Punk Ass Motherfuckers
Iconic images of Black Flag, Minor Threat, Bad Brains and more punk rock legends, untangled by photographer Glen E. Friedman
Glen E. Freidman is a cultural ambassador, a man who helped break down boundaries while documenting the worlds of skateboarding, punk rock and hip-hop with equal amounts passion and skill.
Glen’s photographs are vital, aggressive, emotional and full of life. There is a cathartic release in much of what he does and what he has documented. We all know his attachment to the early Dogtown years, his capturing images of early punk rock and later “hardcore” (a term Glen dislikes), and his iconic work in the early Def Jam days, before rap music was co-opted. Glen has always been there—arriving before the masses and leaving when the cornballs have made these scenes and the documentation of them redundant. This is Glen’s way, and honestly I dig it.
I got together with Glen to discuss his opus My Rules, recently published by Rizzoli. The book is a celebration of all things Glen: his unflinching eye for counter-culture, a uniform thread of punk attitude, plus a sense of gratitude for being allowed to get up close with his subjects, capturing their true essence/energies in as pure a manner as possible. The book is beautifully put together and contains personal essays from some of Glen’s famous subjects. Highly recommended for anyone interested in the foundations of true youthful rebellion.
As for me, I simply love punk rock. As a weird kid growing up with hippie parents, it was the first kind of music I felt was my own. I shoplifted Glen’s My Rules fanzine as a teenager and studied it endlessly in my Brooklyn bedroom, fascinated by the images of the bands I loved.
We focused on Glen’s punk pictures for this article, because they help me revisit an important time in my life. Looking at the images, I can touch the sweat, smell the stale beer and the stench of the mosh pit, feel the cathartic release of aggression. These images possess that vital mix of rebel spirit and innocence that makes me believe in the power of youth to this day.
For me that’s more than enough.
Dante Ross: What led you to take photos of these punk rock bands in the late 70s and early 80s?
Glen E. Friedman: First of all, some of my friends were in bands and I could get physically close to them to shoot them. Before this bands played in arenas and big concert halls. I wasn’t old enough to go to nightclubs yet. All of a sudden these bands that were more exciting and energetic, more vital than anything else that was happening at the time, were playing and I had access to them. I could touch the stage. I felt there was an energy that had to be shared in a quality way.
What were you listening to prior to punk in the late 70s?
As much as you hate to admit it, Ted Nugent Double Live Gonzo! was the major shit for me, I can’t front. It was one of my favorite albums of all time. Aerosmith, Zeppelin, Hendrix. I wasn’t cool enough to know about the MC5 or The Stooges yet. Nugent was the pinnacle for me. I thought he was cool cause he was always anti-drugs; this was years before straight edge was invented. I saw some of my best friends waste whatever they had on getting wasted and I thought that was lame. By the time I was 15 I knew I never wanted to do any of that.
Who was the first punk band you ever shot?
That would be The Stimulators. They were a band from downtown Manhattan. They were a 2nd generation New York punk band. Everyone knows about the first wave punk bands like Blondie, Television and The Ramones etc. That was an older scene to me, a junkie scene, kind of scary. The Stimulators were before hardcore. It wasn’t even thought of yet.
The drummer Harley Flanagan was 12 years old at the time. I met him pogo-ing at a Buzzcocks show and later went to see his band. There were 15 people there. They were colorful and fun. They later on played with bands like The Mad and the Bad Brains.
When did you first get turned on to punk rock?
It was in L.A. I was turned on to punk by Steve Olson and this guy Terry Nails. He was a scary-looking dude that wore black leather and make up, but he was actually really nice. He was the first skate punk ever. The first group I ever got into was Devo in 1977. They were on SNL that year.
I saw that. It was epic. I heard Devo before I heard the Pistols.
