Is there a prouder, more tireless ambassador of punk rock and hardcore than Keith Morris? The name might lack the instant recognition of iconic figures like Joe Strummer and John Lydon, or even that of peers like Henry Rollins. But no serious conversation about the genre’s history is complete without placing Morris smack in the center of it. Be it his earliest days fronting the inaugural Black Flag lineup, his equally consequential work with the Circle Jerks, his current return to glory with Off!, or the checkered chapters in between, Morris is as purist and red-blooded a punk rocker as there is.
So while Morris might be a fringe player in the broader scheme of popular music, a memoir detailing the rigors that come with being a punk and hardcore lifer some 35 years and counting couldn’t be put in better hands. For fans fascinated by the blue collar, DIY work ethic that defined punk’s earliest waves, My Damage: The Story Of A Punk Rock Survivor is a worthwhile dive into the trenches. Written with the assistance of longtime Flipside and Razorcake scribe Jim Ruland, the book canvasses the life of a guy finding his niche in punk rock and hardcore, and the grind that comes with committing to the lifestyle.
Admittedly, rock memoirs are largely an outlet for outsize tales that follow a specific kind of career trajectory; rock star dreams realized, complicated or compromised to varying degrees, and later reclaimed with some measure of elder statesman grace. Morris’ life hasn’t been exempt from these pressures, and My Damage has its fair share of stories of drug abuse, fractured relationships, double crossings, and music business bullshit. But there’s an everyman spin to the same old tale that gives My Damage some bare-knuckled humanity. Growing up as an undersized kid in Hermosa Beach, punk music helped him find some sense of belonging in a world that otherwise rejected him and his cohorts. That stage is set in the memoir’s early going, leaving plenty of room for Morris to take readers on a journey through the twists and turns of underground survival. There are tales of his exit from Black Flag, the on-again, off-again nature of the Circle Jerks and the band’s major label flame out, his move toward avant music with Midget Handjob, and how Off! brought him back to his hardcore roots.
But had he just kept things to the hardcore nuts and bolts, the book could have easily veered into the formulaic weeds. Instead, My Damage is just as much a story of survival in the literal sense. Stories about Morris’ fight with diabetes, his reconciled relationship with his rebel-turned-businessman father, the countless couches on which he’s surfed through the years, time logged working at a diner, and his flirtations in the world of A&R and band management add some extra dimension and color to his narrative. Knowing his struggles goes a long way toward appreciating his devotion to the music he’s spent his adult life supporting and creating.
Things are on the up and up these days for Morris, who after years of skirting the margins of cult notoriety is finally getting more of the critical and commercial love some of his past endeavors haven’t afforded him. But his approach to music and life is still grounded by the same nose-to-the-grindstone mentality. And that’s what Morris’ book is a testament to above all else. My Damage is a celebration of that punk rock work ethic, a story of maintenance and perseverance as told by one of the hardest working men in the punk underground.
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