The wheels on the Damaged bus go ’round and ’round as Tim Murr of Stranger With Friction takes a look at Dave Markey’s still-unreleased document of Black Flag’s last tour. Find all of Tim’s antics at his site HERE
Black Flag toured like no other punk band before or after. Their tour schedules were grueling, spirit breaking affairs that took months in cargo vans and brought them to every out-of-the-way dump in America. They were true trail blazers, opening up the US for every other punk/indie band who followed. This could be one of the reasons the band burned through fourteen different members in less than a decade.
When Flag went out for six months in ’86 to support their In My Head album I doubt anyone knew this would be the band’s swan song. On the album, drummer Anthony Martinez had replaced Bill Stevenson (Descendents, ALL) and before the tour bassist Kira Roessler left and was replaced by Cel Revulta. In My Head may have been Black Flag’s finest recorded moment, sonically speaking-crystal clear production, a consistency in song writing, and a cohesiveness that albums like My War and Slip It In lacked.
Tensions were high in the band and had been for some time particularly between founder Greg Ginn and fourth vocalist Henry Rollins. Ginn had become more interested in instrumental music while Rollins had matured and hardened into a creative force in the band and not merely a yes man for Ginn. The all instrumental Process of Weeding Out seemed like a clear message to Rollins, but he stuck it out.
They struck out across the country with Painted Willie (Dave Markey was the drummer/vocalist) and Ginn’s jazz/punk three-piece Gone (which featured future Rollins Band rhythm section of Sim Cain on drums and Andrew Weiss (Ween) on bass). Markey brought a Super 8 camera along and captured this odyssey. The end result of Reality 86’d is a loose, irreverent look into a LSD and weed driven journey of thirteen individuals that at different times come off as brilliant, silly and/or boring. No one seems especially self-conscious, the bands sound amazing (particularly Gone). It’s an adventurous art film and captures the last recorded moments of one of America’s most influential bands (you can clearly see the roots of Grunge). But what’s missing is an emotional depth, probably due to the fact that Markey didn’t know that he was capturing the end of Black Flag, in other words, this ain’t no Last Waltz.
I would say there are two books that are required reading to accompany Reality 86’d that give the film a gravity and an emotional punch that it lacks on it’s own. First and obviously is Rollins’ Get In The Van: On The Road With Black Flag. The last half of his book is intense reading, especially the Apocalypse Now feel of the ’86 tour. Second is Rollins’ friend Joe Cole’s book Planet Joe, which chronicled in wild detail this tour along with the first Rollins Band tour. Cole served as roadie and documented some of the most harrowing moments of those six moths. (Cole would tragically be shot dead in ’91 when he and Rollins were being mugged outside of their home).
Reality 86’d is an important document, it has a great psychedelic/punk vibe like it’s a vision of the future from a more primitive time and should have a place on every punk or music nerd’s shelf. But sorry, sunshine, you can’t own it. Not legally anyway. Greg Ginn blocked any release of this film for reasons known only to him. Even as recently as 2011 he demanded it be taken down from Vimeo, where Markey had uploaded it for free viewing, but the internet wins, because you can view it all over the web (I watched it on YouTube). I hold out hope that Reality 86’d will get an official release someday along with Flag’s ’82 demos which any fan must hear. Flag has reformed, going out on tour and releasing a new album this year, so all hope may not be lost, but then again, I’m an optimist.
Tim gives Reality 86’d 3.5 out of 5 Screaming Jamies