Henry Rollins: Remembering One of the Biggest Maniacs From My D.C. Punk Days

Henry Rollins: Remembering One of the Biggest Maniacs From My D.C. Punk Days
Photo by Heidi May

Sometimes, how you form a friendship determines the strength of the bond and how painful it can be if it breaks. When I was young, I made some of my most important and lasting friendships with those I met through music.

When you have such a strong attraction to a thing, you might grab onto the people you find yourself with and hold fast. This was my experience. Going to punk-rock shows allowed me to meet others who found the music to be as vital as life itself.

The music scene I came from was very small, and a lot of us stuck together. It felt like the deepest concept of friendship possible. You’re at a Cramps show and Lux Interior throws himself into the audience. You and the others around you put him back on the stage. You talk about that for the rest of your life, but no one gets it like the ones who were there with you.

If things line up just right, you can hold onto these friendships and, as the years pass, they only get better. You feel lucky to have been at the right time and place. You wouldn’t trade it for anything.

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Upon seeing some of these people from “back in the day,” I am often moved to the point of tears. They were there. They know. You can convey an encyclopedia of information in just a nod. The power of that affirmation can be huge.

There was something that happened 30 years ago that I will never forget. In October 1985, I was visiting my hometown of Washington, D.C. The Bad Brains were playing the 9:30 Club, so I went with Ian MacKaye, whom I had stood next to the first time we ever saw them, when they opened for The Damned in June 1979.

The 9:30 Club was packed and the audience was younger than we were, their faces unfamiliar. The Bad Brains opened with “At the Movies” and then they went into easily one of the greatest songs ever, called “I.” That’s it — “I.”

At that moment, it was as if I grew a few feet taller. I looked around the room and all I could see were about half a dozen of us from the early days. We all locked eyes. It was if no one else was in the building but the band and us. It was one of the most powerful things I have ever experienced.

One of my favorite people I have ever met was from that scene. He was a maniac in good ways and not-so-good ways. The good part was that he was obnoxious, loud, hilarious and as solid a friend as you could ever hope for. The not-so-good part was that he had some habits that could be very hard on one’s health. He was someone I loved as soon as I met him. This happened to a lot of people who encountered him. Perhaps you might have known someone like this?

At one point, he left the D.C. area. Just disappeared. We were told that he might have fallen out of favor with some dangerous people.

I caught up with him later in the 1980s. He was at a rehab facility in the Midwest and I would visit. It was great to see him clear-eyed and sharp.

After that, I lost track of him. I tried to find him but could not. Ian would tell me of the occasional sighting of him at a D.C.-area show, but he never stuck around to talk.

Finally, in 2007 I believe, Ian’s brother Alec had tracked down a phone number for him and sent it to me. I called and left a message with his roommate. Incredibly, he called me back.

I was so excited to talk to him, so curious as to what the hell he had been doing, that I was almost yelling. He gave me very little information and met my enthusiasm with tepid politeness. I didn’t understand why he was being this way. I asked if I had made him mad and he said no. I gave him Ian’s number and asked if he would call him. He said he would.

The next time I spoke to Ian, I asked him if he had called. He never did.

This is a guy I used to laugh my ass off with. I didn’t understand what had happened.

There was another sighting of the guy a few years ago. Ian and Alec actually hung out with him at a show in D.C. Ian said he looked the same, acted the same, and that it was great to see him. But he wouldn’t say what he was up to.

Over the years, it had become a ritual of mine to search for him on the Internet — and every time, I was unable to find anything.
Several days ago, I searched yet again and immediately something came up. It was an obituary.

I went into denial and assured myself that it was someone else. Then I read the notice. Born in D.C., raised in Silver Spring, Maryland. This was bad. I looked at the comments and one remarked how great a time they used to have at shows. I sent it all to Ian.

Inside of an hour, I had found his parents’ phone number and called. I introduced myself to the elderly man who answered. His voice cracked. “We didn’t know how to find you!”

Over the course of an hour, his father told me what had happened. A series of workplace accidents had seriously affected my friend’s health, which led to further complications. By that time, all the fun of his past didn’t allow him to fight any longer and he slipped away, 4-10-15. “He said you were one of his best friends,” his father told me.

I had this crazy idea that Ian and I would sit down with him one last time.

[Look for your weekly fix from the one and only Henry Rollins right here every Thursday, and come back tomorrow for the awesomely annotated playlist for his Sunday KCRW broadcast.]


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