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Music / Henry Rollins

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The Man, the Chin, the Force of Nature

"My name's Henry. And you're here with me now."

Henry Rollins (born Henry Lawrence Garfield, February 13, 1961 in Washington, DC) is an American musician, spoken word artist, author of several prose/poetry books, actor, TV and radio host, entrepreneur, activist, blogger and all-around force of nature. By the age of 30, he had written, sung, performed, acted and published more material in more varied mediums than many artists could aspire to during their entire life.

Henry is perhaps known best either for his time as the hulking, tattooed frontman of seminal punk band Black Flag (and later the Rollins Band) or his known tendency to express exactly how he feels. While this has lent itself to a legacy of Henry being one of rock's most confrontational figures, aided in no small part by imposing physical appearance and manic performance style, he is truthfully an intelligent, nice guy and something of a nerd, embracing the Internet and other technology at the cutting edge. (This may be because he initially cultivated the whole "physically imposing" deal to cope with rowdy, often-violent Black Flag shows.)

Now in his sixties, Henry is still in the same physical shape he has always been and is actively performing, writing, touring and kicking ass as much as ever.

If you would like to see a full list of everything he has published during his career, one option is to visit his official website at - it is enough to fill a(nother) book.

He can currently be heard bi-weekly on his podcast Henry and Heidi along with his assistant Heidi May.

Tropes embodied by Henry's work:

