A profile into the most furious man in Punk Rock

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Alex Campbell

Picture this; you walk into a record store in Hermosa Beach, California, to find an album by Black Flag, titled Damaged. The album featured songs and singles such as Rise Above, TV Party, and Six Pack which became renowned for their upbeat tone and solidified the album as one of the best Punk Rock albums of all time. 

The then-new lead singer of the band, Henry Rollins, is lauded to be the most intense man in Punk Rock history. Having performed in the band State of Alert for a year in 1980, he moved to Los Angeles to front Black Flag from 1981 to 1986. During his time in State of Alert (SOA), he released a single EP and toured in about a dozen concerts. He also garnered a reputation for fighting in shows, saying later on “I was nineteen and a young man full of steam and loved to get in the dust-ups.”

 

Black Flag waving 

Shortly after his time in SOA, Rollins had moved to Los Angeles to join Black Flag as the lead singer. Shortly after he joined the band, he started being harassed by police. In an interview with Azarrad from 2001,“That really scared me, that an adult would do that. It opened my eyes big time.” 

In his era of Black Flag, Rollins brought a kind of emotion and feeling that hasn’t been seen before or since by both the members of the band and their audiences. After a 1982 show, a Sub Pop critic wrote: “[Henry] was incredible. Pacing back and forth, lunging, growling, it was all real; the most intense emotional experience I’ve seen.” And this emotion, the raw, pure fury is what Rollins is known for. Even while he alienated himself from his bandmates because of that emotion, he grew a name for himself as the man of fury in Punk Rock. In 1984, the band released My War, which had solidified Rollins’ place on the stage, and with his atonal wailing and screaming into the microphone, he became truly known. 

In My War, you’re introduced to the main single, by the same name as the album. Immediately, you hear cymbals rattling and a rapid guitar intro. And then, the vocals. In comparison to TV Party which was centered around some friends hanging out and watching their favorite shows, My War was about as far from cheerful as you could get. The single absolutely screams about social difference, lying, betrayal, and a lack of friends. That tone carries to the rest of the album, which drew criticism from other bands and writers alike. 

In an interview with Alex Campbell from the Leopard, Rollins said, “The major change in sound and tempo [from Damaged to My War] was Greg Ginn’s songwriting. He was the one who wrote all the music and most of the lyrics. On my end, I would be handed a lyric sheet, or was told I could put lyrics of my own in the songs. There was never any discussion of your content. You got your orders and that was that. Most people took their grievances out on me.” 

Damaged and My War were the two most popular albums during his time in Black Flag, but not the only ones. During 1984, the band released Slip It In and Family Man alongside. In 1985, the albums Loose Nut and In My Head were released, and the Rollins era concluded with Who’s got the 10 ½? Which was a live album released in 1986. 

 

Spoken word and Rollins Band 

After Black Flag broke up in 1986, Rollins had released two solo albums called Hot Animal Machine. In this time, he also released his second spoken word album. For the first lineup of Rollins Band, he was supported by Chris Haskett, Andrew Weiss, and Sim Cain, of which Weiss and Cain came from projects by Greg Ginn. 

In 1994, Rollins Band found their big break, releasing Weight in April 1994, featuring tracks such as “Liar” and “Disconnect.” In a podcast with his manager Heidi May, Rollins stated “[Gibbs] is playing just some kind of riff and I was just winging the lyrics for ‘Liar’ just to make everybody laugh. We played it one night at CBGB, and the guy who ran Imago came and watched. He said ‘That’s a single, that song is going on your next record.”

In an interview with the Leopard on his experience with Black Flag, Rollins stated “My time in Black Flag proved to be the university from which I graduated. What I learned in my five years in the band really gave me the blueprint for what I would do next and how I would conduct myself, and I use those lessons to this day.”

These lessons from Black Flag are, much like he said, in use today. In his spoken word tours, Rollins will sometimes complete dozens of show per month for months at a time. He also fit this schedule in his time with Rollins Band and Mother Superior, the latter of which he had produced and formed into another coming of the Rollins Band after the first lineup had split in the 1990’s. 

 

Activism 

Rollins is a longtime activist for human rights, going far enough as frequently speaking on justice and complete equality in his spoken word performances. He also notably hosted the WedRock benefit concerts, the proceeds of which went towards pro-gay-marriage organizations and businesses. 

He also toured with the United Service organizations, saying “I learned that the atmosphere in these locations (Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.,) were almost entirely apolitical. It didn’t matter who the president was or what you thought about the war. You were there and the main objective was don’t get blown up and get you and your buddies to the dining facility for dinner.” One notable incident was in Kyrgyzstan when he made a remark to the crowd, saying “Your commander would never lie to you. That’s the vice president’s job.” In total, he visited bases in 12 different countries for spoken word performances. 

In his first Black Flag performance since 1986, Rollins made a reappearance on a benefit album, called Rise Above: 24 Black Flag Songs to Benefit the West Memphis Three, featuring old material from Black Flag albums sung by previous members of the band as well as members in other bands both in the punk rock genre and outside of it.

Henry Rollins is a prime display of putting your mind to a goal and working nonstop to get it. After starting with a few records in Washington D.C., he had moved across the country to begin again in a band he had admired, which then launched him into other projects continually to this day. As of November 25, 2019, he released a new book, titled Stay Fanatic, Vol.1