“Hell, I figure all of my problems are solved. I have nothing except to play this music and die. There's nothing in my way.” - Henry Rollins,
From 1981 until 1986, Henry Rollins sang for, lived and breathed ; A band who's work ethic and DIY approach to music remains a yardstick for all punk rock bands since. Black Flag toured relentlessly and, for the most part, lived in abject poverty; there was no Rock n' Roll dream for them, just an utter compulsion to play the most aggressive music they could muster.
It was such a pure outpouring of the anger of American youth that it scared the shit out of most people, thus causing constant confrontations between the band and the police, and more bizarrely between the band and audience members. Being the focal point of the band, Rollins usually had to deal with this animosity head on.
Joining in '81, Rollins was already a huge fan of the band (Black Flag played their first gig in 1977 and had three lead vocalists previous to Rollins) and the results were explosive. “Greg (Ginn, guitar) and Chuck (Dukowski, bass) had created the ultimate soundtrack for a full-scale riot” he said in reflection in the collection of his journals ‘Get In The Van’. Published in 1994, the book documents his entire time in Flag; the tour after tour after tour and the frustrating down time between, all in Rollins' frankly misanthropic, youthful bile. Inspirational, or a warning; that's for the reader to decide, either way there is no doubt that 'Get In The Van' is an essential first hand account of the activity of one of the most important hardcore bands of the 80's. Twenty-two years since the break up of Black Flag, we had a brief chat with Henry about his memories of his time in the band...
Black Flag are still the ultimate 'DIY' band, do you see many bands/acts these days who genuinely have that same attitude and work ethic?
I think Black flag were a product of their time. The way we toured was the way one did it, pretty much. That was what was available. I think there are plenty of bands these days who have the same kind of drive and commitment. I don’t think living the way we did made the music better necessarily. It did give us not much else to think about though and in that there’s something good. I think it misses the point to conclude that because things are perhaps more efficient and better for touring bands that they are any less committed or pure, I don’t think that’s fair. I think 99% of the bands out there are giving it all they’ve got no matter if they are in the clubs or the arenas.
In the book, the contrast of you reminiscing (1981 & 82) and your actual journal entries is pretty vast! At your age now can you still relate to how angry you were at that time? Or does it feel alien to you now?
I can relate to the anger but I also see that a good part of that came from frustration and a lack of understanding of things. Also, living conditions can really get to a guy after a while. Again, a lot of all that was a product of circumstances. You get poked often enough, you’ll get a little skittish here and there.
Flag on the road seemed to be a steady diet of violence and misery. What kept you going?
I can only speak for myself. I kept at it because I thought we were a good band and we were doing something different and it was better than what I was doing before.
Did you ever seriously consider quitting it all and going back to the 9 to 5?
No. Like I said, it was better than 9 to 5 because you knew, even at its worst, you were living for real and hardly anyone you knew was getting to see things and live this way. It was always worth it.
For people who haven't read the book, What was the average day on the road like?
A lot of driving. A profound lack of space to yourself. Sometimes there was a bit less food than you would have liked. But at the end of the day, there was the show so that was the purpose and really all I needed to stay focused.
Throughout the book you get the feeling that being in or involved with Black Flag was a constantly intense experience, mostly due to the constant touring. What did you do when it finished? How did you cope?
We usually went almost immediately into band practice or recording. There were no vacations or anything really. We just lived it all the time.
Do you have good relationships with ex-Flag members?
I see Chuck (Dukowski, bass) now and then. For the most part I don’t really go out of my way to hang out with people if it’s not work related.
What was your favourite line-up of the band? Why?
My favorite line up was when Keith (Morris, original Black Flag singer, later joined the Circle Jerks) was singing, he was the ultimate. As far as line ups I was in, the 1984 line up.
Through the latter days of Rollins Band 'til now, you've experienced much more 'commercial' success. Is travelling and touring more fun now?
It’s different. I am allowed to not have to worry about a lot of the small things that took up a lot of my time. This allows me to get more done pre and post show.
Do you still feel the same sense of purpose as when Flag toured?
More actually. After 27 years of being on the road every year, I have come to the conclusion that this is what I do.
Photos: Glen E. Friedman