"Henry Rollins Saved My Life" and Other Fan Encounters
Credit: Timothy Norris
In conjunction with our cover story about Henry Rollins this week, we took to social media to ask readers a few simple questions: What has Rollins' writing meant to you? Do you have any interesting stories about meeting him? Did he somehow change your life? The responses nearly swamped our inbox. Here are a few of our favorites.
Henry Rollins Saved My Life
In 2002 my antisocial depression reached its lowest point. I was living in Washington, D.C., surrounded by the nadir of early-2000s hipster culture, privileged officers' wives and Beltway snipers. My extroverted, upbeat roommates overwhelmed me, never more so than when they held a cookout swarming with angular haircuts, skinny jeans and Locust T-shirts. Borderline suicidal, I spent a lot of days in bed, staring at the walls, too depressed to stand up.
I didn't party. I retired to my dark room, drank black coffee and reached out to Henry Rollins for a little support and perspective.
In hindsight my letter, a ranty list of things I hated about my life, was preciously naive. Why, of all people, would I presume Rollins should care about my life? I scribbled out the letter, a bit like a note to Santa Claus from a kid too old to believe. Then I mailed it, forgot about it and returned to my misanthropic, reclusive routine.
Weeks later I came home to one of my roommates grinning. She handed me a postcard of the type you get for free at coffee shops. I'll never forget its simple message.
"Dear Nick, Tough and smart. That's what you want to be. The world can't handle people who can mainline aggression and still rock. Best, Rollins."
The postcard is gone now, though I'm not entirely sure where it went. One day I went to look for it and it just wasn't there. Sometimes I feel an absence, like a missing tooth. Still, it's not the physical object that matters. Having the postcard or not having it doesn't make my memory, or the impact Old Man Rollins had on my life, any less real. --Nicholas Pell
A Beautiful Mind
It was a cold night in Chicago in the early '90s. I was standing outside the Cabaret Metro after a Rollins Band show, the only girl with about a dozen guys, all waiting to get a word in with Henry.
Unlike some of the dudes in the small crowd, I wasn't interested in telling him my life story or getting my photo taken. I wanted to get a book signed. I'd had this book already for a number of years, a slim, red volume, filled with mostly short, intense rants à la Bukowski, typeset in all caps. "TWO THIRTEEN SIXTY-ONE" was stamped on the cover, slightly off-kilter. A first edition of his first book, number 789 of 1,000, I'd acquired it through my high school record-store gig, and had seen Rollins read from it on TV.
I got my chance and walked right up to Henry, asking politely if he would mind signing the book. He took it from me and, before obliging, shook it back at me with an energy I wasn't expecting. "Do you know what you have here?" he demanded. Then, before I could answer, "This was hand-collated by me and Chuck Dukowski in 1985!" I told him the title of my favorite piece -- "Roach Girl," a funny, sex-dream story about a human-sized bug that helps him take over the world -- and he told me exactly where and when he had written it.
Fast-forward a few years. I was working in advertising in Manhattan, and when my concept for an anti-heroin TV spot for the Partnership for a Drug-Free America was chosen to be produced, Henry agreed to do the voice-over. After the recording session, we were making small talk and, looking for something to add to the conversation, I mentioned that I had met him a half-dozen years before in Chicago: "You signed my red book. Thanks again."
Henry looked straight at me. "That was Nov. 11," he said, "and it was raining."
Of course he was right. And while I'd like to attribute his memory of our first meeting to my dynamic personality or keen sense of style, I know better. Henry is a man who can recall the entire U.S. Constitution and all its amendments off the top of his head, at will. He would kick ass on Jeopardy! --Shelley Leopold
The Teeth Have It
I always felt a special connection to Henry Rollins because of my teeth. The joke was that I had (and still have) Black Flag teeth: My bottom front teeth are crooked, almost like the Black Flag bars.
About seven years ago, I got a chance to meet Rollins backstage after one of his spoken-word performances, thanks to friends who worked at the Washington, D.C. club where he was performing. Eloquent as always, he spoke of going over to Iraq to perform for the soldiers. D.C. was a fiery place in the Bush years; a lot of people were on edge about politics. Rollins touched on all of that and much more. I hardly remember at this point.
After the show, he arrived in the green room, and a few of us chatted for a bit, thanking him for his words of inspiration and passion.
I knew I had to mention my teeth. But there was never going to be a point in the conversation where that came up naturally -- so eventually I mustered the courage to tell him I needed a special picture with him.
"You see..." I said, "I have always been a big fan, and long ago one of my friends pointed out my teeth ... look like the Black Flag bars ... "
He abruptly stopped my ramblings. "Show me."
I pulled my bottom lip down, embarrassment across my face. He stopped and stared, then leaned in, his eyes sparkling. "Holy shit, they DO!" he shouted, practically into my mouth. "OK, so what are we doing?? A picture?! OK, first one, let's do a nice one! Who's taking this? You? Ready?!" He couldn't have been more excited.
We took a nice picture of us smiling. Then he said, "OK, now we're gonna take another. You're going to be showing me your teeth, and I'm going to be looking at them, OK?" We took our positions, and snap: Picture No. 2 was more amazing than the first.
