GET IN THE VAN by Henry Rollins; 2.13.61 Publications, 1994

Some of y'all have or will be buying this book as Rollins merch, god bless ya.

You don't need to read the following... This is a remarkable book. It's loaded with engrossing/amazing/appalling anecdotes. It's an invaluable chronicle of Chapter X in the annals of pop cultural history, documenting the early 80s rock underground in microscopic otaku detail as it could only be by someone forced to live it day in, day out.

It's an insidiously, thrilling morality play, depicting the gradually rising fortunes o' Black Flag by dint of years of unrelenting hard work in the face of actual—not merely psychodramatic—adversity; their motivation is born pretty pure outta passion for music, total commitment to ideals of absolute independence from corporate structures and strictures (this arising from their one short-lived, disastrous flirtation with a major, MCA Records to be exact) and D.I.Y. ethics/aesthetics.

Now this is all well and good, but what makes this ongoing tour diary of over five years of road work with the band truly riveting is how the journalist captures the growth of his ability to perceive, analyze and respond to his environment, the unfolding of his consciousness and inner awareness via constant self-probing and re-evaluation of his goals, ideals and worldview. It's a universal theme, here rendered tres contempo yet near mythological via the compression and exaggeration of his experiences due to encountering 'em in the unique and artificial context of The Rock Tour (e'en an economo one) with an already at-the-time infamous and unquestionably pioneering (both stylistically and philosophically in terms of how they did business) Punk Rock Band.

This internal odyssey belies the popular image of Henry Rollins as muscle-bound, anal, obsessive, overachieving, workaholic (which I, admittedly, bought into myself, despite having sorta been a casual acquaintance before he joined B.F.). Instead we see a thoughtful, vulnerable kid undergoing strenuous rites of passages and coming through quite admirably if not without the usual, continual normal fuck-ups along the way. Rollins quite deliberately confronts his worst fears of dislocation, betrayal and alienation in leaving home, joining this band and sticking with them despite horrendous touring and performing conditions. In a sense he jerry-rigs a latter-day monastic regime, living alone in a garden shed when off the road, sleeping in the black, airless void in the back of the equipment van when touring. On-stage, he willingly runs a nightly gauntlet of stupid, violent audience members venting God knows what sorta frustration on his person, punching, kicking, biting him, chucking beer bottles. etc. Initiations by trial. As he goes along, he begins tapping an increasingly ambitious set of role models for living and creating. He reads Henry Miller with relish, delves into the rock underground, becoming a fan and then a

friend of Nick Cave, Diamanda Galas and Einsturzende Neubauten. Pushing up against “punker” orthodoxy he checks out and digs the fuckin' Grateful Dead. Adrian Belew, John Lee Hooker. He actively participates in putting together a continuing curriculum of self-education. The philosophy he develops, boiled down, is simply stated towards the end of the journal: “Every day makes me stronger. Every experience teaches me something.” (As it should every one.)

Rollins doesn't come off as a saint here. He waxes petty, pompous, vengeful and callous—usually in response to some rotten shit shunted into his face—but ugly reactions nonetheless. But it's seldom that he sticks by them, defends them ad nauseam or rationalizes 'em. Usually, self-criticism follows, and he works his way through to something strong and admirable. Is there anything more any of us can expect of ourselves? Are there many of us who expect that much?

-Howard W.


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