Saturday, December 31, 2011

Get In The Van by Henry Rollins

This year my goal was to read as many books by Henry Rollins as possible. I couldn’t. There are some reviews in previous postings. His books are mainly his journals depicting his global travels and the assorted characters he meets. There is some heart wrenching moments when he meets a young - terminal cancer patient. I read this before my wife was diagnosed with cancer and to this day - the images of the boy in the sterile hospital room in Australia haunts me. I respect Rollins as being blunt and true to his convictions. He is sober and a workaholic who has little regard for the drunks he encounters while touring with the band or on one of his sojourns. For the record, after finishing some of his books,” The Black Coffee Blues” series which are interviews as well as journals was more bang for the buck. You get the real deal when he writes. But there are minimal physical details of his surroundings since his interest is more in what internal battles are waged in his mind. He suffers from depression but battles the illness with an insatiable appetite for travel and work. After reading as many books of his that I could, I’m ending the year by finishing his most popular Get in the Van which depicted his years with Black Flag, actually the last years of the band’s existence. Rollins was their third singer and Greg Ginn was the last original member of the band. Like Spinal Tap with their series of drummers, no one was safe in Black Flag except for Ginn. This book, published in 1994 put Rollins on the map since he won a Grammy for the spoken word version of the book. What is interesting is how he developed as a performer, not just a singer in a band but also a spoken word performer and with reluctance he becomes a celebrity. The band asked him to audition, he left his job as a manager at a Hagen Daaz store, sleeping in his VW Beetle and cleaning up in the store’s sink, but working and gaining a reputation as a singer with the DC punk bands. While he toured with Flag he was abused by his fans to such a degree that most would quit than deal with the ordeal of the hardships of travel. Cups of urine, beer are splashed on him. People spat on his and called him a faggot or a pussy. The appeal for Rollins was the road was the escape to his depression and self inflicted isolation which he writes about, he lives in a shed in the back yard of Greg Ginn’s mother’s house in LA. His insight into the band and their diverse personalities is worth the time to read and trudge through the constant themes such as lack of sleep, pain from either self inflicted wounds, body aches like his right knee or the pain from getting smacked in the face by a guitar or a fist into his face. The other common theme is the skin heads who are the enemy to the punk movement since they inflicted violence on those who were weaker and always travelled in a pack. The book is filled with pictures of the band and their live shows as well as behind the stage. I have to say with some reluctance I will ask Rollins to sign my copy of this book as well as the others I read. I will be one of those people who get his autograph and say something inconsequential like, Henry Miller is the shit man, don’t you think?

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