Henry Rollins: A True American
With rough beats, chugging guitars, and speeding dismal and story-telling lyrics Punk and Hardcore music has swept over and touched the life of every individual who has stepped into it. The bands who create such rough and powerful music have a following and devotion towards them that is unlike any other. When Punk music became more prominent, its following radiated angst right back to the performers Some shows were even quite dangerous, audience and band members would often get into fights, punching the daylights out of one another until blood was streaming down one’s face. One of the most influential punk bands, Black Flag, originated in California. Black Flag is known for projecting anti-authoritarian and non-conformist views, along with describing social situations, neurosis, poverty, paranoia, and self-image, through their music. After a small lineup change in 1981, a dedicated fan, by the name of Henry Rollins, was invited to become lead singer for the group. Upon Rollins’s entry into the group, they began to explore these issues more, and developed a greater meaning behind their chugging guitar rhythms, fast-paced melodies, and Rollins’s hearty screams. With changes in Black Flag’s musical style and performance, old fans felt alienated and often attacked Rollins, to which he would respond with similar tactics as they were giving to him, often punching people in the face or gut, to which Ginn, a bandmate, called him a “macho asshole” (Parker.) Though despite Rollins’s rugged exterior, he is as caring as a person can be, and thinks not of himself, but of bettering the world for the people who inhabit it and for the future.
Like most adolescents, Rollins did not have a high value of self. He truly believed he was meant to be antagonized, while hating himself the entire time. He would only talk to “other losers,” people who he now calls some of the greatest he has ever known (Rollins.) Once serving ice cream in a Haagen Dazs, Rollins believed he would not be doing anything besides service work in his life, stating that all he knows is “putting fries in a paper bag.” With no more than a high school education, Rollins may be one of the most knowledgeable and brilliant people today.
Rollins’s acceptance into Black Flag is that of which music lovers and fans dream about. First hearing “Nervous Breakdown,” a Black Flag album, Rollins became a dedicated fan of the band. He would travel all over the East Coast to catch a show, once even driving from Washington, D.C. to New York City in a single night. At that New York City show, the band members called Henry Rollins onstage to sing a song called “Clocked In.” The group was incredibly impressed with Rollins’s presence onstage. Rollins did not realize that Dez Cadena, then vocalist, was making the switch to lead guitar. Later, the band called Rollins back, giving him a type of audition, then initiating him into Black Flag. Henry Rollins brought something to the world of punk that no other frontman had before. Rollins was an intellectual as well as a brilliant hardcore performer. He would jump onstage in nothing but a pair of black gym shorts, grinding his teeth and thrashing about. Henry Rollins once described his performance with Black Flag by saying “”Doesn’t matter where you put us on the bill, or who you put us on the bill with, the result is always the same: We tear your face off” (Spinner.)
Through his music, Rollins would speak of his dark past and inner demons, vocalizing to others that were in a similar dark place that they were not alone. Though bringing so much to Black Flag, Rollins gained an experience that would be unlike any other, “After joining Black Flag I got America right in my teeth, America right in my face.” he says. Seeing so much of this country at once Rollins began to discover more of himself, and found that he was both simultaneously disappointed and astounded by the country (I.F.C.)
After several years with Black Flag, they disbanded in 1986. Rollins had already been touring solo as a Spoken Word artist, and decided to focus on this form of expression. His Spoken Word consists of various subjects, from social commentaries, his classic rants, stories, and vulgar anticdotes. Speaking from his past, dark experiences like watching a friend be shot or happy memories from his days with Black Flag. He began to travel later in life, wanting to see parts of the world, which he had never before explored when touring with Black Flag. Rollins went to Kenya and South Africa, stating that there was not another place on Earth like it. He vowed to return each year, which he has for the most part (Benning.) Gathering information from his travels, Rollins began to write extensively. He started with travel journals, then working his way into writing memoirs from his time with Black Flag, and into fiction work. Through all of his writings, his ideologies are scattered either prominently or in underlying tones. In Solipsist, Rollins describes how being in the city made him feel at that point in his life through a work of fiction. Solipsism is pronounced in much of Rollins’s life; he is not married, does not have children, and doesn’t desire either. Though Rollins does live a type of solipsistic life, he cares much more than a true solipsist would. The very creation, tone, and mood of the book proves such.
