That sentence up there is weird to type! Henry Rollins was—kind of still is—my guy. When I was sixteen years old, I read Get In The Van and it would not be an exaggeration to say that it shaped everything about the choices I made over the next several years. I didn’t go to college because I saw an example in Get In The Van that said, “If you know what you want to do, you should just start doing that immediately.” I started performing a weird, Rollins-esque blend of spoken word poetry and stand-up comedy because I wanted to do what he did. When I was like 19, I would rip off his bits to learn the timing and tone I wanted my own stuff to have. I listened to Black Flag and the Rollins Band, of course, but it was more than just music. Henry Rollins was the sort of person I wanted to be when I grew up.
Over the next few years, all that softened a bit. I recognized that some parts of how he saw the world, and vocalized in his performances and books, were not things that I admired or wanted to emulate. There was an element of “kill your idols” in that, too—to feel like my own person and not some hero-worshipping kid, I had to let Hank go and broaden my palate considerably. After a few years of being too cool for Rollins, though, he occupied a comfy role in the list of people I admire. He wasn’t a hero anymore, but if he’s in Austin, I’m going to the show. I literally just four days ago ordered a signed Get In The Van poster for my office. (It was $10!)
Anyway. Rollins writes a column for LA Weekly in which he opines about the world, as he does. And his most recent one is about Robin Williams. In typical Rollins-ese, it’s called “Fuck Suicide.”
I recognize all the hallmarks of Rollins-speak in it. That sort of Nugentian bravado that embraces (and occasionally subverts) typical machismo: “I have life by the neck and drag it along. Rarely does it move fast enough.” The suggestion that you can out-tough any problem (preferably while listening to The Stooges): ”Raw Power forever.” The black-and-white breakdown of the world into categories like “weak” and “strong”: “Almost 40,000 people a year kill themselves in America, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In my opinion, that is 40,000 people who blew it.” Etc, etc.
Here’s the reason Henry Rollins should shut the fuck up: Because he’s equating his experience of not having a disease with the experience of people who have it. It’s no more selfish or cowardly to suffer from depression—to be killed by depression—than to die from lupus.
So to hear from Henry Rollins, who is a figure whose words, at one point, were gospel to me, that you just need to crank up Iggy and gut out that disease—it makes me think about how other people who listen to him the way that I did when I was a teenager, who might well be suffering from depression, are being told that they’re just not good enough. They’re not tough enough. Raw power just didn’t come running to them. You’ve got a disease telling you that you’re not good enough in one ear, and you’ve got Henry Rollins telling you the same thing in the other. Good point, Hank!
There’s so much more to it than selfishness and cowardice, and people like Henry Rollins, who never have to think about it in any terms other than the abstract, are afforded the luxury of those judgments. They don’t have to live with it—they just get to tell people that they’ve failed.
It’s a small-minded, juvenile way to view the world. You want to put it in terms of strength and weakness, of cowardice and courage? Let’s talk about the strength and courage it takes to endure 63 years of wanting to die.
It’s not a shock to hear Henry Rollins say any of this, of course. I know his work well enough to know that this is the way he views the world, or at least that this is the way he writes about his understanding of the world. And it wouldn’t really matter—guy who was in a punk band says dumb thing on the Internet!—except that I know that there are a lot of people who’ve looked up to Rollins the way that I did, and his “tough it out” framing of a disease he doesn’t have is destructive to the people who look to him for strength. Shut the fuck up, Hank.