By Ida V. Eskamani
Do you know you're making history while you're making history? According to Keith Morris, frontman of foundational American hardcore band Circle Jerks, "Oh, hell, no."
Morris calls Orlando Weekly from his home in Southern California while finishing up a lunch of rancheros nachos, with half-joking concerns about indigestion. "It could be time for Tums. And I hope that it's not time for Pepto Bismol. That would be disastrous ... we're all leaving tomorrow morning to fly out to Baltimore. So it couldn't be a worse time!"
For better or for worse, it's certainly been a long time coming. 2020 marked 40 years since the release of Circle Jerks' debut album Group Sex, 15 minutes and 14 tracks of pure, relentless, chaotic defiance. Social commentary paired with political overtones and sarcastic nihilism, tracks like "Beverly Hills," "World Up My Ass" and "Live Fast Die Young" are engraved in hardcore stone, anthems for misfits of past and present.
Though the pandemic delayed their efforts, Circle Jerks are now embarking on their first North American tour in 15 years to mark the four-decade milestone. Morris will be joined on stages around the country by band co-founder Greg Hetson (also of Bad Religion), Zander Schloss and Joey Castillo.
"It was the blind leading the blind ... just being carefree and careless, and not worrying about anything, and just blasting and making a bunch of noise," says Morris of making the record. "We were just playing the music that we love. And we were angry, we were frustrated, we were depressed ... we just wanted to blow stuff up."
Morris looks back at that period of the Circle Jerks as the band having to make it all up as they went along, career-wise.
"There's a certain mentality where you just, you play it as it lays, you take it as it comes on," reflects Morris. "We didn't really have any kind of management, you know, telling us where we get to point B, starting at point A, you've got to do all of these things in-between. We had nobody telling us that ... we learned everything that we were doing by doing it."
It's not a term we use lightly, but Morris is a legend who has seen it all and lived to tell the tale(s). Morris is an original member of another influential punk band, Black Flag, co-founding the band with guitarist Greg Ginn.
Morris left that band to form Circle Jerks with Hetson, and found sanctuary in what would later be recognized as a legendary SoCal punk scene.
"We grew up in a community where we were eventually hated by just about everybody in our community. And a lot of them couldn't wait until the police ran us out of town," says Morris. "We were thought of as the guys that were 'contributing to the delinquency' of all the young people in our town."
Decades later, Morris is still the resolutely defiant, determined person that formed Circle Jerks. He jokes that he's effectively a 10-year-old living in a 66-year-old's body. "Just because I'm an adult doesn't mean I have to like, follow all of the adult rules," says Morris.
On the politics of our times, he's got clarity rooted in compassion: "The mask mandates and the vax cards. It's just for protection. It's just, it's what you do for your fellow man."
Morris is also immunocompromised himself. Living with diabetes, the pandemic is personal to him; yet he also sees the macro powers at play.
"Our government has us divided because they need us to be divided, so that they can pull off all of their bullshit," seethes Morris. "All of this last-minute, creepy-ass bullshit. ... Am I allowed to use adult language?"
We assured him "ass" was OK in Orlando Weekly. We just tell them to get back when they tell us how to act.
Ida is an Iranian-American from Florida who grew up with the Beatles, and came of age in the pit. She will talk to you about music for as long as you will pretend to listen. She is founder of Bandifesto, a little blog with a big heart.