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Black Flag - Damaged



Henry Garfield (Rollins' birth name) was a big fan of punk rock, and really wanted to be involved in the scene in his hometown of Washington, D.C. He had been working as a roadie for his friend, Ian MacKaye's band, the Teen Idles when he met H.R., the lead singer of Bad Brains. H.R., upon meeting Henry, told the young man that he should become a singer. Henry was so affected by this meeting, that he did just what was suggested; he started performing with the group State Of Alert (S.O.A.) They released one E.P. on MacKaye's Dischord Records, and gained some local fame.

Henry's favorite band was Black Flag. He had all the releases (including compilation appearances) that the band had issued, and knew them inside out. When he found out Black Flag was going to be performing in NYC, he knew that he simply HAD to go see them, even though it was such a long drive, and he had to be at work early the next day.

MacKaye and Henry took the trip up to New York, and were blown away by the show. At the end of the set, Dez announced that the band was doing a second gig that same night at a location in another part of the city. Of course, the two followed the band to the second gig, despite the fact that Henry was going to have to leave directly from the set to go to work (no time to sleep.) At this second set, Henry shouted for the band to play "Clocked In," a song about working. The band played the song for Henry, and even invited him to jump onstage and sing the song with them. Henry sang the song, thanked the band and took the trip back home.

Now, unbeknownst to Rollins, Dez had been having conversations with Ginn regarding the fact that he wanted to retire as singer and move exclusively to guitar, which was his intended role when joining the band. Henry's performance so impressed Ginn, that the band stayed a bit longer in New York, and got in touch with Henry. They wanted him to come up to the City and audition as singer for Black Flag, and suddenly a young man from the other side of the country was the fourth official singer for Black Flag.

Henry moved out to California with the band and was taught all of the songs they had in their roster to this point. After an aborted attempt at a Rise Above E.P., the band headed into the studio to record Damaged.

Now, I want to be absolutely clear here, so that there is no confusion. THE RESULT OF THESE SESSIONS IS THE GREATEST ALBUM THAT HAS EVER EXISTED. NOTHING COMES EVEN CLOSE, AND NO ONE WILL EVER BE ABLE TO COMPETE WITH THIS RECORD.

The raw emotion found here is explosive. The guitar playing is spastic and chaotic, yet technical and absolutely mind-boggling. Henry's interpretations of Ginn & Dukowski's lyrics is seriously flooring. The rage, angst and despair in his vocals ranges from awe-inducing to down right scary.

Let's start at the top. The version of "Rise Above" included on this album was the one that was recorded for the E.P. (though a version was recorded at the Damaged sessions, but it was found to be inferior the earlier take.) Rollins discussed this song recently in a spoken word performance and said that it could be the new national anthem, and he's not far off. Powerful, inspiring, and with the greatest sing-a-long chorus ever constructed, there is no other way to start this album.

"Spray Paint" is 30 seconds of riot-inspiring rage. The lyrics, "It feels good and I'm gonna go wild!" about sums it up.

"Six Pack" resurfaces here, faster and angrier. Total perfection. Henry shouts the classic line "What do they know about partying? Or anything else?" in the last moments of the take.

There is a spoken word section in the middle of the Dukowski composition, "What I See." Originally, it was to be up to the singer to improvise this section, but Henry could come up with nothing that he was satisfied with, so the final product was penned by Dukowski. "Not right? I'm not right? You're not right! I've got to close my eyes!" Perfection.

"TV Party" is a breath of humorous fresh air. A hilarious gang vocal song about having no ambition but drinking and watching TV remains timeless even though many of the shows mentioned in it are long gone.

America's drinking culture is run through the feedback and screams kaleidoscope in the rocking "Thirsty & Miserable."

The feedback at the beginning of "Police Story" is a telling thing. Ginn's amp was broken during the recording of this album, and he had no way of turning down the volume. The only options he had were maximum volume and off, so for all the takes he had to turn on his amp right before the take began, otherwise feedback would fill the room. This is precisely the sound you hear at the beginning of this classic track.

A live classic for many years to come (and one of the most covered songs in the Black Flag lexicon), "Gimme Gimme Gimme" is a perfect way to close out side one. A schizophrenic blend of lightheartedness and rage, this song is totally perfect.

Side two of this album strips any pretention of lightness. This is dark, pained music that rocks with complete abandon. All of the factors that may have "damaged" the singer from the first side (drinking, police, greed, television) have created the perfect monster.

"Depression" had not been released yet on record, but it did appear in The Decline Of Western Civilization back when Ron Reyes was singing for the band. While that version rocks in its own right, this take of the song is stupefying. If you listen closely, you can hear Henry breathe in right before the band literally explodes out of your stereo. I get chills every time.

"Room 13" is a great example of Ginn's spastic switch between chunky, low end power chords and screeching high end sounds. He makes that switch after practically every time Henry shouts "Keep Me Alive!" Once again, perfect.

Lyrics like "Put the gun to my head and I don't pull, I'm confused, confused, my emotions are bruised" in the song "Damged II" may read like a teenagers diary, but in this setting, they are nothing but sublime.

"No More" starts with Dukowski and ROBO pounding on their respective instruments at first slowly, then building momentum to a whirlwind pace until the band jumps in with easily one of the best rock songs ever penned.

I don't think anything could speak for "Padded Cell" like the lyrics "See it in, maniacs, their eyes, maniacs. Maniacs, maniacs."

Angular, psuedo-atonal guitar lines makes "Life Of Pain" feel like a cry for help from the helpless. Perfection.

"Damaged I" reappears as the final track for these sessions, and what a way to go out. The song is slowed drastically from other versions here, and over the drum intro, you can hear Henry gasping for breath into the mic as he mumbles, "I'm Henry, and you're with me now," announcing his arrival as singer of Black Flag. Broken, battered, worn, and weary, the singer has succumbed to the misery and pain. Henry's improvised lyrics (for example, "I can't see nothing! I'm blind! I'm blind! I'm blind! Reach out your hand to me, give me your hand! I'LL BITE IT OFF!!") mixed with his gutteral growling and howling like a caged animal are undoubtedly the greatest thing that could be sung over Ginn & Co.'s slow, feedbacky crunch fest.

If you do not own this album already, shame on you. Go to the store right now and buy it. Now.

Damaged - 11 out of 10.

Here's some performances from this period to give you an idea of what we are dealing with here. "Six Pack," "Damaged," & "Damaged I." It simply does not get better than this line up of Black Flag. Period.




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