I did as well, a lot of people did. Very soon thereafter my cousin, who did sound for various punk bands in New York, took me to Bleecker Bobs when it was on MacDougal and 8th Street and I bought import LP versions of The Ramones It’s Alive and the first Buzzcocks record. I loved the Ramones right away. He turned me on to the Pistols and the Ramones at the same time, prior to us going Bleecker Bobs. The Pistols was a little too screamy, too wild for me at first.
When I first heard the Pistols they sounded like Black Sabbath on glue to me
I thought they were just a very good rock band.
So what was the main band in L.A. where you grew up?
For a lot of us it was The Germs, they were kind of a cult band. I only shot pics of Darby Crash in the Darby Crash Band and at The Germs reunion show. I can’t front, I didn’t see them in 1977, I saw them a little later.
I remember seeing X at The Starwood and seeing Michael aka X Head doing what became known as slamming. He was walking around psycho on the dance floor. He was a scary dude, an ex-marine. If you bumped into him you got pulverized. It was called the HB strut at first. It became very fast and aggressive, it became my favorite thing to do.
John Watson and James Contra brought it to New York
No Glen E. Friedman did. I’ll tell you the story if you want to hear it.
OK this I gotta hear…
I was the one who imported it to New York. I was living in L.A. starting college just after finishing my last two high school years back east, seeing X and all these bands out west, and I came back East to visit family for the holidays. I went to see the Bad Brains and Even Worse at the Botany Talk lounge on 6th Ave in 1980, around Christmas. Harley Flanagan (later of the Cro-Mags) was there, so was my high school best friend Rob “Crypt Crasher.” There was like 40 people there max, all pogoing. The Bad Brains were playing so fast you couldn’t just pogo that fast… I had learned out west when the BPMs are that fast, you just start running around the dance floor, crashing into people, backwards, whatever, totally wild, with your arms going in spinning like windmills. I was like a bowling ball, everyone else were the pins; I just started knocking people over. All of a sudden Harley and Rob started slamming too. That’s when it came to New York, anyone says different they are just exhibiting their ignorance of the facts. After the show a few bigger dudes asked me if I had beef with them, all 140 pounds of me. I just let them know “I was just dancing to the music.”
I come back in summer of ‘81 at Irving Plaza, Circle Jerks are playing and everyone’s slamming. There were a lot of D.C. kids at the show too. Everyone was just fighting, they weren’t even slamming really, the D.C. kids and the New York kids. The music stopped and they were all still fighting/slamming. Just six months earlier no one outside of L.A. was slamming. It was kind of a bummer to see what it had developed into.
OK this is Henry Rollins and Black Flag in 1983, West L.A., a very young Henry and the boys.
Henry’s not really that young here, he’s been singing in the band for two years already. This is the day we were shooting Suicidal Tendencies’ album cover and what would become the collage of kids wearing their Suicidal shirts. Black Flag were doing me a favor by playing, in an effort to get all the kids there for the album pic. The gig was at a Suicidal roadie’s grandma’s garage in West L.A., right off the 10 freeway.
Black Flag was already mega, a year after Damaged came out, yes?
A year and a half. This is also Dez Cadenza’s last show with Black Flag. It was an incredible Black Flag show. You can find some video of this that Al Flipside put on YouTube, I’m in there slamming. The show was phenomenal.
The funny thing was that the Suicidal kids weren’t super into it. I mean some were, but it was the weeding out process. There were about 50 kids there and when Suicidal went on they went nuts. They couldn’t get thru one song without the drum kit getting knocked over. It was complete insanity.
So funny ‘cause the shots are all about Black Flag here.
Yeah that show it was really the changing of the guard. Suicidal were the new kids. I used my skateboarding fisheye with a double flash in order to open up the wide angle of view for these shots of Black Flag, the garage we were playing in was so small and packed. It was bananas.
OK so this is Fugazi later on, another Ian MacKaye band. [pronounces it McKay]
Ian MacKaye. [Glen corrects pronunciation, Mac-eye]
He would hate me for that.
No he wouldn’t hate. He doesn’t like you for another reason. I know you know this story…
Huh? I never met him, how could he hate me? I gotta hear this.
