In doing something I’m 100% sure I’ll regret, I decided I wanted to write about music again, but because I never listen to anything current or popular, I wanted to look back and grimace at some of the albums I remember having particular themes and memories attached to them, be they for better or worse, because hey, why not look back and laugh?
I’ve written about Coconut’s in my old neighborhood in Flushing before, mainly for the movie selection which was, surprisingly, in-depth and choice. However, Coconut’s primarily leveraged itself as a record store, and as a gun-shy kid who didn’t really venture too far into Greenwich Village/downtown Manhattan to the cool punk stores that much alone (I was really neurotic and unsure of myself and the world around me), and didn’t have a regular income as a teenager sometimes (my main “job” as a teenager was getting cash from my uncles once in a while during summer as the gopher on their three-man contracting jobs, otherwise I eked out a budget on birthday money and saved lunch money leftovers for records and any punk accoutrements I wanted).
Plus, the circle of friends I had in 11th and 12th grade when I was back living in the US were primarily interested in industrial music and nu-metal, something my purist punk self sneered at then in the way that stupid punks tended to be, so tape/CD trading, the standard staple for getting new music you might like when you’re a cheap and/or broke teenager in the pre-Internet era (or rather, pre-knowing about how to use the primitive Internet of the era to get free stolen music) for new stuff was fairly limited. Still, thanks to dog-eared copies of THRASHER and CIRCUS magazines, I thought myself pretty well-versed in punk rock and punk culture (even though I feel compared to a lot of my peers I got into punk rock “late”, in high school, but that’s another story about bullshit expectations), slowly beginning to expand my palate of counter-culture stuff like old movies and pre-punk/early hardcore bands thanks to discovering oral history books about stuff like that. I also had an older “cousin,” one of my uncle’s friends who’d been a punk rocker in New York in the 80’s. He’d toured in a band and told me about bands like the Minutemen and Throbbing Gristle and helped me get a deal on a cheap bass guitar and amp.
One of those high-school friends of mine ended up being my first girlfriend, who I was obsessed with in that way a teenage boy tends to be when he’s stupid and horny and never gotten any attention from a girl before. We’d go for fast-food dates or hang out at my house watching movies and making out (I lived with my grandparents at the time, and for a period of time just my grandfather, who didn’t particularly care about what was going on as long as I came home at night and went to school), but also a lot of times we’d just wander around Queens and talk and hold hands in the park. A thing we’d do is go to the bookstore a the strip mall/shopping area and look at stuff and sit in the A/C, or we’d go to Coconut’s, something all teenagers Flushing did (my girlfriend wasn’t from Flushing, but she always came to see me rather than let me come to her neighborhood or apartment because her dad was apparently a lunatic, but anyway). We wandered the isles and looked and scoffed at bullshit pop stuff, and I’d flip through the movies and point stuff out to her in that dumb way that made me a Hard Times article come to life.
It was during one of those times, after a summer reading and re-reading Steven Blush’s book American Hardcore a thousand times and listening to every CD and tape and mixtape I owned, that I stopped and pointed. There, in the “B” section of the CDs between Britney Spears and Babe: The Motion Picture Soundtrack or something like that?
Damaged by Black Flag.
The first Flag record with their most famous frontman arguably, Henry Rollins, who has since gone on to become a pop culture figure in his own right. The album Blush venerated like a saint’s bones in his book for like twenty pages it felt like, the album “everyone” told me (more like all the books and magazines told me because who the fuck did I know at 16, 17 years old who listened to Black Flag in 1999?) had “changed” punk rock and hardcore.
I had $20 in my wallet…but I paused.
“Do you want to buy it?” my girlfriend asked, after probably uninterestedly listening to me rant and rave about Flag and 80’s hardcore for weeks on end. I demurred, thinking about what I could do with twenty dollars instead in terms of junk food or renting movies at the time, about how I wanted to stretch that out maybe to go buy some fantasy novels or Japanese comics instead. I hemmed, I hawed, and in the end, I passed on it, and we went to go do the things that handsy teenagers do in the park or in my bedroom while watching a movie.
About three weeks later, I was alone, I was in Coconut’s again, and I still had some money. Fuck it. In a place that was basically a small-time version of a Virgin Megastore planted between a bank and a sporting-goods & sneaker store, finding a CD version (because it’s 1999, it’s before vinyl was a “thing” again) of Black Flag’s Damaged was finding a wallet full of $50-bills on the street when no one else is around as far as I was concerned. I think it was like $10. My girlfriend was weirdly annoyed about it considering how she’d told me I should just get it the first time, then I went and said no, then got it anyway when I wasn’t with her. Being definitively-sure of my choices or making any kind of decision on my own wasn’t my strong suit as a neurotic kid, what can I say.
This was the first “old”/classic punk album I ever bought. I was one of those guys who was swayed by California/West Coast skate punk and the rise of “alternative” culture in the popular consciousness, enjoying the crass obnoxiousness and righteous self-centered but honest anger of the era that used sugary pop hooks to be semi-palatable. It was the era of Epitaph records and Rhino Records re-releases, and I was 100% about that at 14, 15. I sucked at skateboarding too, by the way, probably because my natural nervousness and the terror imparted into my brain by my parents about breaking my glasses making me too scared to fully throw myself off tall public monuments with a plank of wood under my feet as someone blasted the first Down By Law the latest Rancid record from a boombox behind me. What did I know?
What do I even know now?
So yeah, now I’m 34 and Dez Cadena’s the better Black Flag singer as far as I’m concerned on the rare occasions that I listen to Black Flag (the guy Rollins replaced who was still playing guitar with the band), and I think this CD is in with the rest of the records that are still languishing in my parents’ basement in Queens with a bunch of my other records. I’ll be honest, I don’t think I really liked it that much, considering the “SST Sound” was to basically sound like you recorded a record inside a tin moonshiner’s shack with the volume on the microphones turned super-low. It also made me think that anything that wasn’t Billy Joel from the 1980’s sounded just as shitty.
This is patently untrue of course, because the Minutemen managed to make the SST sound work for Double Nickels On the Dime, but that’s another story probably best told by someone else who’s smarter about sound and recording and music than me, who is an idiot.