Hill on the Flag: Tombs frontman on the Black Flag reunion
You may know Mike Hill from his role as frontman in bands such as Anodyne and Tombs, but my own experiences with the Brooklyn resident reach much further. He’s a huge fan of film, an avid reader and when it comes to music, no band has meant more to him since discovering punk rock than Black Flag. As such, I cornered Hill to ask him to comment on the reunions and the controversy that has followed. His thoughts on Greg Ginn and Black Flag in 2013 are below.
In David Lynch’s Lost Highway, Fred Madison said, “I like to remember things my own way; how I remember them, not necessarily the way they happened.” As the years go by, Black Flag will probably be remembered by their fans in a similar way, time painting and a coating of nostalgia over what was probably an intensely grueling experience for the band’s members. They are one of those bands that seems to have touched everyone involved in punk, hardcore, metal and pretty much any form of aggressively independent music, either through the intensity of their music, their tireless work ethic or the trail they blazed on the D.I.Y. touring front, creating opportunities where none existed before.
When Flag made the extremely unpopular move to grow their hair long and slow the breakneck speed of their short, fast proclamations of alienation, it was clear that they could care less about trends. It was about freedom and pushing forward. They took chances and were innovators when the American hardcore scene began to stagnate and grow lazy, becoming an inversion of the ideals that they once rebelled against, creating their own conformity.
With a few exceptions, such as the ill-received 2003 reunion, they have been silent until now. The last few years have subjected us to a plethora of reunions and blatant attention grabs from a spectrum of bands performing Elvis-like reviews of “hits”. Aside from the aforementioned show, Black Flag seemed determined to maintain the sanctity of memory, so the fans that had the opportunity to see them when they existed could remember them the way they wanted. After all, there have been enough former members of the band to make several bands.
So now, after nearly thirty years, not one, but two Black Flags are dragging themselves out on the road for what is sizing up to be a complete travesty. I suppose there’s the argument that the younger fans never had the opportunity to see the band play in their heyday, but the reality is that you’re not really getting a chance to see Black Flag; you’re paying to see a bunch of guys that used to be in a band called Black Flag that formed in 1976 and broke up in 1986 and within those ten years created a whole new way of doing things, a whole new way of playing music and a whole new philosophy on what it means to be self-reliant. Sure, the version of the band featuring founder Greg Ginn will have the vibe, the feel… but it’s still just a simulation, a put-on.
I just wish Ginn and company could have just let it be and allowed the fans to remember the band the way they wanted to.