In the summer of 1982 I decided to publish my own tabloid. It was sort of considered a “punk fanzine” back then. But I saw it more in the tradition of the ’60s underground newspapers. I envisioned a hipper, cooler, artier version of the alternative weekly newspapers. Plus, I considered myself sort of an artistic genius back then, so I figured maybe I had that going for me. The plan was to print up 10,000 copies and distribute them free at all the cooler nightclubs, record stores and bookstores. So we made an immediate impact. We started out with a fairly normal format: band interviews, record reviews, a comics page as the centerspread, and a bunch of artsy columnists. And to pay for the thing we sold ads.
And we actually made a little money on the first couple of issues. But I’m a painfully shy person, so it was a nightmare for me to knock on doors and act as ad salesman. And each issue got progressively weirder, which made it harder for people to figure out what it was, let alone if it was a profitable venue to market their products.
By the 5th issue we decided to do a “Gore and Violence” issue. My friend Mary Mayhem was really into horror movies and Fangoria magazine, so she came aboard as co-editor. The issue featured interviews with the punk rocker Henry Rollins, and the underground cartoonist S. Clay Wilson. And for the centerspread we did a Playboy take-off with truly gory, retouched, nude photos of Mary as the “Gore-Mate of the Month.” It was so sick the printer refused to print up the next issue. Ha ha.
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The Henry Rollins interview was an interesting experience. Every summer for a couple of years they had an outdoor punk rock festival, called The Eastern Front, at the Berkeley marina. Two days, about 10 or 20 bands. “A Day on the Dirt” was its subtitle and it was referred to as “the punk rock Woodstock.” It was an odd experience to be punk-rockin’ in the middle of the day, under the sun. The usual mileau was late at night at neon-lit nightclubs. So it had the feel of the midnight ghouls coming out in the daylight. All the kids with their mohawks and spikes and sweating like pigs in their studded black leather jacket, but hell if they were gonna’ take em off, even in 80 degree weather.
The headlining band, Black Flag, had a dark and violent image. They regularly used pictures of Charles Manson for their fliers. And lead singer Henry Rollins had the reputation as a certified psycho back then. He’d strip naked practically to his underwear, his body covered with sinister tattoos and pouring sweat, and he’d scream and howl and screech for hours at a stretch while the droogies of Black Flag cranked out this jarring, wailing, dischordant wall of sonic explosions behind him. It wasn’t clear whether you were watching a musical performance or a public exorcism. And Rollins had the death-wail of a mortally wounded creature. He seemed deeply, deeply disturbed about something. Rage and violence seemed to pour out of him. He was one of those hell-bent guys you just knew would be dead before they hit 30. So it’s somewhat surprising when I see him today on Youtube, and he’s developed a calm thoughtfulness and soulfulness that one would have never guessed he was capable of back then. Rollins was famous for getting in fights and beating people up, or being beaten up. “I had to be taken to the hospital three times after shows,” Henry told me. It almost seemed part of his live performance. “And now after this next musical number Henry is going to start the face-bashing portion of the show. . . ” And Henry Rollins was an imposing man. Muscle-bound from weight-lifting and a neck bigger than my waist, seemingly. Not to mention this evil, lasor-like stare that he drilled right into your head, along with this expression of pure contempt and hatred for everything you stood for, as well as a barely-contained but overpowering desire to stomp you into the dirt until you were dead at any moment. He was a charismatic fellow, Henry Rollins.
Anyways, after Black Flag closed the show, Henry was hanging around in front of the stage, chatting with a big crowd of drunken, buzzed-out fans that had surrounded him. Mary and I joined the fray with our tape recorder and began peppering Henry with questions. The first thing I asked him was: “Did you really pose for a homo magazine?” The rumor was that he had been featured in Playgirl or Blueboy or one of those kind of gay porno magazines that month. And I was a bit of a wise-ass back then so I felt like provoking him a little to see how he would react. Turned out it was just an article about punk rock and not a photo spread. But Henry seemed to enjoy the gay jokes I was making at his expense. At least at the beginning. And the crowd of punks and punkettes were shouting and cheering at Henry: “CENTERSPREAD!!”
“Yeah, I’m famous to a bunch of guys who want to grab my ass,” said Henry, playing along, and he turned around and bent over and flashed his ass at us in a come-and-get-it pose.
We continued babbling at Henry for about a half hour. At one point I confessed that I was baffled at Black Flag’s appeal. I mean, I was going to punk rock shows back then, but I was more of a closet Paul McCartney fan. Henry smirked “You seem like an intelligent guy” and helpfully suggested I don’t waste my money going to their shows. “I get in free,” I said. “Well then don’t waste the tread on your sneakers wasting your time watching us play,” said Henry.
The interview was starting to wind down, so I asked if anyone in the audience had a question for Henry.
“What do you think of interviewers?” asked one guy.
“I do a lot of interviews and a lot of people get in my face and a lot of people insult me,” said Henry, talking real slow and real sinister. “AND sometimes I like to get back in other people’s faces.” Henry suddenly stepped forward and pushed his face right into mine. All of a sudden it got really hot. “AND I’M NOT SUCH A SMALL GUY AND I CAN DO A LOT OF DAMAGE TO PEOPLE!” Henry shouted right into my face. I sort of stiffened for a lo-o-ong moment. It was an odd feeling to suddenly have Henry Rollins’s head pressed against my head, bearing down on me. Along with that feeling when you suddenly realize you could be made a big fool of in front of a big crowd of people at any moment. Or worse. We had been having such a nice, friendly chat. How had things taken this unexpected and ugly turn?? . . . . . After what seemed like a long time Henry finally said “. . . But I don’t cuz’ I’m a nice guy.” Henry took a big step backwards. And I breathed a big sigh of relief.
But I couldn’t resist getting in the last word. So I pushed my face back into Henry’s and said: “HEY, WELL I’M A PRETTY BIG GUY, TOO, SO . . . .” I paused for just a moment ” . . . but I’m really a wimp.” I took a big step back.
“Henry we gotta’ go,” called out a roadie.
“Hey, thanks a lot for talking,” I said.
Henry turned to leave and then said over his shoulder. “Like I said, tonight you should go home and ask yourself some questions.”
“I have a lot I ask myself,” I said. “Every day.” I always have to get in the last word. Ha ha.
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The only thing I kind of regret is that I didn’t actually get into a physical fight with Henry Rollins. Even if I had gotten my ass beat, it would have made for a better story when I’m an old fart sitting around on my easy chair.
2 thoughts on “Henry Rollins”
“Believe me when I tell you, life will not break your heart, it will CRUSH it!” -rollins
Hilarious! You were such a nerd back then.