Musical Borrowing
An Annotated Bibliography

Individual record

[+] Cullen, Shaun. “White Skin, Black Flag: Hardcore Punk, Racialization, and the Politics of Sound in Southern California.” Criticism 58 (Winter 2016): 59-85.

The music of seminal Los Angeles hardcore punk band Black Flag is a (sometimes tenuous) testament to the fluctuating nature of racial identities and communities and has potential to rouse its listeners from complacency with racial hegemony. Black Flag’s song White Minority, first recorded in 1978, is an example of the complicated nature of racial politics in LA punk. Lyrically, the song expresses racist paranoia, attracting critiques of racism in the LA punk scene. However, the band has claimed that the song is meant to be sarcastic and darkly ironic, a reading supported by the fact that the two singers who recorded the song for Black Flag were Jewish and Puerto Rican respectively. Other songs more directly express the band’s anti-authority politics. Black Flag’s rewrite of rock song Louie Louie, released in 1981, sonically voices a multiethnic and multiracial resistance to white supremacy. The strained and painful vocal performance by the band’s third singer, Dez Cadena (who soon after quit the band due to vocal stress), can be read as a metaphor for straining against the limitations faced by nonwhite youth in a situation of white ethnic dominance. The original recording of Louie Louie, with lyrics about Jamaican sailors and inverted cha-cha-cha rhythm, is itself emblematic of the hybridity inherent in rock and roll. Black Flag’s version dramatically rewrites the love song into an antisocial rant performed with an air of ambivalence. The verses use completely new text, and the organ solo is recast as a harsh, atonal guitar solo. In adapting the rock and roll classic, Black Flag continues a tradition of boundary crossing and dialogue between white, black, and brown working-class rock musicians. The new direction of Black Flag’s sound in the mid-1980s further expresses an ethic of boundary crossing and resistance with the band’s adoption of elements of free jazz.

Works: Black Flag: Louie Louie (73-78)

Sources: Richard Berry: Louie Louie (73-78)

Index Classifications: 1900s

Contributed by: Matthew Van Vleet

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Musical Borrowing and Reworking - - 2024
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