|Born on: 13.02.1961
Born Henry Lawrence Garfield in Washington, D.C., the only child of Iris, a federal employee in the health and education sectors, and Paul J. Garfield, from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, who was a World War II veteran and Economist with a "Ph.D. in economics". When he was two years old, his parents divorced and he was raised by his mother in the Glover Park neighborhood of the city.
As a child and teenager, Rollins suffered from depression and low self-esteem. In the fourth grade, he was diagnosed with hyperactivity and took Ritalin for several years so that he could focus during school. His mother taught him how to read before he was enrolled in kindergarten; however, due to "bad grades, bad attitude, poor conduct," he was soon enrolled at The Bullis School, then an all-male preparatory school in Potomac, Maryland.
According to Rollins, the Bullis School helped him to develop a sense of discipline and a strong work ethic. It was at Bullis that he began writing; his early literary efforts were mainly short stories about "blowing up my school and murdering all the teachers." Despite the relative affluence of Glover Park, for Rollins "it was a very rough upbringing in a lot of other ways. I accumulated a lot of rage by the time I was seventeen or eighteen.
After high school, Rollins attended American University in Washington D.C. for one semester, but dropped out in December 1979. He began working minimum-wage jobs, including a job as a courier for liver samples at the National Institutes of Health. Rollins got into punk rock after he and his friend Ian MacKaye procured a copy of The Ramones's eponymous debut album; he later described it as a "revelation." From 1979 to 1980, Rollins was working as a roadie for Washington bands, including Teen Idles. When the band's singer Nathan Strejcek failed to appear for practice sessions, Rollins convinced the Teen Idles to let him sing. Word of Rollins's ability spread around the punk rock scene in Washington; Bad Brains singer H.R. would sometimes get Rollins on stage to sing with him.
In 1980, the Washington punk band The Extorts lost their frontman Lyle Preslar to Minor Threat. Rollins joined the rest of the band to form State of Alert, and became its frontman and vocalist. He put words to the band's five songs and wrote several more. S.O.A. recorded their sole EP, No Policy, and released it in 1981 on MacKaye's Dischord Records. S.O.A. disbanded after a total of a dozen concerts and one EP. Rollins had enjoyed being the band's frontman, and had earned a reputation for fighting in shows. He later said: "I was like nineteen and a young man all full of steam... Loved to get in the dust-ups." By this time, Rollins had become the manager of the Georgetown Häagen-Dazs ice cream store; his steady employment had helped to finance the S.O.A. EP.
In 1980, a friend gave Rollins and MacKaye a copy of Black Flag's Nervous Breakdown EP. Rollins soon became a fan of the band, exchanging letters with bassist Chuck Dukowski and later inviting the band to stay in his parents' home when Black Flag toured the East Coast in December 1980. When Black Flag returned to the East Coast in 1981, Rollins attended as many of their concerts as he could. At an impromptu show in a New York bar, Black Flag's vocalist Dez Cadena allowed Rollins to sing "Clocked In", as Rollins had a five-hour drive back to Washington, D.C., to return to work after the performance.
Unbeknownst to Rollins, Cadena wanted to switch to guitar, and the band was looking for a new vocalist. The band was impressed with Rollins' singing and stage demeanor, and the next day, after a semi-formal audition at Tu Casa Studio in NYC, they asked him to become their permanent vocalist. Despite some doubts, he accepted, in part because of MacKaye's encouragement. His high level of energy and intense personality suited the band's style, but Rollins' diverse tastes in music were a key factor in his being selected as singer; Black Flag's founder Greg Ginn was growing restless creatively and wanted a singer who was willing to move beyond simple, three-chord punk.
After joining Black Flag in 1981, Rollins quit his job at Häagen-Dazs, sold his car, and moved to Los Angeles, California. Upon arriving in Los Angeles, Rollins got the Black Flag logo tattooed on his left biceps and changed his surname from Garfield to Rollins, a surname he and MacKaye had used as teenagers. Rollins was in a different environment in Los Angeles; the police soon realized he was a member of Black Flag, and he was hassled as a result. Rollins later said: "That really scared me. It freaked me out that an adult would do that.... My little eyes were opened big time."
Before concerts, as the rest of the band tuned up, Rollins would stride about the stage dressed only in a pair of black shorts, grinding his teeth; to focus before the show, he would squeeze a pool ball. His stage persona impressed several critics; after a 1982 show in Anacortes, Washington, Sub Pop critic Calvin Johnson wrote: "Henry was incredible. Pacing back and forth, lunging, lurching, growling; it was all real, the most intense emotional experiences I have ever seen."
By 1983, Rollins' stage persona was increasingly alienating him from the rest of Black Flag. During a show in England, Rollins assaulted a member of the audience; Ginn later scolded Rollins, calling him a "macho asshole." A legal dispute with Unicorn Records held up further Black Flag releases until 1984, and Ginn was slowing the band's tempo down so that they would remain innovative. In August 1983, guitarist Dez Cadena had left the band; a stalemate lingered between Dukowski and Ginn, who wanted Dukowski to leave, before Ginn fired Dukowski outright. 1984's heavy metal music-influenced My War featured Rollins screaming and wailing throughout many of the songs; the band's members also grew their hair to confuse the band's hardcore punk audience.
