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Black Flag

"We have a bad reputation, for some reason." – Gregg Ginn, founding member, Black Flag


Black Flag photocopy flyer, designed by Raymond Pettibon

Lawndale Art Annex, March, 1984

During my last year at Lawndale (fall 1983, spring 1984) I was the gallery assistant to Moira Kelly, the newly appointed director of Lawndale, who succeeded Chuck Dugan. Moira, a sprite, energetic woman, came over from England at the urging of Derek Boshier who taught painting at UH. It was a culture shock for Moira and I spent a lot of time helping her to adjust. 

One day, a guy came by and introduced himself as Tom Bunch, a music promoter. He inquired about presenting Black Flag at Lawndale. Tom explained that because of the ruckus they caused, Black Flag was banned from all other venues in Houston. Even the venerable Island would not have them. I immediately said, "Yes!" Moira didn't object because she didn't know who they were.

In those days, Lawndale made all of its money for operations of the gallery and performance space through the sale of beer. UH provided the facility but gave no funding for any of the programming. Beer sales (cash only) paid for everything – paint, light bulbs, or anything else we needed. We were essentially on our own. Given that Lawndale was part of the University of Houston, selling beer was decidedly illegal. No matter. Everyone pretended not to know. Surls started this. He showed us all the ropes. We paid for
 everything in cash which was stored in a metal box hidden away in the office adjacent to the big, cavernous, black performance space. I knew that Black Flag presented the opportunity to make a haul. For this concert, we agreed that Tom would take the door, Lawndale would get the beer sales. 

The day came and I was in the performance space to check on things. The band had arrived in their beat up van, just in from New Orleans, rumpled and listless. We all introduced ourselves. Off to the side I noticed a shirtless guy in cut-off shorts with long, thick, wavy hair doing push-ups the hard way – hands flat on the floor, feet propped up onto the elevated stage making the angle of the push-ups that much more difficult. Despite this, he went about his activity speedily with seeming ease. Emblazoned across his muscular back shoulders was a tattoo which read in bold caps, "SEARCH & DESTROY."

"Who's that?" I inquired.

The weary but amiable Gregg Ginn replied, "Oh, that's 'Straight Edge.' We call him that because he's straight (meaning he didn't do drugs or alcohol) and he's always on edge."

It was Henry Rollins.

Before the evening began, Tom busied himself collecting chairs, desks, tables and anything else he could find to make what looked like a protected corridor at the front entry. What was he preparing for, a riot? It was his way of limiting the fight to get in.

"Do you really think we need this?" I asked.

"Yes." he said.

The evening was, as they say, legendary. I had never seen such fury. There was no dancing, just bashing. Everyone wanted to fight Henry on stage and he was able to beat back all comers. He was, by far, the toughest SOB in the room. In the midst of the performance, a fuse blew and all power – sound and lights – went off. Confusion and near riot. I broke into what was the university storage on the other side of the north wall and was able to run an extension cord from there, up over the crowd, onto the light grid (teetering on a ladder while being cursed at), and over to the band. The show went on.



Black Flag, performing at Lawndale, March 31, 1984, (pictured on stage, L. to R.) Gregg Ginn, Kira Roessler, Henry Rollins, photo by the author

Our resident bouncer guy, fellow artist/student, Jim Greene, and I took a break in Moira's office when all of a sudden the door burst open and two girls fell to the floor fighting. Jim broke it up and kicked them out while confiscating from one of them a bayonet so she would do no harm. I kept the bayonet as a souvenir. We made more money that night than in my entire time at Lawndale. I no longer have the bayonet. 


February 14, 2014

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