SKULLF@#KING CHERYL LADD - Review of GITV...
From Drum Media, December 6th 1994.
Rollins' new book Get In The Van is a 'lads on tour' expose of the highest order, Hank's stream of consciousness taking readers through his time with the legendary BLACK FLAG, and through the thoughts of his tough early '20s. Darryl Mason spoke to Henry Rollins about the latest from 2.13.61 publishing.
By mid-1985, the fractured fraternities of punks across the US, England and Europe were turning downright nasty. Skinheads had traditionally used random violence as a thickener for their shady dog-pack image, and as frontman for Black Flag, one of the last great punk-rock bands Henry Rollins, came face to face with it almost on a nightly basis. Spitting at the band members, particularly the singer, was always popular. As was pissing in your empty pint glass and then hurling it onstage. Most gigs provided no showers or accommodation. Rollins would wear someone else's spit in his hair for two or three days at a time.
Between 1981 and 1986, Rollins was regularly beaten up, punched in the balls by girls at the foot of the stage and kicked in the face by stage divers. But Rollins kept a frequent journal of his days in Black Flag, which are now released in Get In The Van through his own 2.13.61 publishing company. Not only does it provide a concise history of an extremely volatile band, it also indirectly traces the downfall of punk rock in the mid-1980s and the rising popularity of LA's lite metal bands. But mostly it excruciatingly details some of the most sickening moments in Rollins' life. And many of his greatest. Some nights were worse than others.
"In the middle of the show," writes Rollins in San Diego, May, 1985, "I took a knife of a guy and started swinging it at people in the front row, I put my other hand in front of my eyes so they could see that I couldn't see. Next a guy handed me a syringe that looked full. He said there was coke in it. I took it and threw into Greg's (Ginn, guitarist) cabinet screen. It stuck like a dart. After the show some f@#ked up guy was trying to crawl into the van with us. I pulled out (bassist Chuck) Dukowski's .45 and put the barrel on the man's forehead and told him to get the f@#k away." Rock and roll.
Rollins says one of the main reasons he has released Get In The Van is to allow people who have never played in a band to understand some of the experiences involved in gelting the music to the people. As Rollins points out, it is a life unlike any other. Bands and their crews can exist in a shadow world for years on end. Through the course of the book, Rollins often refers to himself as an alien.
"A lot of people on the outside just think 'Oh, these bands are just rock stars, they don't have to do anything'. When people in bands are some of the most hardest working, hardest living people I've ever seen. To get that music out there you sometime have to endure a lot of shit." While Black Flag toured relentlessly, Henry Rollins drifted through his early 20s facing aggression, hatred and genuine fan devotion on a nightly basis. With no close friends in the early years of Black Flag, Rollins often turned to his journal to put out the things that filled his mind, and kept him wide-awake and his brain ticking long into the night. He learned to function on a few hours sleep, turning almost every activity in his daily life into an endurance test.
"I was pretty surprised at some at the stuff I read back," says Rollins, "cause when you tour as much as I have over fourteen years, things do run together. I can almost remember every show I've ever done. You see a journal entry from a day you have no memory of but I wrote it, it must have happened. It kind of makes you think 'Ow, I'm getting old', I've been doing this thing a long lime."
It took Rollins almost four years to complete work on Get In The Van, at the same time finishing two world tours and compilations. 2.13.61 have already released almost two dozen titles; and have six slated for 1995.
What was once thick, tightly bundled blocks of notebook pages has now become a glossy, photo-filled coffee table book. For Rollins, as author and self-publisher, that meant hauling boxes of paper and a bulky computer halfway around the world. Each night he would set the computer up in his hotel room, and between sound-check and stage time, he would type away a few more of the 190,000 words. Then he would pack up the office and move on to the next town. That was before the editing and proofreading could even begin. "Then we had to find the pictures," says Rollins, not so much overjoyed as relieved at the book's completion. "Then we had to find the photographs... there was not much joy when we opened the boxes, it was like 'Yes you son of a bitch, now you're finally done!'"
