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Henry Rollins – Broken Summers

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Henry Rollins’ writing will make you think…while you’re laughing your head off. The man has his opinions and he’s not big on the sugarcoating thing.

Broken Summers, like many of Rollins’ other books, is written as a collection of journal entries. Spanning late 2001 to mid-September 2003, the bulk of the material concerns the making of the CD Rise Above: 24 Black Flag Songs to Benefit the West Memphis Three and the tour that followed. One thing about Henry: if he believes in something, he will bust his ass to support it.

I got interested in Rollins after seeing him perform on the old Dennis Miller show. What a sight: a heavily tattooed guy clad in what appeared to be gym shorts, screaming into a microphone with the intensity of a pit bull on angel dust. All of this over some angsty hardcore-meets-jazz blasphemy. A little research and I make the Black Flag connection. But maybe best of all, the guy likes to write. Not your garden variety look-at-me-I’m-a-rock-star-and-artiste kind of thing either. Nosir. This is the distillation of a very active and interesting mind, just as intense as his music.

Check out the opening entry:

    My next door neighbor died. Ninety-seven years old. Concentration camp ID tattooed on her arm. I knew she was in there but I never saw her. Two men loaded the body into a gray van a couple of days ago.

    Last night, my doorbell rings. The dead woman’s granddaughter. She was emptying the place out and came by to ask if I had a valium to spare. How Eagles Greatest Hits is that?

Now that is some weird happenings, folks.

You need only read a small chunk of his descriptions of his musical life (rehearsals, recording sessions, shows) to discover just how passionate Rollins is about music. This passion extends into his commentaries on just about everything else. Henry doesn’t suffer fools gladly and has no use for “weakness”. For example, here’s a bit of social editorial combined with a tasty Creed-dig:

    All you have to do is listen to the songs on the radio and you know that Amerika is weak. If I was seeking to invade Amerika, the music would be my cue. “They’re listening to Creed. We’re going in. We’ll take the Capitol in a day.”

Other highlights include a strangely touching visit to Lemmy’s apartment, a long riff on the death of Dee Dee Ramone (with a recollection of a trip to Dee Dee’s place at the Chelsea Hotel), and a bunch of fun snarls at the general soulless state of all aspects of the music industry.

Rollins’ take on things might take a little getting used to. At times he can seem a little blunt. But in this season of increasing political doublespeak, maybe a little no-nonsense ranting is necessary.

(First posted on Mark Is Cranky)

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About Mark Saleski

  • Chris Kent

    Mark, a great review on a book that sounds very interesting. Nice work.

    I saw Black Flag many years ago in Austin, and Henry was equally spirited during that performance. He jumped off the stage at one point to attack a man wearing a KKK t-shirt. Show came to an end, house lights were turned on – night abruptly ended…..

    Good to see Henry is still fighting the good fight. I have visited the Chelsea in NY, a sort of shrine to rock/writing stardom…..We stand at its front door, take photographs of ourselves benenath its sign, and dream of Sid, Nancy, Dylan, Wolfe, Dee Dee, etc…lounging within producing great work or just great “fuck-up” stories……

    Henry’s a rare bird to have survived that scene and to have branched into other creative areas. I was never a big Black Flag fan, but as the years pass and Henry continues to produce an interesting variety, I realize in some odd way, he’s the real ideal……

  • mike

    Henry Rollins drives a new BMW
    Next thing you know he will votefor ‘double U’
    He was a punk rocker singing hate against the rich
    now he is just their rock n roll bitch

    He has a nice home and gets all the girls
    He has plenty of cash and maybe some pearls
    He used to sleep in a van and tour in black flag
    Now he is rich thanks to all the you punk fag

    Jello Biafra has a corporation
    I wonder what he drives , some speciallized creation?
    They used to be punks and live on the street
    now they are loaded and where the best on their feet

    Henry Rollins drives a new BMW
    I bet he has a maid and a really nice ocean view
    He still tours and played recently in IRAQ
    probably flew first class to there and back

    Many punks who thought they were some big anarchy
    now live in Malibu and go to starbucks for the chai tea
    they got all the goods and lost all the angst
    until they perform and take your money and say thanks

    So Henry Rollins can get his car detailed
    and forget about all the punks who probably failed
    Like me who never wanted to cash in
    I was told back then that it was a sin

    I wish I had me a brand new BMW
    and that house with the fuckin great ocean view
    but I cant seem to swallow that capitalist pill
    which Henry Rollins took and made a big kill

  • rob

    that poem is quite possibly the most retarded thing i have ever read in my entire existance. i hope you get cancer

  • HW Saxton

    That IS really,really,really F’ing BAD.

  • Looks like someone woke up on the jealous side of the bed.

    Any keen observer of Rollins knows that bro keeps it real: the guy lives — literally — to work and create.

    Should we begrudge success of any sort nowadays?

  • By the way: I think it’s still a fairly well kept secret that Rollins is one of the funniest people around. His spoken word shows are at least 50% laugh-out-loud funny.

    I saw him years ago in New York and was riveted. I’d love to see him again sometime.

  • Eric Olsen

    if the bellowing noncommercial iconoclast Rollins can be considered a sell-out, is it possible to make a living via art and escape the label?

