Sunday, January 04, 2015

Thinking About Henry Rollins, Suicide, and Punk vs. Real Rebellion

The Right Reverend Rollins is back! (Yes, he’s been here before.)

I’m ambivalent about Henry Rollins. On one hand, he’s a walking, talking inspirational story, how he went straight-edge in the 1980s, built himself up in the gym, joined a band, wrote books—twenty (20) of ‘em so far—wrote and performed spoken word shows, etc. It’s a lot of et cetera, because Rollins has his hustle on. As someone who takes three hours in the morning to warm up to his work, I can’t help admiring that.

On the other hand, there’s just enough phoniness coming off of him to wrinkle the nose of my inner Holden Caulfield. There are those times you can tell Rollins is saying things because he knows they’re the feel-good kum-ba-yah your average American media consumer wants to hear in these denatured times. The most surreal moment of 2014 for me was when Rollins eulogized octogenarian comedienne Joan Rivers, whose heyday was in the super-cheesy 1970s. In this century, Rivers was best known for snarking on the poor fashion choices of Hollywood celebrities at red carpet photo-shoot affairs, but only gay men and a certain kind of woman (i.e., not the kind I live with, thank God) cared about that.

So here’s Punk Elder Statesman Henry “Inked Before Tattoos Were Commonplace” Rollins talking about this squawking old relic endeared only to the Entertainment Tonight audience and I’m thinking, well, hell, it’s finally happened. Punk is dead. 

And then I remembered that punk died when American Idiot became a Broadway musical. Or when the Clash broke up in the early ‘80s because they screwed up and wrote a hit song. I always thought the scene was a bit full of itself and overrated besides. An argument for another day.

Besides, I’ve had it pointed out to me just a couple of days ago, if there was one thing anyone could admire about Joan Rivers today—what made her “punk” in the best tradition of American Contrarianism—is that she refused to apologize to people she offended. 

Which is especially ironic, given that Rollins felt compelled to apologize after writing about Robin Williams’ suicide, and how he took a dim view of people who take their own lives. I disagreed with his attitude myself, but I understood how he came to think that way. Most self-made from next-to-nothing people can’t help but be repulsed by the stench of defeat that pervades, if not outright precipitates, the act of self-murder. People like Rollins have iron wills that cannot abide surrender. 

More power to him, I say. I’ve been working on building and maintaining that iron will for the last three years myself. To put my back to the abyss, and brute-force my way home. 

Another story for another time. Bottom line, Rollins doesn’t know, and he doesn’t have to know. Crazy as it sounds, I come from a magical time and place, not too far away, not all that long ago, where one could agree to disagree with people on issues, and it wasn’t the end of the world

Impossible to believe now, I know. These days, having opinions contrary to the Accepted Narrative can get you fired, and Rollins’ livelihood depends much upon public goodwill. So eulogizing a raspy-voiced old Jewish comedienne with a freak-show, real-life Plastic Surgery Disasters face wasn’t his least punk moment. Oh, well.

But Rollins has his points, and that’s why he delivers yet another Sunday sermon for us today. You can’t deny the truth here.
I’ve managed to accomplish all three, but it’s not like my parents set the bar very high. I’m lucky I didn’t break my existential neck tripping over it. 

And now the lesson is yours. One week down, 51 more to go.