Fans Share Their Favorite Henry Rollins Memories
Credit: Timothy Norris
It's Henry Rollins week here at West Coast Sound. In conjunction with Ben Westhoff's cover story interview with our columnist -- who has a new book out of collected L.A. Weekly writings -- we asked our readers for stories about meeting him, and about what his work meant to them.
Our first batch had stories from a writer who credits Rollins with getting him through a near-suicidal patch, and from a woman whose teeth look like the Black Flag bars. Now, here are some more great stories, written by folks whose lives he has touched.
How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Rollins
In 8th grade I strode dramatically into the local bookstore in Greenfield, MA, and informed the lady behind the counter she was going to order me Henry Rollins' book Get in the Van. I was a young, musically uninformed little thing with too much black makeup on and an increasing alienation from my childhood friends. Living in the bubble of a small town, I knew the music I was supposed to enjoy, and I knew I didn't. But like every nerdy girl, I did my research. When I found Henry Rollins, everything changed.
In those pre-Amazon dark ages, I waited weeks to hear if she could "find a copy," intermittently harassing her as I eagerly anticipated the phone call that meant my book was finally here. When it arrived, I devoured it. Each page I paused to stop and reflect on each photo, wishing I took it, wishing I was at the show, wishing I was a part of something -- and with every page, learning. I made lists of his references, the bands he toured with and the books he was reading. Along the way they became part of my language. They helped me find my friends, my community and myself. Without Henry Rollins I would not have immediately found Henry Miller, Bukowski, Raymond Pettibon, the Ramones, the Minute Men, the Birthday Party, Fugazi or Fear. Without him, I wouldn't have followed the plight of the West Memphis Three.
As I grew older and moved around, Get in the Van and the rest of Rollins' ever-expanding catalog went with me as part of my permanent library and so did Rollins himself. I found him on the TV shows I watched and the radio stations I listened to, and his writing never stopped. Whenever I was lost -- to poverty, to procrastination or to artistic block -- Henry Rollins was there, a voice on the radio telling me to just get over it, to just do it, to try. His perseverance and integrity have been the motivational blue print pushing myself and so many others to be better, to try harder, and to actually do the things we talk about doing.
This year, with Rollins as my inspiration, I launched my own publishing company, Repel Industries. With a dog-eared nearly 13-yearold copy of Get On the Van proudly on my shelf and a Rollins-inspired tattoo on my arm, I am very proud to say I am trying. Thank you, Henry Rollins. - Rebecca Peloquin
Living Without Shame
Has Henry Rollins changed my life? I don't know. I graduated high school at 17 and joined an internship program to do lighting tech, something that became my career for the next 10 years. Pasted backstage in nearly every venue I've ever worked were Henry's words, given off-hand in an interview, about how hard techs work, and how important it is to respect us.
When Neil Young was throwing temper tantrums about his shoes, or LA Guns left a drunken band member in our broom closet, I could always take a deep breath and remember there's at least one performer out there who appreciates all our hard work.
When I was 19 I moved to Atlanta to be a professional wrestler. Henry Rollins didn't tell me to do this, but he and countless other punk rockers had given up security and surety to follow a dream. It worked out better for some than others, but, like the song says, "All you got is a lifetime, go!" And when I hung up my boots, that same song became my pump-up anthem as I faced university for the first time at 25. It helped carry me to a summa cum laude degree from UCLA.
When I was 22 I went abroad for the first time in my life, alone. And at 23 I went to Indonesia against the advice of my government. I haven't been anywhere as intense as Mr Rollins's travels in Pakistan, but I did have to send my passport out for new pages this
summer. Henry's spoken word pieces didn't kindle my travel lust, but they made me feel less like a freak in a country where 90 percent of the population doesn't leave the borders.
When my friend Derek died suddenly last summer, I cried and listened to all the Rollins Band albums we'd listened to together on his porch in Las Vegas all those summer evenings. Derek isn't the first friend I've lost, and I'm not naive enough to think he'll be the last. Rollins speaks about death with an honesty that's hard to find elsewhere, and somehow, his stories have always given me strength to put myself back together and carry on.
Maybe most importantly, though, Henry Rollins is unashamed of his intelligence. He isn't arrogant about it, but you can hear it in everything he does. I'm intelligent too (I'm finishing a Masters degree in theoretical physics), and sometimes intelligence feels like a liability. People make fun of you, and sometimes become angry with you. People don't want to talk to scientists at parties. Men often don't want to date women they think are smarter than them. But I'm not the only one. And if Henry's not ashamed, I'm not either.
So has Henry Rollins changed my life? I don't think so. But he's certainly helped inspire me to live it loud, proud, and with purpose. - Jo Ruhl
Interview with a Novice
I was angry and frustrated with the sonically offensive house music playing on the radio. So naturally, I turned to Henry Rollins on YouTube to revel in our mutual disdain for the "rave" music scene.
Weeks earlier, my dislike for bad music had led me to consider starting my own music blog. But doing so seemed like a futile attempt to have my voice heard through the noisy clutter that clogged the music journalism world. So once again, I turned to Henry Rollins, and this time, I was daring enough to email him. Inspired by Henry and his proud advocacy of the DIY ethic, I wanted to interview him about punk rock, the DIY movement, computer hackers, noise music -- everything that seemed to make sense to me at the moment.
