White Flag

White Flag emerged in 1982 as the Bizarro World version of Black Flag.

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Jul 28 2011, 12:00am

Hounded by Chief Gates’ L.A.P.D., Black Flag responded with the anti-cop song “Police Story.” The T-shirt the band printed for the song featured a Raymond Pettibon (as “Chuck Higby”) drawing of a mustached policeman with beads of sweat on his forehead, eyes crossed to focus on the gun in his mouth. Another man’s hand holds the pistol beneath a jagged word balloon: “MAKE ME COME, FAGGOT!” White Flag, from the Inland Empire town of Sunnymead, had a different story to tell. On their “Police Story” T-shirt, a mustached L.A.P.D. officer is returning a lost dog to a boy with a propeller beanie, a White Flag shirt, and, above his forehead, a politely rounded word balloon: “GEE WHIZ SIR, THANKS FOR THE HELP FINDING MY LOST PUPPY!”

White Flag emerged in 1982 as the Bizarro World version of Black Flag. Their logo was the Black Flag bars painted white and turned sideways. White Flag advocated surrender instead of rebellion, lionizing cops, condemning Communism, and exhorting listeners to “Go to God.”

“We had taken on an anti-drug, pro-Reagan, anti-communist Christian stance as our faux image. Because it made no sense,” leader Pat Fear, who used to perform dressed as a policeman and who still wears a mustache, claimed in a 2010 interview. White Flag answered Black Flag’s “No Values” with the most traditional values. For example, in the chorus of “Shattered Badge,” the song that followed Black Flag’s “Police Story” on Mystic’s The Sound of Hollywood 3—Copulation comp (1984): “He’s the man with the shattered badge / Got all the courage you wish you had / Just like punks, they’re not all the same / What if you called the cops and no one came?”

On July 31, 1982, White Flag opened for the five-piece lineup of Black Flag—the legendary lineup with Dez on second guitar and Chuck Biscuits drumming that never recorded an official release, though bootleg videos and demos exist—at a wedding reception at the Rickenbosh Turkey Hatchery in Hemet, California. White Flag’s two previous shows had taken place that summer at keggers in Sunnymead backyards, where partygoers were treated to the band’s a cappella arrangement of “Jesus Loves The Little Children.” (Members Doug Graves, El Fee, and Pick Z. Stix were already veterans of Sunnymead’s backyard party circuit from playing in Tyrant, a hard rock cover band. Pat Fear convinced those three to start a punk band with him playing guitar and Tyrant roadie Al Bum, who had never sung in a band before, on lead vocals.) Just like all the New York punk bands, White Flag had a drug song: theirs was “Cleocin,” about a topical acne treatment. The 25th anniversary deluxe double-LP reissue of S Is For Space, White Flag’s first proper LP, devotes one side to an audience cassette recording of White Flag’s set at the Hemet show. Few moments in recorded music are as deeply moving as the sound of Al Bum shrieking the pious message of “Cleocin” at a turkey hatchery full of hostile punks: “Spread your arms and welcome God, He’ll begin to weep!”

Black Flag broke up in 1986. Ever contrary, White Flag never did. The band is a discographer’s nightmare, but anyone who has watched a Flipside video has their theme song (“Flipside”) permanently embedded in the brain. The title of their latest album, Benefit for Cats (2010), appears to refer to Black Flag’s disastrous 2003 reunion shows at the Hollywood Palladium in aid of Ginn’s kittens.

MOE BISHOP

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