Monday, August 22, 2016

C'el Revuelta: Black Flag and Beyond

What do you remember about your last year in high school?  Do you remember the name of your US History teacher?  Your favorite move?  Your first girl/boyfriend?  I remember the events of my senior year because there were indeed life changing moments that I could have never anticipated.  That is the interesting part of our lives isn't it?  What?

Dateline 1986:  James White graduates from "good ol' Galena High School and that is where the good times kind of wear off like the crappy tires on my Chevy Nova.  That year saw the loss of my uncle that was more like my brother than an uncle, it saw my dreams of joining the military get crushed because of a heart murmur, and it saw my involvement in a traffic accident that nearly killed me.  Each of those events made me stronger in a way I suppose but each of them was brutal to get over.

I always wanted to join the military, it was all that I thought of and when I took my aptitude test I scored very high making it the first time I actually felt smart.  I went for my physical days after that test, traveling to Des Moines, Iowa, and when the doctors told me I was ineligible to join because of that murmur I was devastated.  The ride home that day seemed like it took a week although it was only a few hours.  When I got home I arrived to fifteen cars parked on Wight Street by my grandparents house, and I immediately assumed an older uncle of mine had died, I was quite wrong.  The uncle I assumed that had passed away had some cardiac issues before that and for whatever reason I was prepared for it to be him.

The devastation that sat before me was insurmountable.  The uncle I grew up with, only six years older than me, had died.  It was unexpected, he was healthy but he was indeed gone.  I had lost a brother and everything seemed to change.

If I were to garner a guess that is where my love of music began as well as the cathartic nature of music took over.  That year, 1986, stood before me and the "era of hair" was in full swing so I began burying myself in the likes of Quiet Riot and Motley Crue but it was also the time where I discovered punk rock and the way I did it is kind of bizarre.

Living in a small town, ninety-nine percent of the people in the area DIDN'T listen to punk rock but they did listen to rock, country, hair metal and so on but the one percent listened to "alternative" and "punk."  The one percent started piquing my interest with their choices of music, their odd clothing, t-shirts of strange bands and the scribbles on their notebooks.  Remember doing that?  It was how you defined a person really, but I was shy and I didn't like raising attention to myself so I stayed stoic, scribbling "KISS," "Twisted Sister" and "Def Leppard" on mine.  My cousins were really into the "hair metal" scene, growing their hair and reading "Circus Magazine" and I followed suit.  As I look at it Circus Magazine and "Hit Parader" may have fueled that desire because as I would flip through the ads I saw "SST Records" and these strange bands in the ads.

As I started to see these ads, I remembered seeing the scratchings on the notebooks of kids, the one percent if you will, that were older than me and even younger for that matter of those strange bands, that was my "AHA" moment I think.  I was drawn to these ads for a band that had a peculiar name, one that was affiliated with pest control and not one I would associate with music:  Black Flag.

When I was young I was pretty shy and even around my cousins (there were so many of us around the same age), I kept things like that quiet.  When I ordered that first Black Flag album the shy behavior was magnified because I was buying an album that had a drawing of a nun with one arm wrapped around a naked leg.  The album name you ask:  Slip It In.

I never told my cousins about that album but I wore it out, I would listen to it over and over.  My cousins and I were getting older, leaving high school, getting jobs so I really never revealed my music choices but I just dug into it like a beaver through a tree.  I loved that album and through some people I met while working at a ski resort I started to listen to even more punk, and it slowly began to take over my listening pleasure.  Really one of the most incredible parts of listening to Black Flag was the power of Henry Rollins vocals, they sounded angry and they felt angry.  Through Rollins a signature vocal sound was born but unlike most of the popular singers of the time, he sounded like he was educated and angry and Black Flag fans ate it up.

Black Flag in 1986 was in its spiral of  doom with it being the bands breakup, but I hadn't a clue about that, I had little information about the band living where I did, not to mention that I no longer read Hit Parader or Circus Magazine and they never covered those bands to begin with.  In a way it feels like Black Flag and I both had that same spiral of doom and they kind of started at the same time.  For Black Flag in 1986 they lost bassist Kira Roessler who had been in the band since 1983 when Chuck Dukowski left (he joined the band in 1977).  Those are actually pretty big shoes to fill but Black Flag did so with Cel Revuelta.

