How Black Flag’s Iconic Logo Became Punk Rock’s Secret Handshake

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When punk rock musician and former BLACK FLAG guitarist Dez Cadena walked into a tattoo parlor by the Mabuhay Gardens Club in San Francisco in 1980 he got four black rectangular monoliths: the logo of his LA hardcore punk band, which pioneered the hostile and angst-ridden genre and fueled the spirit of independent record labels. The tattoo cost $25 and is the first known of the Bars, which configure to look like a waving flag—a visual assault against surrender. “Being in Black Flag,” Cadena recalls, “I figured, ‘Here I am. It’s a pretty cool, fucked-up situation, so I can do anything I want.”

Barred for Life: How Black Flag’s Iconic Logo Became Punk Rock’s Secret Handshake, by Stewart Dean Ebersole and Jared Castaldi, is the result of more than five years of interviewing and photographing individuals with Bars tattoos. It is a monument to those who understand the Bars as the sign of an anti-authoritarian attitude that communicates much more than the band itself. Ebersole explains: “Barred for Life represents a recollection of my thoughts, recent photos, and missives told by people most frequently missing from the official record: the anonymous faces in the crowd that have long been the life’s blood of the scene across its lifespan.”

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