Friday, July 2, 2010

Favourite Author Focus: Henry Rollins

When I was 11 years old, I started to gain an interest in the music my older brother was getting into. The first song I really liked was “Come As You Are” and it’s because of that song that Nirvana is the first band I felt a passion for (other than Split Enz). I didn’t really know who Kurt Cobain was when he died; I didn’t know his music or his words that only couple of years later I would completely fall in love with. Within the next few months of this ‘discovery’ of Nirvana, my brother played me a few other songs he thought I might like; I wasn’t particularly interested in most of them. I just listened to Nirvana incessantly. Then one day not long before turning 12, I walked past my brother’s room and heard a song playing and stopped dead. I went and asked him what it was and he said, “I’m not sure. It’s the second song on that single I played you the other day. All I Want. It’s by The Offspring, I don’t remember what this song is called.” I picked up the single and checked the track listing. “Way Down the Line. It’s called Way Down the Line.” That day changed nearly every aspect of my life to come. It’s because of that band, that song, that I became enamored with music with no return. I had to know everything about them; I learned the lead singer and bass player had a record label – and I had to know all of the bands on that label. (Oh, AFI, how much amusement you have given me over the years and how you changed my life.) It’s through that obsession of knowing everything about that one band and the musicians that they associated with and the music they were associated with by others that I fell in love with a little thing called punk rock.

When I was 14 and I had access to the internet and international online sites where I could order CDs that were impossible to find (or ridiculously expensive) in Australia, I could finally gain access to numerous albums I’d been wanting for a while. I also decided I wanted to learn more about the ‘classic’ punk bands from the 1970s and 1980s. Two of these were Black Flag and Minor Threat. I learned what straight edge was, a movement which still fascinates me a decade later. But more importantly, I learned of the most recognisable ex-lead singer of Black Flag: Henry Rollins. By this time time it was 2000 and Henry was in Rollins Band and, to be honest, the first thing that made me want to know more about him was his tattoos. I became obsessed with tattoos when I was 14 and just never moved past it. Luckily for me that I did develop this obsession, because delving further into the brilliance of Henry Rollins is easily one of the best things I have ever decided to do.

In the last ten years, I am yet to come across someone whose intelligence surpasses Henry Rollins’. His musical talent, his knowledge, his ability to work with such intense energy at all times, his writing, and his love of travel are only a few of the reasons why I find him truly amazing. The fact that I can sit and listen to him talk for three hours and still not want him to stop really does show his incredible ability to speak and keep his audience interested. As a lover of books for my entire life, finding out he wrote books based on his journals was wonderful to me. The first Henry Rollins book I read in early 2001 was Smile, You’re Traveling. It was the latest of his books when I decided to order one from Amazon to see what his writing was like, but I mostly chose to order it because I loved the title. This book was largely focused on the writing and recording of Rollins Band’s last album and, despite the fact that I’m not even a huge fan of Rollins Band, I still managed to finish this book wanting to read everything else Henry Rollins had written and would write in the future. The way he writes about travelling makes me want to get on a plane then and there and go somewhere I’ve never been before and experience a whole new world. As it turns out, all of his books do this for me.

Not long after this, I read Get in the Van and Black Coffee Blues. Get in the Van became my favourite then, because I loved reading about Black Flag and the things that happened in that era - not only of Henry’s life but also of music itself. Black Coffee Blues more fully introduced me to Henry’s wicked sense of humour and even for that alone, I loved it. See a Grown Man Cry, Now Watch Him Die kind of broke my heart. Reading about Henry witnessing the murder of his friend Joe Cole was heartbreaking. You can tell he was in a (particularly) dark place in this book, but despite the anger, violence, loneliness, and pain held within this book, it only made me love Henry more. Broken Summers is my all-time favourite of his books now. I didn’t even know who the West Memphis Three were until I read it but I read the book (and far too many websites about the WM3) in two days because it intrigued me. I am also a nerd for loving this book the most, because of the mentions of Ryan Adams, Tim Armstrong, Lars Fredrickson, Dee Dee Ramone, Iggy Pop, and so many others involved in the recording of the Black Flag cover album they did for the West Memphis Three. More recently, A Preferred Blur is quite similar to Smile, You’re Traveling – Henry generally talks about travel, touring (doing spoken word shows), and all of his usual suspects: religion, music, current affairs, the Bush administration, life. His travels to Pakistan, Iran, Lebanon, and Syria interested me because I haven’t travelled to any Middle Eastern countries as yet. There are numerous other books Henry Rollins has written, but these are some of my favourites. Really, I could write about him all day.

Thank you, Henry Garfield, for becoming the man that is Henry Rollins and in many ways changing my life: my outlook on music and travel, as well as my ability to push myself further to accomplish the things I feel I need to do.

“If I lose the light of the sun, I will write by candlelight, moonlight, no light. If I lose paper and ink, I will write in blood on forgotten walls. I will write always. I will capture nights all over the world and bring them to you.” Henry Rollins


  1. You're a great writer! And great taste in music.
    Thanks for sharing :)

  2. Thanks so much :) It's pretty rare for someone to hear of my love for The Offspring and still pay attention to anything I have to say about music, haha.

  3. As I scrolled through the latest blog posts on 'Blogs I Follow' I saw the picture of Black Coffee Blues (I don't usually read who has posted or what the title of the blog post is, I just look at the book covers) and I knew it had to be you who had posted it :) Great review of Henry xo

  4. As I already said in person (shock), I enjoyed this post very much.

    However, as interesting and entertaining a read as this was, listening to your mum critique it was far more interesting. Haha

    Blogger will probably delete this comment anyway so I will not apologise for its randomness!!

  5. You've gotta love Henry Rollins - author, musician, poet. Thanks for posting this. I'm going to refer all of the Rollins fans in my family to your blog.

  6. He's brilliant :) Glad you liked the post!