks - keep the good posts coming.

Damon said...

Plan to. Thanks!

And yes, I had no intention of excluding Bill Stevenson. Poor drummers; they (we) always get overlooked.

Of course, from the "Rollins era" came a non-Rollins gem: The Process of Weeding Out. Really a milestone in punk rock: punk as noise as free jazz.