I'm so excited about Halloween. Screw the costume parties, I'm celebrating a special anniversary, albeit prematurely. On October 31, Henry Rollins returns for a spoken-word gig in Seattle. And though calling my revelation of November 22, 1996 an epiphany would be overstatement, that's the night I accepted Rollins as my savior.
It was a small but dramatic change. I didn't tattoo "Search & Destroy" on my back like some Rollins disciples. My workouts became more disciplined, but I didn't start using free weights. I still find most of the jazz artists he lauds impenetrable. But I also stopped dismissing Henry as a hyperactive, testosterone-addled jarhead, and listened.
In the '80s, I despised Black Flag. Hardcore punk had no place in my rarified realm of British fashion magazines, angular dances, and chilly synthesizer ditties. As I grew older, and came out of the closet, I relished the gossip concerning Henry's alleged closet homosexuality.
In 1996, I was working on a musical screenplay about a singer who's being fired from a Goth British boy band—think Backstreet Boys meets Bauhaus—for being too effeminate, unless he consents to "masculinity coaching" from an overly butch American rocker. It was a romantic comedy. I planned to model the love interest on Rollins. Purely in the name of research, I picked up a copy of Get in the Van, his Black Flag tour diary. To my surprise, I enjoyed it.
Next I learned from a mutual acquaintance that my nemesis adored Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. When I heard Rollins was speaking at the University of Washington, I bought a ticket.
He told a story that's preserved on his new CD, Think Tank (DreamWorks), as "The Gay Thing." After detailing the rumors concerning his batting stance, he launched into a diatribe about how pointless homophobia is. Every man has the same objective, he insisted: "Parking his pee-pee in a nice, warm, tight place, moving it around, and ejaculating like God . . . gay guys and straight guys are into the same thing . . . shouldn't they be in bars high-fiving?" By the show's climax, I was flailing about with a fervor befitting a Baptist revival.
In the following weeks, I binged on Rollins. I read most of his books, bought several albums. I even rented movies he acted in. I paid money to watch Johnny Mnemonic! The quality was definitely uneven; "Liar" aside, I'm hard-pressed to name a Rollins song I love 100 percent. What invigorated me was the man's ceaseless, mechanical drive to create and disseminate art.
There's a photo shrine to Henry in my office now. It's very Tom of Finland: Rollins in cop uniform, Rollins in army fatigues, etc. But my motive for keeping these pictures on hand is pure. When I'm staring at my computer, wondering why I ever bother to write, his image barks at me like a drill sergeant: Keep moving forward. Don't waste time complaining. Inform, entertain, and aspire to inspire those who will listen. Disregard critics who would divert you from your path.
Learn from, and champion, the work of others you admire.
Beloved freelance crackpot Kurt B. Reighley is editor-at-large for CMJ New Music Monthly. He is also the author of the biography Marilyn Manson (St. Martin's), and has written for countless national rags. As DJ El Toro, he tortures the turntables regularly at finer Seattle hot spots.