  • The funny thing is, Henry Rollins would probably get a total kick out of that. I should print it out and take it with me when he’s here for Valentine’s Day. If you think he & Biafra are sellouts, who are you taking seriously? Is it better to make enough money to support yourself and be able to do your art full time, or to carp and whine from your post at Starbucks about the sellouts who succeeded where you were incapable?

    2.13.61 and Alternative Tentacles risk money, time and attention on artists who wouldn’t get the time of day from any other publisher. Don’t call them sellouts — if anything, they’re heroes.

  • Eric Olsen

    excellent points Shannon, and I doubt Rollins is living in the lap of opulence anyway

  • I’ve been re-reading Get In The Van, so it was great timing for your excellentt review. Cries of sellout have been lobbed at Henry ever since he left DC to join Black Flag. I’m sure the poem would make hime chuckle before he sends the poem writer head into a wall.

  • yea, yea…sellout.

    henry seems like the genuine article to me. just doing what he has to do.

    i’ve never understood the ‘sellout’ thing anyway…just like that “i liked them until they became popular” stuff.

  • Eric Olsen

    I understand the “overplayed until I’m sick of them” angle, but I try to never blame the song or the artist – it isn’t their damn fault they “succeeded”

  • Nick Jones

    Although I’ve only heard a handful of tunes from Black Flag and The Rollins Band, I’ve got all of his spoken word albums except Get in the Van. Not only is he smart, passionate and creative, he’s also one funny motherfucker. Every one of the aforementioned spoken word albums are hilarious. I saw him once on TV (Comedy Central?), and he told a story about he and the band attending a live Thai sex show, and he managed to tread a line which let you know exactly what happened without being explicit enough to get himself censored. Now that takes talent!

    By the way, the name of his publishing company, 2.13.61, was the birthdate of his lifelong best friend (I’ll have to Google for his name), who was murdered when two muggers tried to rob him and Rollins. The case appeared on Unsolved Mysteries, and as far as I know is still unsolved.

  • Nick Jones

    OK, it seems as if I was wrong about 2.13.61.: that’s Rollins’ birthdate. I don’t know where I got the idea it was JOE COLE’s, unless they shared a birthdate. There’s a biographical entry for Rollins on TV Tome. As far as I can tell, his murder is still unsolved

    There’s also a book out now called The Portable Henry Rollins. Wish I had the money to buy it.

  • HW Saxton

    Rollins can be f**king hilarious when he
    is on a roll. The other half of the time
    he is so self aggrandizing that it just
    about negates what was so entertaining
    about the guy in the first place.It all
    balances in the end I suppose.

    Black Flag played a show in Las Vegas,a
    long time ago with The Meat Puppets* as
    an opening band (they were both on SST
    at the time). Some of the local punkers
    thought they would be funny and spit on
    The MP’s as they were playing,threw beer
    at them and all that other stupid shit
    that goes on at punk shows. The Puppets
    left the stage after about five or ten
    minutes of this bullshit.Understandable,
    right? It also sucked for those of us
    who wanted to see the Meat Puppets play.
    (Off the subject, but Kirkwood is a way
    under rated guitarist).

    Well, Henry got on stage and told the
    crowd to pull that shit on him and let’s
    see what happens. He then went to the
    sound board, took out whatever punk was
    playing & put in Public Enemy, which got
    the punks even more pissed.Then Henry R.
    walked around the pit area in front of
    the stage just staring daggers at those
    pricks who were starting all of the shit
    with the M.P.’s earlier.He had them sooo
    motherfucking scared they wouldn’t come
    within 10 feet of the stage during Black
    Flag’s set. Henry jumped into the crowd
    during Black Flag’s set and when he did
    the troublemakers scattered so fast we
    gut laughed ourselves sick. After that,
    I’ve always had a lot of respect for Mr.
    Rollins as a person though I don’t like
    him much as a writer or a personality.

    *The show I’ve cited above gets a quick
    mention in his book “Get In The Van”.

  • Nick – I saw a spoken word performance on video where he goes into the kidnapping and assassination-style murder of his best friend. They had just returned from the video store to watch a movie starring their favorite bad actor: Sly Stallone. When they returned home, they walked in on a robbery in progress. Brutal story that could easily wreck any person who lived through it.

    HW – I don’t necessarily agree with your opinion, but it’s a completely rational and respectable one. I agree with Eric and some of the others in denouncing the entire “sell out” idea. It’s one thing to begrudge a talented artist for blatantly pandering to a low common denominator for cash… but even the most cynical of us must agree that the ability to figure out the buying tastes and transient interests of any demographic group is not easy.

    Anyway, just a few midnight ramblings…

  • Andy

    Henry Rollins deserves everyone’s respect. Whether you like his work or not. Personally, I think he is still head and shoulders above his peers and the new “bands” that populate MTV-land these days. Do they have anything to say that is worth hearing? I don’t think so.

    Whereas Rollins always does. “Broken Summers” is a great read, go check it out.

  • toby

    Henry is godly when it comes
    to expressing hisself .
    I aint no philosophical guy
    but this man is something
    to look up to .A punk prodigy
    Whatever you do don’t hate this
    man for making a living.He has the
    spirit of a GOD.unrelentless
    When you’re a young punk
    an honest good guy for an
    idol goes a long way when
    you’re on a lost path.