We talked for only a moment longer before I thanked him and hurried out of his green room. What a great way to meet an idol -- by forcing him to entertain a ridiculous story about your teeth, which he did with enthusiasm. --Kate O'Connell
It's OK to Go with Fury
I began with two Black Flag cassettes found at Morninglory Music in Santa Barbara, my white-bread hometown. First Damaged, then My War, curious choices in contrast to my other musical interests, gothic and industrial music, with their slick-sharp artifice. I actually hadn't seen many photos of the band. Black Flag were better without a face; it was anonymous and angry and thick as pitch. It was not recognizable or safe. It was something you encountered in a dark alley and didn't know until the brick had already hit your head, and you were never the same. I liked that.
Eventually, Get in the Van and Everything wound up in my possession after a lengthy search (thank you, Book Soup). In those, and later Black Coffee Blues, I found something that, for this girl, was transformative: a kind of permission to lose the "pretty," "sweet" and "nice," as Nicole Blackman would say. The world of grown-ups I was about to join stopped being as scary because, as Henry pointed out, they were just as screwed up as you.
In 1999, my late friend Jen called me and my then-boyfriend and told us that Henry was going to be speaking at the old Luna Park. I don't know how she knew Henry personally. I'm not sure how she knew I was a fan, either, since goth girls do not admit to brain crushes on Henry Rollins. He brought out a box of fan mail and told us all about the Stalkers He Had Known; I felt better about not bringing my 12-inch to be signed. Jen kept clueing me in to show dates until her death two years later, and I've continued to catch Henry live when I can. I always leave energized.
In November 2006, I went to see Jennifer Finch's "14 and Shooting" show, which focuses on the L.A. punk scene in the late '70s and early '80s. And, because I'm now a grown-up and I have disposable income, I bought the gallery print of a photo of Henry. It's in my office, right between my master's diploma from USC and a tray of business cards that say "vice president." Yes, I'm long past that disaffected suburban youth with emotional issues and shit to prove. It could have gone so many ways.
Henry gave me permission to contemplate my lonely road, my screwups, and the ways in which I do not measure up to what my parents had in mind. That when you don't know what you're doing, it's OK to just go with fury and curiosity. I think he would appreciate that I'm good at my business, but I still care about the people I serve. The photo reminds me we are no longer who we were but never lets me forget who we are. --Siobhan O'Neill
The Cock Crowed Three Times
I was a huge fan of Adam and the Ants, and so was my friend Mary Ellen. One night, she asked me if I wanted to hang out with her friend Dez. "He lives in some place called the Black Flag Church," in Hermosa Beach, she told me.
The last time I'd seen Dez, he was a long-haired, kinda hippie guy, playing in a band called Street Noize. So what the hell, right?
We pulled up to this place in our fluffy New Wave thrift-shop finery, and a scary guy, not hippie-ish at all, stopped us. "Do you like Adam and the Ants?" he demanded.
I could see bumper stickers reading, "Black Flag Kills Ants on Contact." Not good. I figured out to say, "No ukk ptooey, I hate Adam and the Ants!" The guy (who of course turned out to be Henry Rollins) smiled and told me to come on in.
But stupid Mary Ellen refused to say she hated Adam and the Ants. Instead, she went back to wait for me in the car -- she didn't even say hi to Dez! Gotta give her props for her loyalty, though.
I LOVE Rollins' book Black Coffee Blues. It gets a reread every couple of years. I also still love Adam and the Ants. Sorry, Henry. --Shay Peyote
Henry Rollins Is Not Ironic
We Gen-X women, we fantasize about Henry Rollins. My friends know my guilty pleasure, and, in much the same way as a penchant for elephants results in overflowing shelves of elephant tchotchkes, I'm sent Rollins spoken-word videos, links to his appearances on RuPaul's Drag Race and Sons of Anarchy, esoteric playlists from KCRW and sultry teenage photos. Thank goodness my silver fox is so prolific.
I accept these offers demurely, waiting to devour them in private. But Henry doesn't come to me in a Laura Ingalls/Almanzo Wilder sort of scenario. He's dismissive and unrelenting. He's an army of one, a sweaty messiah. He's a self-effacing rogue storyteller, a Dickies-clad, punk-rock East Coast gentleman who, with roller-coaster speed and the descriptive zeal of Gogol, leaves me exasperated.
And, fuck you, Henry is not ironic.
Henry has made me do my homework. He makes me fact-check, read the liner notes, think twice, kill my television and live my politics. We come from a generation where you checked out a new band based on a T-shirt you saw one of your comrades wearing at a show. Where a library card and a bus pass were your tickets to a fulfilling afternoon. Where punk had pit ethics, passion and propriety.
Last week, our cute hipster intern came to work in a Minor Threat T-shirt. It made me pause. Could she name the band members? What was her favorite song? What was their label? Who else was on that label? Did she know who Henry Rollins was? I mean, really know who Henry Rollins was? Or was this just an ironic fashion statement?
All I could muster was, "Aren't you cute?!" before heading back to my desk. Kids piss me off. People piss me off. Americans piss me off. At least with Henry, my muse, I am in good company. --Laura Serecin
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