Photo by James BunoanFor nine years, Greg Ginn was Black Flag. The nonstop touring, the police harassment, the 36-hours-per-week practice schedule, the internal strife and the rabid fan abuse ground down four singers, three bassists and six drummers, but one person was there from the beginning to the painful end: Greg Ginn.
In person, Ginn is laid-back, even mellow, a strong and unexpected contrast to music that's still startlingly abrasive 20 years after it was conceived. As the driving force in a band that went against everybody—cops, punks, sometimes its own members —Ginn might be expected to snap and bark like a drill sergeant, but his calm demeanor is something much quieter, deeper and unassuming. These days, Ginn works through erosion, not explosion. Maybe you shouldn't be surprised: ex-Flag singer Henry Rollins might be all rage and neck tattoos, but one of Ginn's greatest dreams was for Black Flag to open for the Grateful Dead.
"I never even considered us punk rock," Ginn says. Ginn claiming Black Flag wasn't a punk band seems akin to Johnny Cash saying he never played country music. But it's also pretty fucking punk. "Some people say it's punk—I don't really care because I don't want to offend anybody," Ginn says. "Some people say it's not punk—I don't want to offend you. We're not punk? That's fine."
Ginn is very friendly, if somewhat distracted. He answers questions the way he plays guitar—almost randomly, certainly, but what comes off as improvised or strung together on the spot later turns out to be part of some intricate master plan. Part of that plan right now are Ginn's first live local performances in seven years in support of a series of new releases coming out on his storied label, SST Records—once home to Flag, Sonic Youth, Hsker D, the Minutemen, the Meat Puppets, Soundgarden, Dinosaur Jr. and many more. In the coming weeks, Ginn will hit Alex's Bar, the Liquid Den, the Doll Hut, Chain Reaction and diPiazza's. But more important, these shows are something of a warm-up for—get a bib for this one—what many might consider the first "real" Black Flag reunion ever, with Ginn on guitar and a selection of the "first four years" singers. And the one thing that could get Ginn to pick up a guitar and play "Rise Above" again, where years of fans, media bottomfeeders and even Ginn-less Black Flag reunions couldn't? It's not the money—it's the cats. A Black Flag benefit show for homeless cats.
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"It's not something I would normally do," says Ginn, "except for being involved with cats. Myself and my wife both just started taking in animals. We saw how wild cats live in the street. We get them fixed, get them shots, and try to find homes for them. You can find people who are really motivated, and if they had a little bit more money, they could do so much. I think it's going to be a good thing—particularly eliminating the greed factor."
We talk with Ginn for about an hour—as much about cat parasites and how they transmit to humans ("Ultimately, it helps people if there aren't diseased cat populations out there") as about the early days of Black Flag and SST, all things Ginn evidently takes very seriously. Long Beach-based SST will be releasing its first new albums in years—by such acts as Fastgato, Confront James, Mojack and Hor, all of them directly Ginn-related—and Ginn is practically trying to talk people out of caring about the Flag reunion. This time around, he says, it's not so much about the music. Again, it's the damn cats.
"Seriously, it's sometimes better if people listen to new stuff," he says. "I would encourage people to not forget to listen to newer music. Even this Black Flag thing—it's not highly recommended. I would say we're going to do our best, and it will be as good as possible, but it's not like something new and exciting. [But] the other hand of it is . . . I just really like cats. There's all that pragmatic stuff, but . . . I just really got to like them.
Greg Ginn performs with Wayne Kramer at Alex's Bar, 2913 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach, (562) 434-8292. Fri., 9 p.m. Call for cover. 21+; and with Mike V. and the Rats and This Is Revenge at the Liquid Den, 5061 Warner Ave., Huntington Beach, (714) 377-7964. Thurs., May 22, 9 p.m. Call for cover. 21+.