FEATURE: 'Come In and Burn' Caps Henry Rollins' Growth Spurt
By Gary Graff
DETROIT (Reuter) - It's been 10 years since Henry Rollins came
screaming out of the punk band Black Flag and launched his own career
as a solo artist.
And during that time, Rollins has developed into one of rock's most
intriguing personalities, a performer whose artistry has moved well
beyond the boundaries of music.
On one hand there's Rollins the rocker, a savage dressed only in gym
shorts, his muscles tattooed and toned by relentless weight-lifting
regimes, veins bulging from his neck as he sends a pain he feels deep
inside hurling through the microphone.
On the other hand is Rollins the rock renaissance man, a gifted and
witty spoken-word artist who has his own publishing company (named
2.13.61 for his birthday) and a low-key film acting career.
It's been quite an evolution, and Rollins recognizes just how far he's
come during this stretch.
"I get better at applying myself every year," he says. "The more I do,
the more I can do. My concentration level is much better. I can work
eight hours at a crack when I have to, and I couldn't do that years
ago. I've got some of that maturity going for me. You get more
This spring alone, Rollins has released a new album, "Come In and
Burn," and played a bit part in the new David Lynch film "Lost
In the fall he'll publish a compendium of his writings, titled "Do I
Come Here Often?" and he also midwifed the autobiography of former Van
Halen singer David Lee Roth for another publishing company, Hyperion.
"I kind of helped him get it set up -- got the woman to interview him,
hooked him up with Hyperion," Rollins explains. "It's a tremendous
read. He's been there, seen it, done it -- and he can articulate the
But Rollins says not to expect much about last year's temporary
reunion and dramatic split with Van Halen.
"All the interviews ended the day he got the call" that he was out,
Rollins says. "There's no trash-talking. That's not really Dave's
Still, "Come In and Burn" is unquestionably the highlight of this
period, Rollins says. He spends much of the album working through his
personal pain; one song lyric includes the lines: "So much anger, so
much rage/No, the sadness never fades."
But "Come In and Burn" also finds Rollins's band -- which includes
guitarist Chris Haskett, bassist Melvin Gibbs and drummer Sim Cain --
working through songs that are shorter, tighter and, dare we say more
conventional, than the long, metallic discourses of the group's
Rollins credits this to some time off the group took after its last
tour, as well as a more leisurely approach to recording the album.
"What we wanted to do this time was have more songs than what we
needed so we could actually pick and choose," he says. "We'd never
done that before. This time we wanted a mess of music, so we wrote
over 30 songs, recorded over 20 -- basically two long albums' worth of
"This record could have gone a few different ways. There's some really
weird ambient stuff, blues jams, weird psychedelic stuff."
There's also one song left off the album called "Destroying the
World," which Rollins describes as "14 minutes of turgid expanse" and
vows will come out "at some point."
Some might see the more straightforward course Rollins chose for "Come
In and Burn" to be a result of his new, high-priced contract with the
DreamWorks label (part of the celebrated Steven Spielberg-Jeffrey
Katzenberg-David Geffen empire). But Rollins says he was both
surprised and heartened to find that "the weirder the material, the
more the DreamWorks guys said, 'How come you're not putting that on
the record?' They wanted all the nine-minute songs we had."
He chuckles. "My sequencing was way more conservative. I wanted the
album to be kind of slam-bam, a record that was like 'Jailbreak' by
Thin Lizzy or the first Van Halen record, just a get-off. By the time
the last song hits you, you should be like, 'No way ..."'
Rollins watchers will note that "Come In and Burn" also includes a
some songs ("Shame," "Rejection," "All I Want," "During a City") that
are pointedly about his relationships with women, something Rollins
has avoided in the past.
"What I did on this record was, as soon as I found an area I was
uncomfortable going into, that caused insecurity or discomfort, I said
'I must write a song like that,"' Rollins says. "It threw me off
balance, basically. I was writing from a standpoint of 'Don't be so
confident all the time."'
Presenting those songs to the band, however, was another matter.
"I said, 'Don't laugh, guys,"' Rollins recalls. "They listen to the
lyrics very closely, and all of a sudden they become little critics.
With these, they were. 'What's this about?' I just said, 'I don't want
to talk about it.' 'Shame?' 'It's about being ashamed. Now shut up and
play your (bleeping) drums!"'
(Gary Graff is a nationally syndicated journalist who covers the music
scene from Detroit. He also is editor of "Music-Hound Rock: The
Essential Album Guide." The opinions expressed in this feature are his