Sunday, March 11, 2007

Crawling Into Henry Rollins's Head

I THINK MY OVERALL mood is dipping somewhat. Friday night and last night, my nightstand companion was the prose and poetry of Henry Rollins. I had consulted Do I Come Here Often? for his inspirational essay on weightlifting, "The Iron." From there, I read the rest of that book, and then found myself hip deep in See a Grown Man Cry/Now Watch Him Die and Black Coffee Blues. This indicates to me I'm brushing along the emotional walls somewhat.

I first became aware of Rollins when I saw some of his early, slender books of poetry during college at Newbury Comics. Not being into free verse, and not realizing his background, I did little more than skim the books and groove on the clever titles. It wasn't until 1994 that I dug a little deeper, aided by a then-new acquaintance at work who owned most of his works. When I got her a Rollins disc for Christmas, I made a friend. I subsequently borrowed from her, then bought for myself, all of his books, including the Black Flag tour diary Get in the Van. This from a guy who knew barely anything about punk rock and even less about Black Flag other than their contribution to the Repo Man soundtrack, "TV Party." This being the age before Wikipedia, indeed the dawn of wide public access to the Internet, I learned about Henry Rollins through his words before I understood his biography. A contemporary New York Times article filled in the blanks.

Since then, I've stayed current on this "aging alternative icon," as he described himself at Irving Plaza the first time I saw his spoken word show. I've enjoyed spotting him in unlikely cameos in films like The Getaway (as a cop!) and Heat (where he had the honor of being thrown through glass by Al Pacino). Knowing how lowly his origins were, anytime I saw Rollins sneaking into the Hollywood machine and making off with a bit of its lucre was a fist-pump moment. I have to admit, though, it's sometimes difficult to sqaure the kinetic, witty, self-effacing, no-bullshit raconteur of his spoken word gigs with the tortured, self-doubting, lonely warrior that huddles in subzero tour vans and dodges enemy fire while threading through the post-Apocalypse killing floor of LA.

It's the works that arise from the latter Henry, the one who truly lives only when he's performing, lifting, or diving into the grooves of some 40-year-old record, that I read when I get moody myself. I have little to bitch about, really. In no sense can I compare myself with a man who watched his best friend get his brains blown out. I find it easy sometimes to disappear into his nihilism, even as I know the words are products of his unique moods and mindset. And truth be told, his later works do contain celebratory moments of discovery and wonder, so it's not all darkness and black stretches between tour dates.

The question is, why am I seeking his work out? From what am I hiding? Why am I crawling into his words, as he might do the same with a Miles Davis or Thelonius Monk LP? I've embarked on a new job hunt, I've created a so-far successful workout schedule. The last thing I need to do is walk along Rollins's lonely footsteps when I need to be more extroverted than usual and get the hell out there in many different ways. Perhaps that's just it. I'm digging into the familiar. At least it's legal.

For a while, as I was returning the Rollins books to my shelves, I regarded the rest of the tomes forcing a deep bow in the top shelf, and decided, I can probably live without a lot of these. I can live a leaner life in ways other than just diet. I would give them to my friends, but they're in the same boat as I am, with a few walls of books each and possibly even more in storage. I don't want to have to screw around with shipping each time I sell these on eBay, so what I will do is hold some sort of cull-fest and drop the winnowed texts off at the library for sale or their own shelves.

That might also be part of it — shrugging off excess resources that don't serve my goals or further my relationships with my near and dear. Rollins followed a clean road through temptation across his touring career. Maybe I am attracted to this asceticism. Such considerations risk sounding hollow coming from a well-fed First Worlder. It doesn't mean I can't live more honestly, more simply, or more in touch with my deeper needs.

I'm fairly certain I won't find them in the documentation for someone else's life, though.

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