Rollins' writing began to gain vision and colour during 1985 and 1986. The journal entries taught him to write concisely, to make a point quickly, lest he lose the thought that just made itself so prominent. Some of Get In The Van's finest moments come from long periods of extreme boredom. Touring is two-thirds waiting, and that nearly sent Rollins into high seas. It is during these entries that he lets his mind whirl and flip through scattered, highly detailed memories. With a passionate glee, he cranks up the voltage for surging imagination work-outs like detailing the possibilities of a car crashing competition; and the points awarded, to a diner that serves up meals of strictly human flesh. A detailed tale of an LA film party he crashed in the company of Nick Cave brings together two distinctly different breeds of a similar creature. The combustion is hilarious.
"I definitely get into the idea of a mental gym," says Rollins "Back in those days there was so much boredom, the journal would be just a place to go with some really f@#ked, politically incorrect ideas. You'd just get into it with your pen and paper. It's the kind of shit you write when you're twenty-three, you know, 'Oh, I'm so weary. Oh death is hanging over me'. All this shit where you think you've seen everything, and at age 33 I realise I haven't seen shit yet. That's why I left it all in, (some of the writing) might be self-pitying, but f@#k it man, you're 22, that's when you're supposed to be doing all that angst. You read The Stranger and go 'I know how he feels!'. It's the time to write all that stupid poetry and those self-obsessed journals. It's a quest of self-definition at that age, you're trying to figure out who you are, what you think, what you're about.
"Writing is one way, music is a way. There's a very self-conscious urge to figure out how your feet are supposed to fill your shoes."
But behind the prolific blitz of a young brain buzzing double-time, Rollins wrote of a pure, genuine hatred of all people. He desired to be alone, for that was part of the pain, and he termed what he longed for 'alonity'.
"It was often hard to be a fan of people when they're throwing things at your head every night, spitting on you, dumping urine on you and trying to fight you. So what you give into is gross generalisations. All people suck, all police men are f@#ked, everyone in the establishment should be killed'.
"These are generalisations you make when you are tired, starving, angry, underpaid, and you get f@#ked with by these people who paid six dollars to come see you play. We lived with a lot of strange contradictions:
"There was a lot of that where you'd really unleash the beast in the journal, you'd go like... `Well f@#k these people, man, let's skin their kids alive and hang them from telephone wire and see how they like that'.
"I knew I'd catch some shit for some of it, but I reckon if I said it and felt it, I might as well own up to it."
In May of 1985, Rollins wrote a few dozen words in his journal, lying back on a hotel room bed, watching
Charlie's Angel Cheryl Ladd in a bad telemovie. His brain decided to add a surreal bent to what began as a fairly average sexual fantasy. He jotted down his thoughts as quickly as they filled his mind. It's probably the most graphic example of how Rollins writing can sometimes impact like a hammer strike "(Cheryl Ladd) has this high forehead. It looked like it was made out of porcelain, like the side of a piggy bank... I wanted to take a big bite out of it, like taking a bite out of the side of a chocolate cream-filled Easter Bunny. Yeah, I take big bite out of her head. Flesh, skull and brains are in my mouth. I eat it. Cheryl Ladd's brains and heck she's so darned pretty that any part of her would be nice. I stick my cock in the hole. I f@#k her brains out."
At 33, Rollins is not particularly bothered by the thoughts that might have prowled his mind at the time. He points out that you have bizarre and uncontrolled, uninhibited thoughts at 22 or 23. Most people just don't make a record of them.
"The skullf@#king Cheryl Ladd thing was a wonderful, artistic little idea I had there," says Rollins.
"If you want me to f@#k your brains out baby, well okay, let's get out the drill, get in there and start poking the lobes (laughs)."
These days Rollins' journal is more likely to contain details of how he spent his day, for the permanent record. He fears forgetting everything, so he fills the gaps with the journals.
Rollins' schedule for 1995 leaves little time for these rambling, exploring adventures in his own imagination. While he sometimes longs for the solitude and time to do the deep thinking he did when he would lay for whole nights in the darkness in the back of an equipment truck, Rollins knows there will be plenty of time for all that later on in life. Now is definitely the time for action.
Rollins powers through his working hours, effectively carving up each to cover a dozen different bases. A new record label now accompanies 2.13.61. The load is not only heavier, but wider across the shoulders.
"My mind tends to work more effectively these days," says Rollins. "Now I'm not as artistically inclined. I use less adjectives in my life."