One would think that more than 60 years of living and 32 years of sobriety would have mellowed out Keith Morris, but these days, the legendary punk singer is just as angry as he was in 1980, when his band, Circle Jerks, released their legendary debut album, Group Sex.
“I’m just as angry as I’ve always been,” the 64-year-old says. “Look at our world situation? I live in a country where one of the worst human beings to ever fall out of a vagina runs the country. I have a pretty good life, but it’s hard not to be angry these days.”
To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the said album, Morris has resurrected the beloved band for a North American reunion tour, which has a stop with fellow punk icons, The Adolescents, at the Commodore Ballroom on November 1.
Morris’ personality ebbs and flows almost like the short, 14 dynamic songs that make up the record they’re celebrating. The dreadlocked artist can be fervent and loquacious at times but then also pensive and silent, two sides of a rusty coin that has paid many dues to the punk rock community for more than four, crazy decades.
Over those past 40 years, Morris has visited Vancouver off and on with one of three bands: his first band, Black Flag (you might recognize their logo), Circle Jerks, and more recently Off!, a “supergroup” of established punk artists who found their own success with four popular albums. Almost immediately into the conversation, Morris starts telling me about how much he’s looking forward to playing the Commodore Ballroom again (“I think that place is awesome.”) and about how, 10 years ago, while eating at a mystery Vancouver restaurant, he fell in love unexpectedly (“She was a restaurant owner. Off! was on tour and she served breakfast to myself and Dimitri [Coats], and I was head over heels. I wish I could remember the restaurant’s name!”).
While there are no plans for new Circle Jerks or Off! records, Morris reveals that he is currently writing songs for a new album that explores territory that is a bit foreign to him – love songs.
“Yeah, punk rockers aren’t supposed to sing love songs and I’m writing lyrics for a love album,” he says, without any sarcasm. “I don’t know if it’ll be a solo record or how it will go down, but I’ll be playing with non-punk rock people. I get to go off and try something different – I’m 64, I get to do that. When I say, “love songs,” I’m talking about songs about wanting to poke your eyes out and rip your heart out and fucking stomp on it have my friends use it as an ashtray.”
“Not all love songs have to be about flowers and little squirrels and babies in their Huggies, dancing around in the park and singing happy songs,” he adds.
Many survivors of Morris’ generation argue that the glory days of punk rock are long behind us. But when posed with the age-old question, “Is punk rock dead?”, Morris is typically passionate in his response.
“Never – it’ll go on throughout time,” he states adamantly. “I’m sitting here on my couch, I’ve lifted my arm up and if the sky had a hole in it, I’m sticking my middle finger through it. That’s because there will always be the kid in his bedroom, angry about something with a guitar or a bass or a drumkit or some kind of horn or stringed instrument, wanting to make noise to piss his parents off. It’s us versus them – it’s always been that way.
“It started at the beginning of history with the kid in the cave who’s pissed off at his parents, throwing rocks against the cave wall,” he continues, laughing. “That’s how it all started. It didn’t start with the Sex Pistols.”