I can’t imagine my professor in college introducing the man who had a band named Circle Jerks and wrote the album Group Sex to come up to the podium for a lecture, but that’s just what’s happening tonight at CSULB with special guest Keith Morris.
Interview by Amy Haben
Keith Morris, resident punk of the Los Angeles area hasn’t changed very much over the decades. He’s still the whip-smart, energetic performer, who has something to get off his chest. Never without an opinion or a quip, he’s a lot of fun to be around. Keith and I happen to appear in the same movie: The Decline Of The Western Civilization Part 3, Penelope Spheeris’ 1990’s era L.A. punk documentary. Well to be fair, he was actually interviewed and I’m just seen dancing in the pit at a show. My mohawked friend snorts Slurpee up his nose in one scene in front of the Showcase Theater as we all laughed. I remember going to the premiere in Hollywood to watch all of my close pals on the big screen, a surreal experience.
The veteran of the punk rock scene who has been in such influential bands as Black Flag, Circle Jerks, and OFF! has written a book called My Damage: The Story Of A Punk Rock Survivor. He answered some questions for me on his lecture, memoir, and the current L.A. music scene.
How do you feel about speaking at a college?
I have absolutely no hangups whatsoever when it comes to speaking, telling stories and answering questions from the students at any school where I’m asked to speak or lecture.
Did you attend college?
I attended El Camino Junior College for two years attempting to achieve an Associate Arts degree but ran into a wall called English 101 or what’s a “dangling participle”? I was trying to get as many pre-requisites out of the way to be able to attend the ArtCenter College Of Design in Pasadena as I wanted to earn a degree that would allow me to teach art on a High School level.
Your new memoir is titled My Damage: The Story Of A Punk Rock Survivor. In what ways do you think of yourself as a survivor?
I am a survivor due to the fact that I’ve done so many things to myself and have had things done to me by others that I should not be here answering your questions. Booze, uppers, downers, cocaine, angel dust, methamphetamine, heroin, car crashes, leaping off a two-story building, rolling a van in black ice, being shot at, dodging a knife headed towards my heart, having the guy who was built like an ape throw me up against a wall and cocking his fist back getting ready to punch me once and ending my life.
It’s interesting that academia has woken up to the importance of the influence of punk on society. Yale purchased Danny Fields’ archives and Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain are frequently asked to speak at colleges on pop culture. Why do you think that’s happening now as opposed to in the past? Maybe due to professors being of the age where punk was important to them growing up?
Green Day and Nirvana! I blame them for the spotlight being pointed on us. I also point the finger at Blink 182 as they played a role in popularizing this music. Of course I’m just being facetious as we went out and pounded our music into the minds of the many or the few. Granted the majority of us doing this earn a modest living in doing so and we’re popular on a cult level and I’m not referring to the English band of the same name.
That or someone around them being moved by the music or the message. One of my Dad’s best friends taught criminal psychology at Loyola Marymount University here in Los Angeles and was voted “Professor of the Year” three or four years in a row partially because he quoted Black Flag and Circle Jerks lyrics to his classes.
Are you optimistic on the future of punk music especially considering our current political state?
People are going to continue to make music no matter what the political or social climate is because parts of the population want to be entertained, party, shake their asses, let loose, get it goin’ on and relieve themselves of the stress of whatever’s bringing them down. People ask me constantly if I think punk’s dead and my response is, “HELL NO!” There’s always going to be angry kids out there jumping up and down on their beds screaming at the top of their lungs about how they hate the world. Us versus them. Us versus authority. Us versus them as our parents, railed against their parents, just as we railed against our parents! I’m a very pessimistic person but when it comes to music I’m an optimist because there’s so much of it out there. Good or bad…
I saw that Jack Grisham of T.S.O.L. is also speaking. You guys are very old friends right? I believe he opened for Flag when I saw you in Philly a couple of years ago.
Jack Grisham has really turned into a beautiful human being. I remember when he was extremely difficult to be around due to him being a lunkheaded thug. When we’re young we do one stupid thing after another and it’s much easier to rebound and pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and get on with it. Hopefully as we get older, we gather knowledge and a wherewithal to be givers instead of takers. I’m proud to say that Jack is a friend and yes he and T.S.O.L. played with FLAG at the Trocadero in Philadelphia and they’re better now than they’ve ever been!