I never expected a busy celebrity to respond to my request for an interview for a blog that didn't even exist. But within a few minutes (yes, minutes), Henry responded. Over the course of 24 hours, he sent me detailed answers that were smart, eye-opening and utterly in character. Having secured an interview with a living legend, I started my blog with my first post being an INTERVIEW WITH HENRY ROLLINS! Somehow, Henry Rollins gave me something I need to keep pushing forward.
Not only was I surprised Henry would respond to my email, I was so inspired by his kind gesture of humility that I felt emboldened to email other musicians, go to more shows, and launch my own blog with the same DIY ferocity that has made Henry Rollins my favorite person in Los Angeles. I won't shamelessly plug my blog, but I'll proudly say that because of Henry Rollins, I was inspired to chase my dreams and write about music, live music, and do it myself.
For me, Henry is the last real punk in Los Angeles. He's not a "celebrity," because he refuses to be one. He is a man on a mission to enlighten and have his voice heard, and he treats his fans the same way he would treat a great musician or public figure: with respect and tantalizing conversation. - Art Tavana
Wanting to Be Strong
I live in New Zealand, and I'm a novice weightlifter. Henry Rollins wrote a piece called "The Iron." It is taped to my fridge.
Over the past year, I've gone from wanting to be skinny, to wanting to be a strong girl, to wanting to be a strong person, physically and mentally, beyond gender. His piece gives me focus as I learn how to achieve humility, kindness and clarity. - Erin Driessen
A Missed Opportunity
I was at the Roosevelt Hotel about three years ago, waiting for the valet to fetch my crappy Honda Civic, when I looked over and saw Henry Rollins about five feet away, silently -- albeit intensely -- waiting as well.
Now, at the time, I didn't know too much about Henry Rollins, outside of a vague familiarity with Black Flag, but one look told me all I needed to know about his preference for privacy. So privacy is what I gave. And damned if I don't regret it. Because now I'm a guy who hungrily awaits his column -- it has the power to make me laugh and cry, often in the space of a single paragraph -- and I wish I would've shaken his hand, thanked him and been on my merry way.
Recently I settled for the next best thing, an email. He responded that very same evening, with very sincere appreciation. Short, sweet and to the point -- just like I'd imagined him to be. -Ryan Simonson
Tale of the (Cassette) Tape
I graduated high school in 1989. I lived in a small town outside Buffalo, NY, the kind of town where the only things to do were sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Oh, and cow tipping. My friends and I listened to a lot of Black Flag. They were already done, so we
discovered them a bit late, but I was hooked. I played my Family Man cassette so much, I had to buy a new one. Twice.
Many years later, around 2006, I was a radio DJ in Scottsdale, AZ. A friend of mine knows Henry, so he arranged for him to call in when he was in town for this spoken word tour so I could record it to play on my next show.
The interview went well, and watching the show, I became an even bigger fan. Here was this guy who was an icon for more than 20 years. He was using his anger onstage in a different way, but he was also pretty funny. He could very well be the most intelligent person I've ever met.
I waited outside for him afterwards. Now, I've been to a LOT of concerts and shows, and I never hang out to meet the artists after the show. Never. Until Henry.
To this day, I still have the tape of my interview with him. Only thing is, I don't have a cassette player. -Amy Donohue
A Champion of Musical Underdogs
Henry Rollins' impact on the world of music goes far beyond his personal discography. Very far. In addition to using his celebrity to draw attention to critical social and political issues, Rollins has connected numerous musical underdogs with the listeners they deserve.
In the '90s, he partnered with Rick Rubin to create Infinite Zero, a reissue label that opened my ears to some of the most life-altering music I've ever heard. Infinite Zero reissued Gang of Four's immaculate Songs Of The Free and other gems from the band's early catalog years before Andy Gill and Co. reunited and hit the stage at Coachella. The label put James Chance's bulletproof records back in circulation and ushered in the first of many resurgences of the mighty Flipper with the reissue of Sex Bomb Baby.
A decade later, Rollins gave Negative Trend's brilliant 1978 EP the CD reissue treatment - and sold it for a mere five bucks on his website. "Black And Red," "Mercenaries," "Meat House" and "How Ya Feelin'?" on a legitimate CD release? That cheap? The guy deserves a medal.
Anyone who has listened to Rollins' work in radio knows of his commitment to exposing people to worthy sounds. Thanks to his show, an extraordinary band like Trouble Funk - who otherwise might have been known only to clubs and Holiday Inn audiences in the D.C. region -- is hitting eardrums around the world.
Rollins' work with KCRW harkens back to that wonderful time when so many of us glued ourselves to college radio in hopes of hearing something that would blow our minds. Sure, a laborious scavenger hunt on YouTube could yield similar results these days, but that will never replace the enthusiasm of a music lover playing and discussing the bands they adore. Finding music online takes a computer key; Henry putting together a memorial radio show for our mutual friend Brendan Mullen in 2009 took heart.
As I type this, I'm listening to Rain's incredible late '80s EP La Vache Qui Rit, a record that Rollins recommended to me when we got chatting about DC Hardcore last year after one of his spoken word shows. That is perhaps Rollins' greatest gift to us all - using his wellearned reputation and credibility to let other artists through the door that he opened. I couldn't imagine not having Rain in my music library now.
Thank you, Henry. My record collection is infinitely larger - and more meaningful -- because of you. - Joel Gausten
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