As a founding member of Black Flag and Circle Jerks, songwriter and vocalist Keith Morris was at the forefront of the punk music scene in Hermosa Beach when Black Flag was formed in 1976 and Circle Jerks three years later.
In his new memoir, “My Damage: The Story of a Punk Rock Survivor,” Morris tells stories about growing up in Hermosa Beach, where his father was an aspiring jazz drummer who performed with bands at The Lighthouse Cafe and later owned a fishing tackle store on Pier Avenue. He also discusses the rough and tumble world of punk music, which he is still heavily involved in today.
Morris, who went to Pier Avenue Junior High and graduated from Mira Costa High School in 1973, will perform a live reading from his book at the Hermosa Beach Historical Society and Museum's “Happy Hour with History,” at the Hermosa Beach Museum, Friday, May 10, from 6 to 8 p.m.
“Growing up in Hermosa Beach in the 60s and 70s, how could it not be like the greatest part of your adventure,” Morris said in a recent interview with The Beach Reporter.
Morris was inspired to write his book by Brendan Mullen, best known for founding the short-lived underground punk club The Masque in Hollywood where bands such as X and Germs had their start. One day Morris ran into Mullen after leaving an art show near Culver City. He suggested he should write a book and that he would help Morris get a book deal.
“I had already been writing stories for a book because I knew somewhere down the line I was going to reach out to somebody to piece these stories together and create a book,” Morris said.
But not long after, Mullen suffered a stroke and died suddenly at 60 years old.
“My first thought was, 'There goes my book deal,'” recalled Morris. “I had just lost one of my best friends. That line of thinking was so beyond messed up …. it was ridiculous. There would be so many bands that would not be in existence if it weren't for Brendan.”
So Morris put the book on the backburner. Later, a booking agent for Pennywise and Brian Wilson suggested “it's your turn” and he ended up with a book deal.
Morris said there were about a dozen stories he wanted to tell, but it was particularly challenging to hold back one story that was removed by the editor.
“I come from a list of rules where there are no list of rules. You just tell it like it is,” said Morris, but he agreed with the editor and relented.
Morris founded Black Flag in 1976 with guitarist Greg Ginn, who attended Mira Costa with his brother Ray Ginn.
“We certainly were not loved,” Morris said. “We were very far removed from the musical community.”
The community at that time consisted of Top 40 bands.
“If we wanted original music we had to get in our cars and drive up to Hollywood or drive to Santa Monica,” he said. “Occasionally the Fleetwood would have Quiet Riot, I know Journey played there. I want to say that Thin Lizzy might have played there. Then there was the Sweetwater right next to the Fleetwood, I remember seeing John Lee Hooker and George Thorogood there.”
Black Flag made the rounds at backyard, basement and living room parties.
“We were doing what we wanted to do, we were playing what we wanted to play, because we enjoyed what we were playing,” Morris said. “There was no master plan, there was no, 'Hey, we got to sound like this because we're going over there and we're going to play for those people and they're going to pay us a lot of money and then we're going to get signed to a record label.”
The punk bands during the time made the Old Baptist Church on Manhattan Avenue their home. It was a club house for “kids who didn't like their parents or authoritarian figures.” A Black Flag concert in 1979 that turned Polliwog Park into a “food fight” altered the future of the band.
“We upended the community to a point where it's like we have to run these guys out of town. They're terrorists. They're influencing our kids, how dare they. We can't have this,” Morris said.
Rise of Circle Jerks
In 1979, Morris left Black Flag due to drugs and issues such as learning Ginn was going to fire him anyway.
“All we were doing was rehearsing, we weren't playing any shows... I came to the conclusion I was not having fun any more,” said Morris.
When he left the band, they only had 16 songs they could play.
“If you coughed, lit a cigarette, if you took a sip off a beer or went to the bathroom … you would miss our entire set,” Morris said.
Morris formed Circle Jerks with guitarist Greg Hetson and the band is currently on “hiatus” while they work on other projects.
The Happy Hour with History event is free for Historical Society members or $10 for non-members. Facebook RSVP is encouraged. All ages are welcome. Merchandise will be for sale.
The museum is located at 710 Pier Ave.
For more information, visit hermosabeachhistoricalsociety.org.