Ted Jackins is a 34 year old writer, humorist, musician, sometimes artist and convenience store slave living in a small town in North Carolina....read more When he isn't busy basing characters in his stories on customers only to kill them off he is reading comics and enjoying the occasional milkshake.
Keith Morris is the epitome of a punk rock lifer. His resume includes some of the most important bands during the hardcore explosion in California in the late 70’s, Black Flag and The Circle Jerks. If he had never done anything more than scream his guts out on the Nervous Breakdown EP and packed it up he’d still be a legend but his voice and influence has cast a heavy shadow over several decades of DIY music. In that time he survived a crippling addiction to cocaine and alcohol and the diabetes which struck ten years after he went on the wagon. His memoir, My Damage, tells his story in the same way that the best punk songs often do: through short vignettes that get right to the point and linger in your mind long after it’s returned to the shelf.
The book traces Keith’s early days working in his jazz-loving father’s bait and tackle shop in Hermosa Beach (where future Descendent and Black Flag Drummer, Bill Stevenson would sometimes work alongside him) to his career resurgence in the latter day punk torch carriers, OFF! We follow him in his early days of music discovery attending David Bowie’s fabled Ziggy Stardust era concert in Santa Monica and hanging out in local California record shops where he’d meet guys like Greg Ginn and change music as we know it. Unlike many of the later punks, Keith understood that being a punk rocker doesn’t necessarily mean turning one’s back on your earlier influences. His voice and music are unique in that he is filtering different sounds he’s immersed himself in over sixty years into a blitzkrieg fury. Led Zeppelin and The Beatles sit side by side with The Dead Boys and The Ramones.
Anyone who has read an interview or simply listened to one of his between song rants over the years knows that Keith is a natural storyteller. It comes through in his lyrics and his overall persona and that has been captured perfectly within these pages. From fiery Christmas rituals with roommate and Gun Club founder, Jeffrey Lee Pierce, to Chuck Berry unexpectedly joining the Circle Jerks onstage in Memphis we are taken for a wild ride in a wild life. Many of the stories contained within correspond perfectly with the small photo section in the book’s middle taking us right into the middle of the action.
Many of Keith’s friends and contemporaries partied just as hard as he did yet sadly most of them are no longer with us. As with the scenes in New York and London the punk scene in California was littered with hard drugs from the get go. Darby Crash was the first to check out following an intentional heroin overdose in the early eighties. Jeffrey Lee Pierce would follow almost a decade later along with many others. Keith’s survival instincts narrowly kicked in just in time to pull him back from the edge he’d been inching ever closer to for over a decade. His newfound focus led to many frustrations over the stagnation of The Circle Jerks due to other members’ projects and seeming lack of interest. The band would make a handful of records in the nineties but even Keith admits they’re mostly a hodgepodge of covers and thrown together riffs.
Keith would float through one new band (Bug Lamp) which fizzled out before they could finish their record and eventually found himself doing odd jobs at a neighborhood diner. There he met people like the poet Iris Berry and many of the musicians that would comprise his experimental band Midget Handjob. He talks of nights where the coworkers would lock up and hang out in the café having impromptu talent shows and poetry readings. Yet for all the comraderie among his new friends things would eventually be marked by further tragedy and illness. Not long after taking on the job Keith would be diagnosed with the diabetes which would change the shape of his life from then on.
My Damage is one of the best books about punk that I’ve read since Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk. It was high time that many of the stories of the Los Angeles scenes finally be told and this book follows the John Doe helmed anthology, Under the Big Black Sun by just a few months. Like all of the best hardcore punk songs it pulls no punches, every word razor sharp and devoid of bullshit. The singer may be shouting but he may as well be telling his tale directly to you in a quiet corner of the bar. Keith may be going for the throat but he’s coming from the heart.