A long time ago when you were the messenger at Def Jam, I gave you a padded envelope to mail to him with 10 original tapes—my only copies, mind you—of Flavor and Chuck D’s radio show from WBAU for Ian to copy for me. I thought you threw them in the garbage out of revenge. I thought you were on some “I’m not sending this shit for Friedman” either because of jealousy or sweating your hot girlfriends back then, or just pure hate.
That’s so crazy, I plead the fifth. I used to be on a lot of weed back then. It’s kind of funny, but man I have no recollection of this at all except that you did sweat my girlfriends.
I swore for years you either ditched them in the garbage or outright stole them for yourself.
Nah man, not that I remember… [laughing] Ok back to the pics. Sorry Ian, if I ever meet you I will personally apologize. Where are these Fugazi shots from?
Maxwells, 1987. It was their first organized show at a venue. They were incredible.
I was there I think. I saw ‘em in Jersey way back.
This was the first show I ever shot of them. Ian was one of my best friends and still is to this day. I saw them one time before at Columbia University. I knew they were great so I brought my camera out to Maxwells ‘cause I knew they had it. I never shot a band without seeing them first.
Guy was the hype man back then basically.
Yeah he was the Flavor Flav of the group, the accent guy. He might not have been a full fledged member of the band the first time I saw them at Columbia. By this show he still might not have been.
I loved Fugazi and Minor Threat; my big bro Darryl Jennifer [Bad Brains bassist] loved Minor Threat. He was a big hater, but he would always say them boys Minor Threat are bad. Only bands he liked were Black Flag and Minor Threat.
So true Darryl was such a hater. So crazy a Darryl Jennifer look-alike is walking by as we talk [laughs].
Glen what made Fugazi so good to you?
Fugazi might have been the greatest band ever. They brought it for 15 years. Every single record was better than the one before it. Everything they did was punk to the extreme. They were what punk really is, through all of it. They were punk to the extreme in a responsible way, not in an arrogant way. That’s what punk really is.
Too bad they broke up.
They never officially broke up. They never said they broke up, they’re on a really long hiatus.
I hope they never do a reunion, that wouldn’t be punk. To bad Ian MacKaye hates me for not sending him the tapes...
He doesn’t hate you. He is a pretty forgiving guy. It’s just that’s how he knows you. You’re the last one seen with the package of tapes.
I plead the fifth. Let’s jump into Minor Threat, another band Ian was in. You can’t separate one from the other.
Well, you could. There’s only one member that’s in both bands. Fugazi has a maturity, a responsibleness that Minor Threat didn’t have musically and mentally. Totally different bands, different era, different aesthetic. The only thing that’s the same is the singer.
I see a thread that runs through both bands. The cathartic release of aggression in the songs and performances. Selling music at a set price, all ages shows and a sense of self-empowerment in all the music.
That’s just punk rock really. Ian MacKaye was the owner of Dischord and both bands are on Dischord.
Tell me about Minor Threat.
Every time I ever saw them they were great—whether five songs at CBs ‘cause they got in a car accident and were late, or a whole show at the 9:30 Club or at The Barn in L.A. They were just great band, nobody sounded like them, very melodic, tight and young. I remember Ian telling me he was very inspired by the Beatles. Ian was just one of the kids, just like the audience, just one of us up there singing. He was a man of the people. Everyone felt like it was one of us up there.
Wasn’t Henry [Rollins] that?
No, in the best way possible Henry was a total rock star. He had a certain presence, he wasn’t one of us. He was super gnarly. He was definitely not one of us.
Interesting. I always heard an oi influence in Minor Threat, with the sing-along choruses?
Not sure if I hear that but I know Ian appreciated Jimmy Pursey and Sham.
Is that not oi?
Yes Sham is the oi band.
Ok tell me about the Suicidal pictures. The upside-down cover shot is infamous.
