Never meet your heroes. The expression is supposed to mean that, at least sometimes, people that you consider personal heroes are bound to disappoint you since they’re human and ipso facto, they’re flawed. I have found that to be true some of the time—I won’t name names. A lot of times, though, I’ve had great experiences. Sometimes, you’ve got a pretty good idea what a person is like, and they’re different than you’d imagined, for better or worse. Sometimes, you fully expect what you get. That’s to say, you have an idea of who the person is, then you meet them and they’re pretty much what you expected. That’s mostly how I felt seeing Henry Rollins at the Tobin last week.
While Rollins isn’t exactly obscure, I’m sure there are people out there who might not be entirely familiar with the man, so I’ll provide a quick synopsis. Henry Rollins was a kid from D.C. who was active in the punk music scene in the late 70’s and early 80’s. Originally playing in a local band, he aspired to be the singer for the California-based up-and-comers, Black Flag, which had been gaining a huge following across the country at that time. One day, while working at Haagen-Dazs, Rollins got the call from Black Flag that they needed a new singer, and he dropped the scooper and never looked back. That’s not an exaggeration. He literally had a scooper in hand when he got the call.
Henry Rollins and Tommy Newman at a Tobin Center 'Meet and Greet'
Black Flag, along with a handful of other bands, brought to the world an offshoot genre of punk music known as “hardcore” or “hardcore punk”. Rollins couldn’t have joined at a better time. Sitting atop the cresting wave of hardcore punk music, Rollins and Black Flag made a name and place for themselves in the music industry. So much was this the case that by the time Rollins quit the band in 1986 to form his own band, Black Flag cassettes were making their way to cities, suburbs, and little border towns like the one I grew up in. With the DIY and “underground” nature of punk music being what it is, Black Flag is not necessarily a household name; but to be sure, the band is an iconic figure in music history.
Rollins’ success continued with his newly formed “Rollins Band” and some solo releases. The band eventually got a good distribution deal and Rollins’ popularity grew. He could regularly be seen on MTV, either in the form of music videos, spoken-word commercials, or simply as a guest. He became a familiar face and voice. As his celebrity grew, so did his activity. He became an outspoken voice in politics, social services and human rights –particularly, gay rights. He started making cameo appearances in films (David Lynch’s Lost Highway is one of my personal favs). The man is a force. Listing all his accomplishments wouldn’t create an accurate picture of his dynamism –but it was on full display at the show that I went to.
I didn’t know what to really expect. I understood that the show was just going to be him talking to the audience. I thought that he’d probably speak for an hour and a half or so. What I didn’t expect was for him to talk for nearly 3 hours and then another hour at the meet and greet. I’m not exactly a spring chicken, and I don’t particularly like staying out too late, so I was kind of looking forward to being home at around 10pm. That didn’t happen, but it was Henry Rollins. So, when my ass started going numb from sitting down around the 3-hour mark, “it’s Henry Rollins” sort of became my mantra.
Numb ass aside, it was a great experience. He talked about joining Black Flag. He reminisced about being a poor musician in Los Angeles and eating leftover food at restaurants and then running like hell before the manager could do anything about it. He touched on politics and social issues. He talked about the virus. He talked about Trump and Biden. Knowing that Texas is largely conservative and knowing how left-leaning Rollins is in general, I think he was self-aware enough to be generous to conservative ideologies while still being hilarious. He’s a thoughtful man. Rollins had lots of anecdotes about famous musicians and actors that he knows. He talked about getting slapped by Al Pacino and working with David Lynch. But the wildest thing he talked about was his Finnish stalker.
I’d love to tell you the story about the Finnish stalker that hopped his gate, but it’d really ruin the bit for you if you ever happen to catch his show or read about it online. Besides, I’d probably butcher the story. Suffice it to say that it’s a wild story and worth looking up. The way Rollins tells it is hilarious and touching all at once. He was funny, conscientious, intelligent, and very much Punk Rock.
After the show, I stood in line with everyone else to get my picture taken with Rollins. I noticed his face was completely void of emotion in every picture he took, and I readied myself to reciprocate with the same lack of emotion, but in the end I failed. You can see me smile, if you look hard enough at the picture. That’s probably because I’d just listened to and met a hero and that person turned out to be exactly who I thought they were.
What I’m listening to:
Rosegarden Funeral Party – In the Wake of Fire
Giuda – Racey Roller
Los Bitchos – Let the Festivities Begin!
Forthcoming vinyl releases of note:
Kanye West – Donda 6-24-22
Aaliyah – Ultimate Aaliyah 6-24-22
Amy Winehouse – Live At Glastonbury 2007 6-3-22
Tommy Newman is the owner and operator of Southtown Vinyl.
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