FROM BMX TO BLACK FLAG LOGO DRAWING FROM JUNIOR HIGH TACOMA 1981/2
In my pre-teen and adolescent years I loved drawing logos.
I vaguely remember drawing this Black Flag logo for some art project in Junior High (based on that of the insecticide of the same name, it was almost as popular a version among punks at the time as the classic "four bars" ). This would’ve been in late ‘81 or early ‘82.
It’s kind of surprising I didn’t go into graphic design considering my early obsessive fixation with logos. If I had I probably would’ve ended up earning some money from making art. Now wouldn’t that have been awful?
Before discovering punk in the early 80’s I was a huge BMX enthusiast. I competed in races around the Seattle/Tacoma area in the late 70’s but as much as I liked riding and racing I was always just as interested in the look and feel of BMX: the bikes, magazines, and gear.
Oh, and by the way, for all you whipper-snappers under the age of thirty-something who might be reading:
In the BMX era I’m talking about racing in races was the only game in town. “Freestyle” at the time was a term known only in the world of competitive swimming and, speaking of swimming, I didn’t see anyone riding a BMX bike in a swimming pool until I moved to So. Cal. years later. I can’t recall ever even seeing photos of anyone doing that in the BMX magazines in the late 70’s/early 80’s either. Of course in Washington State there are no pools.So aside from riding around the neighborhood or jumping your bike over a hastily erected wedge of a ramp to catch air, racing is what you did.
Though I lived in Washington I had a decent grasp of what was happening in So. Cal. because I subscribed to and carefully studied publications like BMX Action and BMX Plus! almost obsessively. I’d spend hours with felt tipped pens trying to draw perfect reproductions of the logos of my favorite brands of bikes and components. Brands like Cook Bros. Racing, Diamondback, Torker, Mongoose, JMC, Hutch, Kuwahara…the list goes on and on.
There was something magical about the logos and all they symbolized to me. They represented something that was rare, expensive, and very specialized. In that era where I lived you were forced to travel to often out of the way places in order to get to the specialty bike shops that carried the good parts by the right makers.
BMX was a semi-underground sport that you had to seek out if you wanted in.
Like Black Flag and many other hardcore bands I would soon come to love and whose own logos I would soon be studying and drawing on my clothes, most of the BMX manufacturers and racers I admired hailed from the promised land of Southern California. Racers like Stu Thomsen, Anthony Sewell, and Harry Leary to name a few. They raced at tracks with exotic-sounding names like Azusa, Devonshire Downs and Soledad Sands.
I used to imagine what it was like at these places and what these racers must’ve looked like wearing the graphic uniforms of their big factory teams, flying around the track, catching air, and crossing the finish line. It all seemed so far away, so sunny, and spectacular to me living as I did in the rainy, grey Pacific Northwest.
As much as I dug the look and feel of the sport I also really liked that BMX felt like it was my thing. It wasn’t something everyone else knew about. Going to a race with my mom and my stepdad or with my dad and my brother somewhere outside of town on the weekend expanded my world because the races drew kids like me from all over the area. Only a couple times did I run into another kid from my school at one of these races and I didn’t especially like it when I did.
What’s he doing here? this is my world. Of course it wasn’t. It was for anyone who wanted to be a part of it. Just like punk rock.
BMX wasn’t a school sport and it wasn’t a team sport like little league or football, neither of which I had any interest in at all. It was an individual activity that took time, some money, skill, and technical knowledge if you wanted to participate in it. All these things took a lot of work and effort for me to acquire them. There were no coaches involved and there was nobody to tell you how to do it, which meant you had to figure it out and do it yourself.
I found this self-directed aspect of it to be personally empowering and it gave me a sense of belonging to something cool. I didn’t analyze it or think about it that way at the time, I was too busy having fun. Looking back though, I can see that BMX gave me a sense of self-esteem of the sort that all kids need, and hopefully find, if they are to have the confidence to survive and thrive in the wider landscape of adolescence. I think it might’ve been my experience in the world of BMX that later helped me find the guts to strike out into the uncharted and unsanctioned do-it-yourself world of Hardcore Punk.
The parallels and overlaps between Punk Rock, skateboarding, and BMX are obvious and have been written about and documented widely. I don’t have a whole lot to add to their history beyond my own personal experiences moving in, around, and through them.
In the interest of giving credit where credit is due, I’d like to say that I know now how lucky I was to be blessed with parents and step-parents who openly supported, or simply didn’t stand in the way of me following my interests back then. It couldn’t have been easy watching me do all this potentially dangerous stuff. Their skilled and artful hands as my guardians and stewards helped instill in me a decent sense of judgement and helped keep me safe and motivated throughout my early years. Big thanks to them all.
I still sometimes marvel when I see BMX on television or in The Olympics, or when I hear a punk song on the radio or see a Black Flag shirt for sale at the mall. I know I shouldn’t be surprised, it’s all so ubiquitous in the culture now.
I can’t help it though, I still marvel.
Black Flag logo by me from my personal archive.