Henry Rollins is known for all sorts of things these days. He’s hosted television programs, he’s a writer, an alternative music icon, a talking head for any documentary about punk rock or hardcore. And spoken word artist.
I first came across Henry in 1994. While I was vaguely aware of him before that, it was the song “Liar” that brought him and Rollins Band to my attention and everyone else’s for that matter. Now, this isn’t to understate Henry’s importance to music in general and specifically punk, hardcore, and alternative music because quite frankly, without Henry, punk, and the alternative might sound very different than they do today, but “Liar” was probably the biggest hit he had in terms of mainstream recognition. So for a while, Henry became as he would occasionally refer to himself as “The Liar guy”. I don’t think my friends or I were completely taken with his music (which I have no idea why not, the Rollins Band of that era was incredibly tight!) but something interesting happened. Along with Henry getting attention for his music, his spoken word material was also getting attention. You would see clips of Henry talking. Sometimes it would be cracking jokes and other times he would be talking about serious stuff like his friend being murdered beside him.
It was really cool that someone was out there talking about his life experiences but not taking himself too seriously until it was time to be serious.
It would be a few years later that my friend Gavin would pick up Think Tank and a few of us would totally fall for Henry and his talking shows.
Henry sounded like that cooler older brother or uncle. He would talk about traveling. Problems at the airport. He would talk about politics but would also talk music and knock himself out on stage. Henry would talk about the things we would try to talk about except he was actually knowledgable.
But the important thing was, I never felt Henry Rollins talked down to his audience.
For a teenager and young adult, this is really amazing.
We were used to adults telling us about these things with a caveat that “You’ll understand this when you’re older.” With Henry, he was that cool uncle or older brother, no “You’ll understand when you’re older,” instead it was “You get what I’m saying. You’re young but smart. Haven’t traveled yet? You get the concept, I’m sure you will.”
And we ate it up.
Gavin bought Think Tank. Soon Rollins in the Wry joined it. A year or two later, we went to one of Henry Rollins spoken word shows and I picked up Live at the Westbeth. Gavin would find Sweatbox and Live at McCabe’s. Someone bought the Get in the Van audio book. I picked up a volume of Talk is Cheap and a book of his lyrics. At one point, I’m sure between a few of my friends, we had the entire Rollins spoken word collection.
I can’t speak for the others but Henry turned me on to the idea that it was okay to be smart. You could be smart and still crack jokes. It was okay to be smart and listen to Slayer. Essentially, part of what Henry gave me was that is was okay to be me. It was okay to like what I liked and to be smart. To talk roleplaying games but also talk politics and gun control.
To this day, if I can go, I try to see Henry when he hit’s Toronto. First of all, his talking shows are always worth the money. He’s funny, he’s smart and he takes his time. I don’t think I’ve been to one of these gigs that haven’t gone less than two hours.
Someone once mentioned to me he thought that Henry Rollins told you the things you wanted to hear as a high school or college kid. And to be fair, he was dead on. But I still find there is a lot to learn from the man. Henry is currently in his mid-50s and has more energy than I do. Much like every time I see Stan Lee (now there would be an interesting pairing), I always think I could be doing more with more energy.
And that’s why Think Tank has made the list.