With Rollins as the lead singer of Black Flag the music took a very serious turn and it is reflected in the sound of the bass.  There is almost a signature distortion to the bass in their music as well, it has gravel in its sound, it raises your pulse and Revuelta had the unenviable task to try to duplicate that sound.  When Revuelta joined Black Flag in January, 1986 the band was well established obviously but he didn't have the look of a prototypical West Coast punk rock bassist.  Revuelta entered the band with a no-no in the eyes of the masses in punk rock, he had long hair.

Punk bands like the Ramones had long hair, but they were from the East Coast and on the West Coast long hair just wasn't the norm. When Revuelta joined Black Flag it was flat in the middle the infamous "era of hair" so a long haired bass player would have be more likely in a band like Quiet Riot but not Black Flag.  If punk rock is anything it is about the individual and their angst of being anti-establishment and far from conformist so when a guy joins a band looking like Rudy Sarzo he must be damn good or he won't be accepted.  Revuelta remained with the band through that 1986 tour ending in June of that year which also signaled the end of Black Flag.

As Black Flag ended its existence that June (until reforming in 2003), so did my high school experience because I graduated that same month.  I suppose the parallels between Black Flag and I end right about there but we all moved ahead with our lives.  Revuelta went back to school and pursued a degree in Graphic Design, and despite the fact that Perry Farrell asked him to join his band TWICE, Revuelta declined.

Don't think for a minute that Revuelta was just a flash-in-the-pan with Black Flag either because he wasn't.  When the band reformed in 2003 to play three shows the band which consisted of Black Flag founder Greg Ginn (guitar), Dez Cadena (vocals), Robo aka Roberto Valverde (drums) and Cel Revuelta on bass.  Think about that lineup for a minute, of all the bass players Ginn could have selected to play bass for those three shows, he selected Revuelta.  That is very telling isn't it and it shows a level of respect for the performer.  What's interesting about a person like Revuelta is that at a time where bands try to ditch their past some of it still shines through.

Cel Revuelta (L) and Stephen Pearcy (R)
Photo courtesy of Joaquin Revuelta - 2012

Cel Revuelta is an extraordinary bassist, he is well respected in and out of music, and he is battling cancer.  Revuelta has been diagnosed with brain cancer in which surgery has removed the tumor and he is now undergoing treatment for it.  Life is funny, and I think we all have our own moments of "Seven Degrees of Kevin Bacon" and the parallels we all face at times seem scary, daunting if you will.  But I think those parallels are what make us, well us quite frankly.  I look at those parallels in my own life and I shake my head because through the brightest and darkest times we manage to get through.

By bettering ourselves through the best and worst of our days we can see the big picture.  Thirty years ago I had those bright and dark days and because of them I think I had an epiphany that I never realized.  I think back to those days and I realize that through my own personal tragedy I found solace in music.  I found within the darkest days of my life a sense of tranquility inside the music of the day and my own little hidden stash of punk rock.

At the same time a bass player from California was departing on his own road heading into his brightest days within a band that I kept hidden from all seers.  His own journey with that band brought him respect, tranquility and something that few of us have ever garnered, a place in history.  It's true, oh yes it is.  Cel Revuelta joined forces with one of the most iconic bands ever as the members of Black Flag welcomed him in.  The names of it's members are etched into the walls of punk rock history, well at least spray painted on the walls they are a punk band after all.

Here's what I want you to do, after you read this, dig out your old CD's, vinyl, iPod, MP3 player, or go to YouTube or iTunes and just listen to some Black Flag.  When you do so you will hear the complexity of the music, the angst, the anger, the passion and you will see that to be accepted into that group means you have some serious skills and wicked talent.  Cel Revuelta was taken into that group with the likes of Captain Intensity Henry Rollins, Greg Ginn, and so on, but the fact of the matter is that as fans or even just readers know that this man cannot be counted out, he's too good.

Keep Cel Revuelta in your thoughts and prayers because its the human thing to do BUT for the fans of Black Flag stay just as intense and keep him in the fight because that is the PUNK thing to do!  God bless you sir!

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