To understand why I hate Henry Rollins you've got to understand how close he comes to being our generation's Ayn Rand. Rand, the objectivist "philosopher" and author of such bags of crap as Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead, promoted the idea of "man as a heroic being with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity and reason as his only absolute." Roughly translated, that means "make the most out of life by being a selfish asshole." It's bad philosophy but that's Rollins all over the place. Over the past two decades as a punk rock singer, author, spoken word performer, pitch man, and actor, he's developed a persona that's equal parts punk fury, body builder vanity, and rigid male morality. If he's the voice of my generation, I'm gonna start lying about my age.Once upon a time, a young lad named Henry Garfield joined a Washington, D.C. hardcore band called S.O.A. (State of Alert). The drummer's dad was the #1 dude at the Navy, so they practiced in the basement of one of the poshest homes in D.C. (currently the residence of Vice President Al Gore). How punk!
Soon Henry migrated to L.A., dropped the Garfield in favor of Rollins, and became the fourth lead singer for Black Flag, the most notorious band in L.A.'s golden age of hardcore. Rollins turned the band around, changing it from a jokey, obnoxious mess to a psyche-splintering aural SWAT team. Their live shows were riveting. With pre-grunge long hair and a growing number of tattoos, Rollins glowered, screamed, roared, and muscled his way through the glorious din of Greg Ginn's nuclear guitar. Clad in nothing more than nylon running shorts, Rollins took about 14 seconds to become drenched in sweat. (Note: All true Black Flag fans have been covered in Rollins' sweat and have seen his balls.) The testosterone level ran exceedingly high, but Rollins' über-punk posturing was always tempered by the deadpan appeal of the rest of the band.Then the sad day arrived. Black Flag bit the dust and our hero decided he was a writer. He began self-publishing his work under the imprimatur of 2.13.61 (his birth date, for all you astrologers and Freudians). Rollins, whose autocratic rantings in Black Flag seemed natural to the punk aesthetic, began shouting out loud about shit that bugged him (which always seemed to revolve around issues of human weakness). The Rollins philosophy ran to the "no excuses," "use your head" pump-uppery of high school football coaches. Apotheosizing physical and mental strength, Rollins took a breathtakingly conservative view of modern life. His views were couched, however, in leftist rhetorical phraseology. In spoken word performances, Henry Rollins extolled these gems of wisdom in the form of monologues that veered from stand-up comedy to self-help seminar to fascist rally.
In the early '90s the music bug bit again, and Henry was back in action, fronting the (ahem) Rollins Band. I have terrifying memories from the short period in my life when I had cable television: it coincided with MTV's incessant repetition of the Rollins Band hit "Liar." The video depicted Rollins as Superman (how apropos!), frolicking in photographer Anton Corbjin's high-art sepia wasteland. It still makes me shudder.Then Henry became a spokesmodel for Apple computers. (Remember those ads where celebrities flaunted what was on their computer?) He rapped with Dennis Miller on late-night TV. He posed for a Gap ad. Sharp-eared television watchers would soon hear his scratchy voice in car commercials decrying the relative lameness of metal baseball bats, and other crimes. Obviously his personal philosophy did not preclude making mad dollars.
As everyone knows, there is a logical progression from modeling to acting. Perhaps you saw that holiday-classic-in-the-making Jack Frost and recognized Henry Rollins as Coach Gronic. Or maybe you noticed him as the cop in the Charlie Sheen sex-in-a-moving-car epic, The Chase. Rollins is an artiste in the mold of William Demarest, the grouchy character actor of the '40s and '50s who everyone fondly remembers from the sitcom My Three Sons. (Remake, anyone? Rollins was born to play the sexually ambiguous Uncle Charlie.)Speaking of ambiguity, Rollins is not gay. "I think I'd remember a guy fucking me," he states on his new spoken word CD Think Tank (shortly before launching into a rant about how women are ass-kicking witches and the word "lesbian" sounds icky). I believe him. I do. Showing everyone his balls makes him an exhibitionist, not a homo. He claims to be bewildered by the Internet and fanzine pages that are forever projecting gay lust his way. Whatever, dude. Have you looked in a mirror lately?So there you have it. Henry Rollins was the first person signed to the Geffen/Katzenberg/Spielberg mega-label Dreamworks. Which means that L.A. loves Henry Rollins. Which dictates that the rest of the world must love him too. But I just can't. He's loud, angry about stupid stuff, and unfunny. He's a jock. He thinks he's the most honest man on earth. But he's just a guy. Hasn't anyone ever had the courage to tell him that?
About a million years ago, Black Flag played at the Tropicana in Olympia. Beat Happening opened. As Calvin Johnson pranced and tummy-hopped around, you could see Rollins behind the stage looking increasingly incredulous. Was Johnson mocking Rollins' macho stage presence by offering the exact opposite? Was Rollins being upstaged? His gall visibly rising, Rollins planted himself in the front row, directly in front of Calvin, and began taunting the singer. Johnson, who never backed down from a heckler in his life, ignored the braying of insults and soldiered on. Finally, in exasperation, Rollins reached up and placed his hand over Johnson's crotch. Johnson merely took a step back, looked Rollins in the eye, and said, "Didn't your mother teach you any manners?" Apparently not.