Henry Rollins’s ideologies have the structure of the true American Dream; quite simplistic, he desires equality and fair treatment of all people. Rollins is a cynic, at first look he seems to be in discontent with America, and in a way, he is, though only because he expects more from his country. Rollins loves that more Americans are becoming opinionated and standing up for what they believe. He expresses, “I open my mouth and consequently I am American. That’s what this country is all about, Jefferson is on my side with this, he told me not to shut up. When we start shutting up, that’s when we start losing our liberties.” He does not “sugar coat” any of his beliefs and often goes on rants, stating solid facts that support his reasoning. He proclaims, “If you disagree with me then you hate America. I’m trying to make a difference and you’re saying everything is fine; it’s obviously not fine” (I.F.C.) Rollins is a true American, what a true American should be. He wants the best for his country and the rest of the world in every aspect, he says, “We give a damn, and that’s what is great about America.” In an interview about his travels, learning about other cultures and people.
Rollins desires opinions from all cultures, regions, and lifestyles. Henry Rollins goes through as many countries as he can with his backpack, cameras and a bunch of Clif Bars (Benning.) As Rollins travels he sees what values people have, and that essentially, we are all the same, saying, “There are more similarities than dissimilarities. The kids and adults all want to see the same thing.” He describes his travels as humbling experiences. Remembering watching an elderly man walk miles for fresh water he states, “You see what you have; you see your country and want to become protective of it, and the economy, and ecology, and wildlife, and each other” (I.F.C.) He uses his fame for everything except himself. He attempts show everyone parts of the world they have not seen, down to the smallest crevasse of each third-world country, with the same in-your-face feelings as he did when he was the singer of a hardcore band. Since 2008 Rollins has written for several online journals, such as Vanity Fair, The Huffington Post, and L.A. Weekly, expressing his views on politics, government, and of course Global issues.
“Far from being a rebel, Henry Rollins is a classic American capitalist archetype, the self-made man who struggled through unbearable misery to reforge an invincible, triumphant identity as a celebrated entrepreneur, a mover and a shaker in the most au courant of bohemian clothing. That Rollins has achieved this status through documenting the darkest regions of his tormented mind, all the while keeping almost everyone around him at a beefy arm’s length, is no more than the particular expression that the market wears on its face at the dawn of the millennium. Through his very relentlessness, his very refusal to turn away from inner demons, the diatribe goes, Rollins has established a brand identity — not to mention a brand loyalty — that most products can only envy” (Parker.) Parker construes Rollins completely in his biography of this talented man. Rollins clearly has achieved great things in his life so far, in almost every medium available. Henry Rollins has taken advantage of every opportunity presented to him, though not to bring himself ahead or to gain anything, but to help and better other people and the world. Acting through a type of cynicism and hatred, the very feelings punk and hardcore music emerge from, Rollins shows how much he cares for America, and he wants better for the entire planet.
Henry Rollins started as a dedicated fan of a small hardcore band, then grew to become the singer of one of the most influential bands in the hardcore and punk culture. Though the hardcore scene, Rollins found himself, he took steps to clarifying his ideas, and then made them permanent by publishing written works and touring to spread his beliefs. Rollins then went on to travel, wanting to see every piece of the world and finding ways in which he could make it better. Henry Rollins is in fact a philanthropist, though in an unconventional way. While still making donations and helping financially, Rollins creates awareness though his travels and tours, he speaks knowledgeably about each issue he tackles in every word of his online journals, his books are captivating and encourage people to rethink his or her views and decide what is best for themselves and the rest of the globe. One may wonder why Henry Rollins isn’t in the running for the next Presidential Election.