Henry Rollins

By: Tor Aarestad
February 13, 2012

Chances are good that, as you read this brief shoutout to HENRY ROLLINS (Henry Garfield, born 1961), in some form of media — radio, column, eponymous TV show, blog entry, or VH1 interview — he is already talking about what it is to be Henry Rollins. James Parker, author of the magisterial unauthorized biography of Rollins, Turned On, warned that Rollins defies encapsulation because he is fully employed as his own biographer, “compelled to tell his story, to enact his condition.” Rollins is CEO, “Henry Rollins” is his product, and quality control and plenitude are the priorities. The boundaries of the self were defined early on for Rollins through violence — Henry Garfield was regularly beaten up as the minority white kid in a black neighborhood, his racist father baited him to attack unsuspecting black neighbor kids. Once he joined seminal hardcore punk band Black Flag, the process of self-fashioning began: a new name, confrontational hair choices (first shaved to vex the straights, then long to piss off the punks), and experiments with abjection during shows. Parker describes the way in which Rollins “simultaneously intimidated [the crowd] and offered his body as an object of degradation. He would writhe and howl, taking punishment, offering nothing back except the eerie sense that this was how he wanted it.”

As Black Flag was falling apart, the Rollins edifice was finally becoming secure. He completed the addition of the heavy musculature that is as tied to Rollins’ identity as Iggy’s sartorial frugality is to his. He turned his years of journaling into a spoken word career that flourished alongside his work with the Rollins Band. His persistent talking paid off; after the great Nirvanic uprising of 1991, Rollins found himself the most voluble veteran of a scene about which there was now great interest. Rollins is now a publisher, actor, musician, author, columnist, professional interviewee, tv and radio host, and professional raconteur/poet; if Henry Garfield sold stock in “Henry Rollins” in 1980, he could be bigger than Apple. He has talked on television about the “warrior gene” and whether he and other preternaturally aggressive men have it, about his masculinity (with a pop psychologist), about the death of Kurt Cobain, about elections, and about Ann Coulter. He is against the war but tours in support of the troops. Rollins will talk to anyone about anything.

But he won’t talk to James Parker.


PUNK, POST-PUNK & ALTERNATIVE on HILOBROW: Joey Ramone | Dez Cadena | Jello Biafra | HR | Mike Watt | Vivienne Westwood | Iggy Pop | D. Boon | John Lydon | Henry Rollins | Palmolive | Plastic Bertrand | Kira Roessler | Lisa Carver | Frank Black | Ari Up | Gary Panter | Mike Watt | Ian Curtis | Paul Simonon | Darby Crash | Penelope Houston | Exene Cervenka | Sid Vicious | Andrew Eldritch | Kate Pierson | Richard Hell | Paul Westerberg | Lux Interior | Ian Dury | Stiv Bators | Tom Verlaine | Colin Newman | Johnny Thunders | Poison Ivy | Green Gartside | Lydia Lunch | Mark E. Smith | David Byrne | Debbie Harry | Captain Sensible | Mark Mothersbaugh | Kim Gordon | ALSO: The Original Generation X (1954–1963) and the birth of DIY | The Original Stooge | Origin of the Pogo | Shocking Blocking: Rock’n’Roll High School | Punk fanzines from the 1970s | Post-Punk and New Wave on HiLobrow

On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Georges Simenon.

READ MORE about members of the Original Generation X.


HiLo Heroes, Music, Punk