  • Abusive Parents: Some of his stories of his childhood and high school years.
    • His father in particular was apparently a poor excuse of a person, with Rollins often referring to him as some variation of "champion racist, tremendous misogynist, and world-class homophobe;" said father would often yell obscenities at minorities from his car, and apparently once bragged about murdering a Mexican man during World War II.
    • His mother was scarcely better, being a raging alcoholic who would fly off the handle at the slightest provocation. After she and Henry's father divorced, she went through a series of boyfriends who were mentally, physically and sexually abusive to her and Henry, before finally settling down into a much more stable relationship when Henry was in his mid-teens, by which point Henry couldn't wait to get away from her. Some of Henry's more recent stories are about his absolute indifference to both of his parents' deaths.
  • Adam Westing: Most notably during a clip on The Eric Andre Show, where he lent his trademark terrifying rage to a monologue about...frozen yogurt.
  • Always Someone Better: For him, it is Iggy Pop. And even worse, Rollins was an Unknown Rival from 1992 to 1996. And even when Iggy did realize it, Rollins got his ass kicked.
    Rollins: "What are you doing in Denmark?" I-I played tonight! "You did?" Yes, I was the opening band, I saw you staring at me! "You played? I just remember Iggy Pop." [Iggy]'s just like *finger flick* dink.
  • Badass Bookworm: Looks like a prison kingpin (with the muscles to back it up) and in addition to his music career, he's written more than a dozen books and has worked as a journalist for several online publications, not to mention numerous spoken word performances.
  • Berserk Button:
    • Techno music, having railed against it multiple times, particularly Dumbass DJ's who play it and think they are musicians because they can mess with a song list on a Mac book. Of course, his rants have been the fodder for techno remixes for years now. note 
    • Throughout Get in the Van he rails against closed-minded punk rockers he encountered constantly. During a later tour of the UK, he and the band would have the DJ take off the generic punk tape playing over the PA and play a tape of ZZ Top's Eliminator to piss everyone off, and then told everyone it was the new album from [famous punk band], just to further bum them out.
    • He has so many of these that he served as host to National Geographic's documentary on "The Warrior Gene", wondering whether he had it - he did not.
  • Bourgeois Bohemian: A punk version rather than a hippy version. He is notably the voice of Infiniti luxury automobiles.
  • Cassandra Truth: Went to a voice specialist doctor for chronic vocal problems. When asked to list all the drugs, drink and smokes he does daily, the doctor refused to believe him when he said "zero" (granted, he was looking at his vocal chord x-ray at the time, which resembled Lemmy from Motorhead's more than a clean living guy, due to Henry's aggressive vocal styling).
    "I'll believe you, but whenever you're ready to tell the truth, just let me know."
  • Catholic School Girls Rule:
    • Mary, one of his high school girlfriends.
    • His first kiss (and cigarette, and drink of whiskey) was from a Catholic school girl at a mixer dance when he was 15.
  • Comic-Book Fantasy Casting: Negan from The Walking Dead is based off him. Rollins was asked to audition for the role in the television adaptation but lost out to Jeffrey Dean Morgan.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: In spite of his reputation and overall demeanor, he is generally agreed to be friendly and approachable.
  • Drives Like Crazy: He intentionally drove like a nutter for Steve-O's "off-road tattoo" - while swearing at everyone around him.
  • Drugs Are Bad: Staunchly straight-edge, including alcohol and tobacco. He has spoken on a number of occasions about past experiences with drugs, most notably his incredibly stressful first LSD trip, but has described all of them as being overwhelmingly negative experiences for him and he currently does nothing outside of a minor amount of caffeine intake. Most find it hard to believe (see Cassandra Truth). He takes no issue with marijuana, medical or recreational, however.
  • The Eponymous Show: The Henry Rollins Show, which aired on IFC from April 2006 to September 2007.
  • Evil Feels Good: From "Liar"
    "Oooooh I'm a liar, I lie, yeah, I like it, I feel good"
  • Expecting Someone Taller: Covered in tattoos and muscles with a reputation for kicking large amounts of ass, and on the lower side of average height at about 5'9". In one of his routines, he described himself as "short, grey and angry."
  • Free the Frogs: A humorous version on The Boxed Life. While he was attending a Military Academy / private school as a teen, his dissection frog escaped and the boys in the class had to chase it around. "It was cute, like something from that Robin Williams movie."
  • Gallows Humor: When he hit his 50th birthday, Henry commissioned some artwork and photos that confronted the issues of aging head on. This poster for a speaking tour shows him in his Superman-esque outfit from the "Liar" video, while the Grim Reaper peers over his shoulder. In two photos taken for a Billboard interview around the same time, one shows the Grim Reaper chasing Rollins while another shows the singer wearing Depends over the Superman outfit.
  • Genius Bruiser: The man is big, smart, and has performed or published material in just about every medium that exists. His stage presence is one of a barely-controlled explosion. He will verbally destroy you with logic and common sense at the drop of a hat, and then when you are on the ropes, he will drop a Precision F-Strike to devastating effect; good thing he is a good guy.
  • Hardcore Punk: With Black Flag, he helped define the genre.
  • Ink-Suit Actor: He has voiced cartoon characters that bare a passing resemblance to him:
  • Lampshaded the Obscure Reference: When working in a science lab, he would write Devo on his chemical protective suit (as they looked like something Devo would wear onstage, hell, probably was), to the bafflement of the middle aged scientists working there. He would then proceed to make fun of them for being out of touch, despite at the time Devo being a fairly obscure band.
  • Loony Fan: Met many over the years.
    • While in line to get tickets at a KISS show, a drug-addled, white trash meathead ahead of him in line recognized him and began gushing about his work to him, making Henry uncomfortable to have such a...specimen of humanity be a fan of his.
    • The entirety of the Eric the Pilot saga (the whole tale takes up an entire spoken word disc). Henry's flight got cancelled to a gig in Oklahoma, and as he scrambled for a new flight out of St. Louis, a "pilot" approached and said he would take him on his small charter plane. The plane got completely lost and made an emergency landing in a tiny air strip in the middle of nowhere. Turns out Eric a) was not a licensed pilot (still in training) and b) had taken the plane without permission. He was just a huge fan trying to impress and help his idol.
    • Henry describes himself as one when meeting various musicians, authors and actors he idolizes. Particularly King Crimson guitarist Adrian Belew when working with him on a William Shatner album in Nashville.
    Ben Foldsnote : "Oh no, are you a Trekkie for Adrian Belew?!"
  • Mistaken for Gay: Gets this constantly. He is mostly just amused by it, and is a staunch supporter of gay rights.
    "If I were gay there would be no closet. I would have burned it for kindling when I was twelve. Because there's nothing wrong with being gay and you know it."
  • Mood Whiplash: Most of his stand up shows are like this, going from hilarious anecdotes to serious statements on the state of the world.
  • Motor Mouth: Occasionally lapses into this in his stand-up shows.
  • Nerds Are Sexy: He is not just a big guy who yells a lot. Not only does he embrace technology, but he yells at you to take every advantage you can of it for your own betterment. Often sports Nerd Glasses for extra points.
  • Perpetual Frowner: A staple of his appearance. It is quite shocking when he smiles. You can see some videos of him laughing his ass off on his website.
  • Tampering with Food and Drink: Played with. When working at Haägen-Dazs as a teen, he and Heterosexual Life-Partner Ian MacKaye would get bored and play various pranks on customers, including once replacing bubblegum sprinkles with rat poison.
    Customer: "...and I'll take some bubblegum sprinkles."
    Ian: "Sir those are not sprinkles. That is rat poison."
    Customer: "Oh, ha ha, that does look like rat poison."
    Ian: "Sir, I assure you, that really is rat poison." *holds up bag*
    Customer: "...why the hell would you put rat poison in the toppings selection?'
    Ian: "Sir, we just thought you'd want the option."
  • Unknown Rival: According to one of his stories, he was this for Iggy Pop. In the story, Rollins describes several concerts where he was opening for Iggy and decided to try to upstage and outplay Iggy. Each time, (despite Rollins' best efforts) Iggy blows them off the stage without even trying, and then inadvertently rubs salt in the wound by complimenting Rollins and his band so much about how great they were. Finally, Rollins trains for months, amps himself up to the nth degree, and plays himself half to death trying to upstage Iggy. It finally forces Iggy to take him seriously... and Iggy still blows him off the stage, except now Iggy actually exerts himself slightly and goes crazier than usual during the performance. In Rollins' own words "Then you realize... you're never going to beat the master." Watch Henry tell the story as only he can.
  • Urban Legend: As per the Promoted Fanboy on the trivia tab, the exact details of his joining Black Flag are murky. The popular version (and told by Rollins in his Get in the Van bio) is that Henry simply took a train to see them in New York, and jumped onstage (or was invited to in the spur of the moment) as they played "Clocked In" for him before he had to get on the train to go to work back in D.C. Others have suggested they were already considering him, having already formed a friendship with him and having listened to his EP from his previous band State of Alarm, then somewhat discussed the possibility of him coming on stage to sing with them ahead of time. Even Henry's own retelling of the event years later does not seem to keep the details straight.
  • Walking Shirtless Scene: Henry raised eyebrows for sporting a muscle-bound physique and often performing shirtless, which did not fit into many peoples' perceptions of what punks looked like.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Quite literally. One of his tales from his days working odd jobs as a teen includes his time as a gofer in a science lab, and how one lab rat due for experimentation managed to escape. The staff never located it. Eventually, the entire grouping of rats were put down, and as they closed the door on the room for the last time before it was dismantled/sterilized, the rat made his final escape out the closing door, never to be seen again. The rat became Henry's personal hero.
  • Workaholic: "I am addicted to work."
  • You Are Better Than You Think You Are: "Low Self Opinion"
    I know the self doubt
    That runs inside your mind
    I know the self doubt
    That treats you so unkind

    If you could see that you that I see
    When I see you seeing me
    You'd see yourself so differently
    Believe me