“Punk Rock Hall of Fame Awards 1999″

When Black Flag was not Black Flag.


Saturday’s “Punk Rock Hall of Fame Awards” show was supposed to be a celebration and reunion of several seminal Los Angeles punk bands. Instead, it turned into a local controversy, leading some musicians and fans to accuse the event organizers of deceptive promotion. Online music zine SonicNet, apparently working off the awards press release, reported last week that Southern California hardcore punk legends Black Flag were going to regroup in order to perform at the event. Other long-lost punk faves were scheduled too: the Weirdos, the Adolescents, the Crowd, the Flesheaters, TSOL, the Bags, the Plugz and the Urinals.

Black Flag founder and guitarist Greg Ginn says no such reunion happened, and for that matter, no such reunion was ever going to happen. But much to Ginn’s chagrin, there was a band — without one single member from Black Flag’s revolving roster — that performed Flag songs at the show. Ginn’s Web site calls it “punk rock karaoke fraud.”

The awards ceremony was held at the Track 16 art gallery in Santa Monica, Calif., where an exhibit of L.A. punk memorabilia has been displayed for the past month. Ginn says event organizer and gallery curator John Roecker built up the show by using the name of his primary contributor, X vocalist Exene Cervenkova, as clout to attract other artists, many of whom didn’t participate.

“Wasn’t it preposterous that Black Flag, after being broken up for about 14 years, would be playing some punk rock museum?” Ginn asks. “That’s why Black Flag broke up — it wasn’t [supposed to become] some kind of museum piece.”

For his part, Roecker says Saturday’s gathering was a “tongue-in-cheek ceremony.” “A lot of naysayers were calling it so un-punk to have a museum and an awards show,” he says. “I think it is the same as the legitimate exhibits for dada or the 1919 Bauhaus scene. Punk wasn’t just music, it was fashion, photography, writing … it covered every artistic medium that there was.”

Salon Arts & Entertainment couldn’t confirm how many original members actually participated in each of the 16 bands alleged to have reunited for the event. But as Ginn points out, most of the bands that apparently performed — such as the Bags and the Flesheaters — featured musicians who are now deceased. “They must’ve been exhuming a lot of bodies over the past week to come up to those sorts of claims,” says Ginn.

In addition to the re-formed bands, modified versions of L.A. stalwarts X (featuring L7′s Donita Sparks replacing original guitarist Billy Zoom), Devo and the Circle Jerks also made appearances at the show, which was videotaped for possible later release. Keith Morris, vocalist on Black Flag’s first single and later leader of the Circle Jerks, had been scheduled to sing with two former bandmates, drummer Keith Clark and guitarist Greg Hetson (currently in Bad Religion), as well as ex-Minutemen/firehose bassist Mike Watt.

“All these people were saying we were trying to fool people by saying that Black Flag were playing,” Roecker explains. “Well, to me, Keith Morris is Black Flag.”

Ironically, the one man whom Roecker says is Black Flag did not appear. Roecker says Morris was sick and couldn’t make it. At the last minute, Pennywise front man Jim Lindberg filled in with the group and performed Black Flag and Circle Jerks songs.

One little absentee shouldn’t get in the way of an awards ceremony, Roecker says. “It would be the same thing as Dusty Springfield being inducted into the Hall of Fame — then she died. Does that mean she shouldn’t be inducted anymore?”

Well, no, but she probably wouldn’t be there to play her own songs, either.

Dave Clifford is a freelance writer and music critic in New York.

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