Dr. K.’s Book Review: Spray Paint the Walls

Spray Paint the Walls by Stevie Chick - Dr. K.'s book review on Earth Patrol

Dr. Krohn’s book review train is chugging down the tracks. Next stop, Spray Paint the Walls: The Story of Black Flag by Stevie Chick. All passengers please prepare for arrival after the turn. EPM “Pettibon Junction” Out!

I owe Black Flag. Keith’s version of “No Values” sounded like a bomb detonating in the room the day my girlfriend came to get her stuff, new boyfriend in tow. I blankly said “Wash this out of your life” and dropped the needle, the music doubtlessly providing the most caustic statement available for the painful situation at hand…they were gone in minutes, forever.

These days rock-n-roll is still a ritual, and it begins every night of summer when the sun starts to go down. I put on a record, pick up my bass, or go downtown alone looking to connect to something, or someone, rather than creepy crawl on the web. But as a tadpole, I listened to my music in the oppressively hot mid-day sun, and it was Flag. Their story, and SST’s, has inspired me ever since.

Stevie Chick’s new book Spray Paint the Walls – The Story of Black Flag captures the time and place in all of its dazed and nihilistic glory. Its all here: the bohemian south bay beach culture of 1970’s Hermosa, the scholarly and bizarrely eccentric Ginn family household that spawned the band’s legendarily Spartan pragmatism, the boundless commitment to the precision and power of the music, Chuck Dukowski’s infinite esprit de corps and outer space intellectualism, and the permanent visual aesthetic of Pettibon’s Manson-drenched art…not to mention the sheer antisocial nature of the whole sordid self-promoted endeavor. This is primo summer reading for the afflicted.

At its best, “Spray Paint” exposes the shameful disconnect between the superficial façade of the sunshine-mellow 70’s California lifestyle and its stunning lack of meaningful youth culture for those outside of the mainstream. Flag filled this void in the ‘burbs, exploiting a truly obligate niche, and in the process became the raging alpha-dogs of American hardcore. And good thing it’s all over with now, the LAPD would’ve finally brought the elusive Black Flag “gang” to their knees with all of the detailed secrets and lurid confessionals found in this book.

I particularly liked the emphasis given to the indispensable role Raymond Pettibon’s art played in the rapid success of the band. The grim simplicity and power of the piston-inspired flag logo, and the crucial ease at which it could be replicated by anyone with 4 simple strokes of a spray can, made for a truly pandemic “meme” the likes of which would make even Richard Dawkins buzz.

Also highlighted was the frustrating no-man’s land left occupied by the original south beach weirdos, most notably Redd Kross, after their scene was virtually torched overnight by the thick and violent (yet influential) HB’s. The Mcdonald brothers, always the precocious pop-damaged savants, give tasty interviews here.

Stevie Chick (cool name) must be British, and he has made a great book. He brought a few colloquialisms with him too. The early members of Black Flag certainly may have stoked each other before a show, but they never “gee’d each other up” for crying out loud.

Rating: A full bucket of wheat-paste

4 Responses to “Dr. K.’s Book Review: Spray Paint the Walls”

  • i would like to read that. hi Brad.

  • Sounds like a good story. Although it’s not my idea of light beach reading for a holiday weekend. I might pick it up in November.

  • Kick ass review of a tome about a kick ass band/scene…Dr. K’s prose is so bloody you can save the A-1 and dig right in.

  • Black Flag is responsible for me losing 7 lbs. of water weight in one night. I think I want to read this — wait — nah, I know I want to read this. Thanks, Dr. K!

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