Flipper gets knifed, finds Love

Bruce Loose, frontman for legendary punk band Flipper, is making up for lost time — several years' worth. The band has two new albums — the live Fight and the studio Love — and is playing shows with a new bassist (its fourth). None of this would likely be happening if Loose hadn't finally undergone surgery for spinal damage that had plagued him for much of his life.

"I [originally] injured myself in high school gymnastics," he recalls. "It was a simple-looking injury at the time, but it was a total destabilization of my system starting. Over years of working, various auto accidents, [and] falling off the stage, my back went through degenerative disc disease breakdown."

In 2008, Loose had some of his vertebrae fused "with titanium bars and big screws. They were going to do it to my sacrum, but I wouldn't be able to bend at all if I did that." He also had a bone spur removed from his lower back, a procedure he describes as "basically them taking a little auger, like you'd use with a piece of wood, and they ream a hole around your nerve. Had they missed, I'd be paralyzed."

Loose's condition was probably exacerbated by his band's ultraconfrontational shows. Flipper was legendary on the early-'80s Bay Area punk scene, but for all the wrong reasons, or so it seemed at the time. In an era of 1,000 mph hardcore, the group played slower than anyone since Black Sabbath, goading audiences with atonal, sludgy riffs and the sardonic lyrics of Loose and Will Shatter, not to mention their infamous stage banter.

Loose recalls a strong disconnect between Flipper and punk fans demanding fast-faster-fastest pacing and simplistic political preaching. These crowds built an insular, self-policing scene that inevitably stagnated; you can only play one note for so long.

While its hardcore peers have mostly disappeared, Flipper is still here, with the aforementioned albums, both featuring former Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic. Love, which offers the first new Flipper songs since 1993's American Grafishy, is more melodic than 1981's Generic Flipper Album or 1982's Gone Fishin' (both reissued last year, along with the singles compilation Sex Bomb Baby! and the double live disc Public Flipper Limited). And while the cynicism of the classic albums remains, it's tempered by age. Says Loose, "Flipper has always been a means and a device for getting a message to people, and if it's time to fuckin' chill down the anger, it's time to chill down the anger. There's definitely hope in this world."

Fight, recorded at two 2007 gigs, pairs fresh material with Flipper classics, and the juxtaposition is seamless. The distorted roar of Ted Falconi's guitar and drummer Steve DePace's slow-motion avalanche remain as powerful as they were in 1981.

Perhaps the most surprising change to Flipper circa 2009 is the relationship between the band and the public. The hostility of the group that sang "There's No Place as Bad as Southern California" to an L.A. crowd on Public Flipper Limited is gone, replaced by a spirit of communication and openness. "We're not a fuckin' band up there trying to be rock stars," Loose says. "The connection is made to the people in the audience. One person at a time per show." Whether it's attributable to Loose's surgery or something more, Flipper seems not just rejuvenated, but reborn.

 
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