Back then punk rock bands would never allow themselves the ego stroke to put themselves on the album cover. I was the manager and producer of the band and I wanted to put a badass photo of them on the cover in a punk way. It was a painful shoot for the band, we had the fires on the ground and we hung ‘em upside down.
Nothing fancy we just fucking tied ‘em up with ropes by their ankles and lit the fires on the ground. I said to the band “Just trust me” and back then they trusted me pretty much. I had produced the record and all, I helped lay the groundwork with them. Luichi, the heaviest guy, was really whining. Hanging upside down wasn’t easy, the fire almost burned him one time. Every few shots the roadies and me had to push them up so they could chill for a minute. You could see Amery, Mike and the guitarist’s faces are all red from hanging upside down. We shot this at Playa del Ray on an old jungle gym near the airport by where Amery lived.
How did the whole cholo punk image come to be?
Some of the bands’ followers wore the bandanas. It was also something not only cholos did. Surfers did way back, and being from a beach community it somehow trickled down. I wanted to make the band shirts their boys wore important so I captured them on the album cover. I wanted people to see it as a gang, as a movement something kids could get beyond, just the music.
Ok let’s talk Bad Brains. You shot these guys a zillion times.
Actually I didn’t, I shot them several times, I shot them at A7, CBs, a couple of other places. Lets get it clear: I never shot any band a thousand times. I just shot good pics of them a few times.
Tell me about this picture of HR doing this back flip here?
HR would very often do these back flips, like once or twice a show, you know he would feel the energy and get excited and just do it. One time I was lucky enough to catch it. You have to have the right angle to make a flip look good, it’s not easy. Usually he would do it so quickly you would miss it. I was fortunately at the right angle to get a good shot of it.
How good were the Bad Brains back then?
They were a phenomenal band. The energy was outrageous, just so exciting, nobody played as fast and heavy as them at the same time. HR was a great front man, he could really sing, the whole band shredded.
It looks like HR’s gonna hit the ceiling
Nah it’s at CBs, they had a high ceiling. He’s so tightly wound on the flip its sick.
All my friends are in the background. I wonder if I was in the pit. Where are these other Brains pics from?
I shot these at A7.
Tell people about A7, I saw a ton of bands there.
A7 was this small club with an L shaped stage. The drummer was on one side of the stage, which was raised with his cymbals almost touching the ceiling and the rest of the band on the other side of the rickety stage. It was a very weird set up.
Tell them how small it was.
You could probably barley fit a pool table and 4 people in there. The room is still there.
Yeah it’s the backroom of Niagara bar now.
That room where the Brains are playing is the size of a big ping-pong table. The front room was a bar that we didn’t really go in. The drummer’s head would be almost hitting the ceiling, ‘cause the drum riser was higher up than the rest of the stage. The stage was about 8 inches off the floor. That room where HR is playing in front of the American flag barley had enough room for the kids and the bands playing, which made it kind of ill. Maxwell’s was small but it was about 4 or 5 times bigger than A7.
A lot of bands played there after they did pay gigs at bigger clubs, it would often be their second gig of the night.
I remember Black Flag played there with Henry after they played, I think, the Peppermint Lounge. This was when they first drafted Henry in the band, one of the first times he ever got on stage with them and performed. Black Flag just liked to play, they practiced all the time. No one rehearsed like Black Flag. They rehearsed 7 days a week. There rehearsals were harder than 99 percent of most bands’ shows.
All that rehearsing you think they would have been better.
They’re amazing, they were great to me. That era of Black Flag is my all time favorite band.
They were great but they were no Bad Brains. My friends and me were always half-pissed Black Flag released the first major hardcore album Damaged.
Bad Brains had the cassette.
Damaged came out first. I clearly remember this and thinking the Bad Brains are the greatest hardcore band in the world, too bad Black Flag got the first great hardcore record out.
I think the cassette came out first.
Nah [Editor’s note: Black Flag’s Damaged was released in December 1981, Bad Brains’ Roir cassette in 1982] Ok enough arguing tell me about these Dead Kennedys pics.