Black Flag's change in musical style and appearance alienated many of their original fans, who focused their displeasure on Rollins by punching him in the mouth, stabbing him with pens, or scratching him with their nails, among other methods. He often fought back, dragging audience members on stage and assaulting them. Rollins became increasingly alienated from the audience; in his tour diary, Rollins wrote "When they spit at me, when they grab at me, they aren't hurting me. When I push out and mangle the flesh of another, it's falling so short of what I really want to do to them." During the Unicorn legal dispute, Rollins had started a weight-lifting program, and by their 1984 tours, he had become visibly well-built; journalist Michael Azerrad later commented that "his powerful physique was a metaphor for the impregnable emotional shield he was developing around himself." Rollins has since replied that "no, the training was just basically a way to push myself.
Before Black Flag disbanded in August 1986, Rollins had already toured as a solo spoken word artist. He released two solo records in 1987, Hot Animal Machine, a collaboration with guitarist Chris Haskett, and Drive by Shooting, recorded as "Henrietta Collins and the Wifebeating Childhaters"; Rollins also released his second spoken word album, Big Ugly Mouth in the same year. Along with Haskett, Rollins soon added Andrew Weiss and Sim Cain, both former members of Ginn's side-project Gone, and called the new group Rollins Band. The band toured relentlessly, and their 1987 debut album, Life Time, was quickly followed by the outtakes and live collection Do It. The band continued to tour throughout 1988; 1989 marked the release of another Rollins Band album, Hard Volume. Another live album, Turned On, and another spoken word release, Live at McCabe's, followed in 1990.
Rollins and Weiss released Fast Food For Thought, an EP by their one-off side project Wartime in 1990. It was sonically in many ways more reminiscent of Weiss's work with Ween than the Rollins Band. The music, while heavy and driving, had a distinctly psychedelic bent, culminating in the final track, a cover of "Franklin's Tower" by The Grateful Dead. Early pressings were simply credited to "Wartime" while later releases added the phrase "featuring Henry Rollins" to the cover.
1991 saw the Rollins Band sign a distribution deal with Imago Records and appear at the Lollapalooza festival; both improved the band's presence. However, in December 1991, Rollins and his best friend Joe Cole were accosted by two armed robbers outside Rollins's home. Cole was murdered by a gunshot to the head, Rollins escaped without injury but police initially suspected him in the murder and detained him for ten hours. Although traumatized by Cole's death, as chronicled in his book Now Watch Him Die, Rollins continued to release new material; the spoken-word album Human Butt appeared in 1992 on his own record label, 2.13.61. The Rollins Band released The End of Silence, Rollins's first charting album.
The following year, Rollins released a spoken-word double album, The Boxed Life. The Rollins Band embarked upon the End of Silence tour; bassist Weiss was fired towards its end and replaced by funk and jazz bassist Melvin Gibbs. According to critic Steve Huey, 1994 was Rollins's "breakout year". The Rollins Band appeared at Woodstock 94 and released Weight, which ranked on the Billboard Top 40. Rollins released Get in the Van: On the Road with Black Flag, a double-disc set of him reading from his Black Flag tour diary of the same name; he won the Grammy for Best Spoken Word Recording as a result. Rollins was named 1994's "Man of the Year" by the American men's magazine Details and became a contributing columnist to the magazine. With the increased exposure, Rollins made several appearances on American music channels MTV and VH1 around this time, and made his Hollywood film debut in 1994 in The Chase playing a police officer.
In 1995, the Rollins Band's record label, Imago Records, declared itself bankrupt. Rollins began focusing on his spoken word career. He released Everything, a recording of a chapter of his book Eye Scream with free jazz backing, in 1996. He continued to appear in various films, including Heat, Johnny Mnemonic and Lost Highway. The Rollins Band signed to Dreamworks Records in 1997 and soon released Come in and Burn, but it did not receive as much critical acclaim as their previous material. Rollins continued to release spoken-word book readings, releasing Black Coffee Blues in the same year. In 1998, Rollins released Think Tank, his first set of non-book-related spoken material in five years.
By 1998, Rollins felt that the relationship with his backing band had run its course, and the line-up disbanded. He had produced a Los Angeles hard rock band called Mother Superior, and invited them to form a new incarnation of the Rollins Band. Their first album, Get Some Go Again, was released two years later. The Rollins Band released several more albums, including 2001's Nice and 2003's Rise Above: 24 Black Flag Songs to Benefit the West Memphis Three. After 2003, the band became inactive as Rollins focused on radio and television work. During a 2006 appearance on Tom Green Live!, Rollins stated that he "may never do music again" a feeling which he reiterated in 2011 when talking to Trebuchet magazine. In an interview with Culture Brats, Henry admitted he had sworn off music for good - "... and I must say that I miss it every day. I just don't know honestly what I could do with it that's different.