Circle Jerks’ Keith Morris: Music better than any drug

Circle Jerks founder Keith Morris says, “It feels like I’m not supposed to be here, so you just celebrate!” The historic punk rock band plays Cargo in Reno on Sunday. Photos by Shaun Astor / Tahoe Onstage

In 1979, Keith Morris had just finished recording vocals on the “Nervous Breakdown” EP with his band, Black Flag. Forming the band following he and friend and guitar player Greg Ginn having seen the Ramones and wanting to create their own noisy discordant music, Morris would be part of the band’s earliest recordings, before creative differences mixed with a little bit of instability and drug use would lead Morris to leave Black Flag and form another band, Circle Jerks, with Greg Hetson of Redd Kross. This would be the beginning of a band that would become a staple of the Los Angeles’ punk and hardcore scenes and an inclusion in nearly all conversations on LA’s influence over the wider punk landscape.

This year marks Circle Jerks’ 40th anniversary tour (maybe it’s fitting that nothing goes as planned and that this tour falls slightly outside of the group’s actual 40th anniversary, as their tour was originally derailed by COVID shutting everything down), which includes a stop at Reno’s Cargo Concert Hall.

In 2019 as Morris was getting ready to front FLAG, a band made up of several other past members of Black Flag who play a setlist of the band’s classics, we spoke to him a little about where he, and the bands he was a part of, fit into in the current music scene…

“When we first started playing, we didn’t know what we were doing. We didn’t know how long it was gonna last. We didn’t know if we were gonna make it out alive. It’s kinda odd singing ‘I don’t wanna live to be 34, I don’t wanna die in a nuclear war.’ You hit all these milestones. It feels like I’m not supposed to be here, so you just celebrate!”

The lyrics, from the song “Live Fast, Die Young’ on the band’s Group Sex album scream of the nihilistic, youthful anger that summed up hardcore music at the time. All these years – and albums – later, the priorities may have changed from self-destruction to actually composing and performing more complex music. Circle Jerks’ co-founder Greg Hetson is now a permanent member of Bad Religion. Morris himself has been sober for decades.

“Yeah, there’s some sloppy moments, and there’s some head-scratching moments. But we’re older guys. Our time on this earth could be extremely limited so it’s like, let’s just go out and have a good time,” Morris opines.

“I want to continue playing music. I want to do this until I lose my voice, until I can’t do it anymore. There’s a part of all this where you’re playing in front of a crowd and there’s an energy. You can’t fucking buy anywhere else, you can’t experience anywhere else, unless you’re there. It’s better than any drug.”

The Circle Jerks will be bringing old school hardcore firebreathers Negative Approach, and fellow Southern California band Adolescents along with them on a schedule of more than 60 dates across the globe this year.

While there were a couple hiatus’ along the way so members could take a break or focus on other projects, four decades as a band is older than the age of many in their crowds. Emerging from a circle of friends and musicians that wanted more anger and expression than the bland “rock” music being pumped out at the time, the Circle Jerks embody that mix of aggression, fun and continuing to push through the white noise surrounding you.

“These songs are part of our DNA. You have to experience it. And I’m gonna experience it for as long as I’m able to,” describes Morris in an unusual moment of calm. “I’m 63 years old – my adventure is just starting.”

  • Circle Jerks
  • Openers: Negative Approach and Adolescents
  • When: Sunday, Feb. 27
  • Where: Cargo Concert Hall
  • Tickets: $27.50

ABOUT Shaun Astor

Shaun Astor
Shaun Astor cites pop music singers and social deviants as being among his strongest influences. His vices include vegan baking, riding a bicycle unreasonable distances and fixating on places and ideas that make up the subject of the sentence, "But that’s impossible…" He splits his time between Reno and a hammock perched from ghost town building foundations. Check out his work at www.raisethestakeseditions.com

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