First of all that was an amazing show. Different bands from all over the country. The Dead Kennedys were just great they were peaking at that moment. Minor Threat played that night, they were phenomenal. M.D.C. and the Zero Boys from Minneapolis, who I only saw that one time. I wish I took photos of them that night, they were great. It was a great night with bands from all over the country playing
Ok so Dead Kennedys had their singer Jello Biafra school the kiddies on Jello and the DK’s?
The Dead Kennedys opened for The Clash in Northern California and became really well known with the skate community. Steve Olson and Steve Alba and all those guys were there, and it was one of the first punk shows they went to, and they saw an American punk band play a gig like that.
What was Jello’s deal?
Jello politicized a lot of American punk kids more than anyone at that time. He turned me on to things I didn’t even know about. He was a consummate performer. He was really dramatic.
They were also really funny. He had that crazy voice with all the vibrato.
They were so punk rock, the name the Dead Kennedys was just offensive, everything about them was incredible. They were really over-politicized— even if it was satirical, it still was very, very serious. As far as I’m concerned there’s no Dead Kennedys without Jello. Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables helped revitalize English punk rock, people forget this. “Stealing People’s Mail” was my favorite song.
Ok let’s talk about these guys, The Misfits?
I started a lot of my young, punk rock life in New York hanging with the Stimulators and the Bad Brains. The Misfits were kind of a joke to us. They were these Lodi, NJ goons, a joke band I couldn’t take serious and that was a mistake. It took Henry Rollins to open my eyes to the Misfits at this very night of shows. They were in a way a lot like The Ramones with a different style of singer. They had a very similar musical style, they were just a great band with the Walk Among Us album and the early singles.
We use to go see them and laugh. They were kind of like Kiss.
They were like a punk Kiss; I always thought if they went to Japan they would have been huge there. Rollins convinced me in L.A. that they were great cause no one in New York wanted to go see ‘em. I was living in Fort Lee, NJ fronting like I lived in New York, so I shouldn’t have fronted on ‘em.
They really resonate now with the kids, particularly with skaters. Why?
Because of the sing-alongs, the horror stuff, Danzig and his voice. They’re just a really fun band like The Ramones really, but on the horror tip.
Ok this is one of my favorite bands ever, The Cramps. Tell me about these pics at The Roxy in 1980.
The Roxy still exists on Sunset Boulevard. I think they played a couple of nights in a row. It was great, just amazing, no one else was shooting pics that night. I really liked The Cramps, I just came in with my camera and shot photos. They were just badass.
[Lead singer] Lux Interior was a complete maniac. He was the illest.
He was sick. People would throw a shoe on stage and he would pour some beer in the shoe and drink it. Someone would throw some socks onstage and he would put it in his mouth and spit it back at people. He would wear these low-cut spandex pants, just ridiculous, looked like his shit was gonna fall out any minute.
He might be wearing high heels.
He definitely wore high heels sometimes. His pants were so low.
He could sing his ass off.
It was that whole rockabilly-type thing. He was a really good introduction to the whole punk ethos for a lot of people.
He had so much style. Punk later became a one-dimensional style—The Misfits and The Cramps, they had so much style.
Yeah people were trying to be individuals back then, later on when the whole D.C. thing and the New York hardcore thing happened, kids who weren’t maybe as intellectual about the whole thing just wanted to play faster and a lot of them lost that sense of style.
What bands did you like shooting the most?
The bands I liked the most? I loved shooting Fugazi because I had a lot of access, I could try anything with them because of my relationship. Shooting Black Flag was always great. The Bad Brains was amazing and of course Minor Threat. Honestly, whatever was the best show at the time was my favorite thing to shoot.
Dante Ross is a writer, producer, A&R man and cultural multi-tasker
Follow him on Twitter @DanteRoss
My Rules is the definitive monograph of photographer Glen E. Friedman, published by Rizzoli
Learn more about Glen and his work at http://burningflags.com/
Purchase My Rules here
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