More Thoughts On Get in the Van by Henry Rollins

I am watching Sons of Anarchy tonight and I just came across the episode where musician and actor Henry Rollins enters playing a white supremacist.  One of my favorite reads of recent years is Rollins’s Get in the Van: On the Road With Black Flag.  Now many of you might assume that I love this book because it documents touring and music, because I am a touring musician.  However, trust me, one of the last things I would want to read while being in a van for eight hours is a book on touring in a van.  There is a darkly comic, vulgar insanity to the prose.  It was written as diary entries, that at least seem to be written without publishing in mind.  Many of the things said in the book are the kinds of things people think, but would never admit to the outside world.  Because of this there is also a strange truth to the book, even if it is not an enlightening one.  In the Leonard Cohen song Going Home, Cohen sings what is a great description of the endgame of art :

I want to write a love song
An anthem of forgiving
A manual for living with defeat

At the time I was reading Rollins’s book I was going through a slightly dark period.  I loved Rollins’s ability to keep moving forward even in the face of constant defeats.  Rollins goes on horribly crushing tours, only to spend his time between them living in a shed with no AC, with only spiders as his company.  Yet despite this he still keeps going further and further out into the wilderness of the self, writing and self-realizing.  It’s like a self help book written by a complete masochist.  I don’t know if the book is inspiring or a darkly absurd comedy, but that its true charm, the straddling of seemingly disparate genres.

More Scenes From Touring

If you want a good many laughs, and a view into temporary insanity, I can’t recommend Henry Rollins Get in the Van enough.  Although the early 80’s hardcore scene is far crazier than anything I have ever witnessed, there is something in the dark fatalistic humor of the book that captures touring better than anything I have ever seen or read.  I know I have mentioned it before, but I am thinking about it on my way to Oklahoma city. 

When you tour it is like living in dog years.  Time slows to a crawl.  I am not trying to romanticize touring, quite the opposite.   There may be some that love every moment of it, but to me my passion for music makes it something that I tolerate.  I am not saying that there aren’t great moments, nor am I complaining.  It simply is a mountain that needs to be climbed to reach the golden city of music.  It is mostly my ability to disconnect,  to float away into books and records, that allows me to keep climbing. 

I am an introvert by nature.  Being in a crowd, even if I am having a great time, diminishes my energy instead of restoring it.  I purposely need to retreat into an autistic cave of solitude at times to make it through the day.  (Hat pulled down over eyes and headphones on.)

But lord I love being creative, playing with great musicians, and diving into the world of music.  I can never hear enough of the stuff.  I live with headphones on.  I could play a two hour set and the first thing I want to do after is listen to a record.  I love the world of recorded sound.  I have ever since I was a kid.  While some friends obsessed over sports stats, I was up in my room reading music magazines and listening to albums. 

When some people tell me that I am bold to follow my dreams, I thank them, but I know the truth:  My passion for music borders on obsession, and I have no other choice.  It isn’t much different than an alcoholic slithering over to a bar as soon as it is open.  Reason and courage play no part.  I give into my addiction and follow it down the rabbit hole. 

Total Insanity

One of the books I’m picking my way through is Henry Rollins’s Get in the Van.  The book is a tour journal of his time in Black Flag.  In between a very realistic depiction of life on the road he expresses his inner thoughts.  Many times these thoughts border on insanity from the constant exhaustion he faces.  He is not only touring with Black Flag, but often going on spoken word tours in between those tours.  They also have no money and are often touring under horrible conditions.  Anyway, I read a couple pages with my morning coffee and what follows are a few excerpts that I took from about a five page portion of the book.  This section actually takes place between all of the constant work when he is finally at home living in a shed.  Yes between tours at this point he lives in a shed.  He seems particularly adrift when he is not working.  As insane as his schedule is, he seems to feel even more lost when he is not working.  I recently put up a post about how there was a certain poetry to insanity.  I also have a dark sense of humor and found  a certain parts of what follows to be great.  As my brother commented, “He’s got a real sweet mind.”

No one would understand that I see jungle on Prospect Street.  Always jungle.  Napalm falling through the polluted sunset.  A village up ahead.  People have been poisoned.  Something was stolen from them in the night.  

I wonder if there are people who destroy themselves without anyone else around to see them do it?  Of course there are.  People who cry alone.  People who sit in silence with the lights off, silently burning.  Not seeking seeking attention, but falling apart on their own.  These people are heroes to me.  Someone with enough stuff in them to take and not seek attention.  I’m not saying that waving one’s arms for help is bad or weak.  I’m sure there are thousands holed up in hot or freezing apartments, tool sheds, basements, just simmering.  Ready to explode or cave in.  Pressing their eyes to the keyhole.  Scratching a clear space on a dirty window to have a look outside.  Going to work.  Waiters, dishwashers, grinding through shifts, punching out.  Walking to a fast food place for dinner then going home.   Living in a custom tailored hell.  

I saw a couple of beer commercials.  Fuck, they must have a lot of idiots watching.  They make a drunk slob look cool.  Why can’t they have Hitler ads?  Ads with mushroom clouds going up with people riding motorcycles and drinking beers.  That sounds nice and gross, just as gross as the ones on the box today.  

The DNA in his semen could automatically code with any animal he put it into.  Didn’t matter what he mated with, it would bear his children.  He built an army of beasts, half-human, half-whatever.  He lead them into the city.  They put on clothes and blended in.  No one seemed to notice until the moon was full.  


I would like to go hang out in the desert for awhile.  I really took to that place when I first went out there.  The desert knows about the alonity.  Yes, the alonity.  That’s my word.  It’s being alive and living with yourself.  Sometimes the alonity hurts because it’s real.  It hurts, scars, and strengthens.  I spend lots of time in the alonity.  Most people busy themselves with meaningless rituals and assorted bullshit.  They fear the alonity.  I don’t.  I feel at home with it.  They get caught up in how they think their hair should be cut.  If they could see inside themselves they would freak out.  It’s a crime against time, to waste it on such bullshit.  I don’t beg for understanding.  I live on earth.  I just wonder if I got the wrong address.  

– Henry Rollins from Get in the Van

I have mixed feelings about Henry Rollins.  I really like Black Flag and I love the Rollins Band album The End of Silence.  I’m also enjoying reading his book.  I also admire his discipline.  However, he also is pretty good at putting his foot in his mouth and has said some really stupid shit over the years.  I like his book because it is honest and he does have some keen insights.  He also does a lot of things that can best be described as insane, and at worst be described as stupid.  To his credit I will say that he does seem willing to evolve and change his opinions over time, which is a trait I respect in anyone.

The reason I picked the above quote is I do think that idea that most people busy themselves with meaningless rituals and assorted bullshit, in order to not have to face the truth of life, is true.  I am guilty of it at times, everyone is, but some people more than others.

Lately my Dad and I have been talking about how to be a realistic idealist.  You want to see the world be a better place, you know that from history that people are capable of changing for the better, but you also don’t shy away from the hard truths of life and what the human race is up against.  I think it’s important to try to be a dreamer and a realist.  Martin Luther King had a vision and a dream, but those in the Civil Rights movements had to face the harsh realities of racism to work towards that dream, and that work isn’t over yet.  Before you can fix something you need to realize what the problem is.  You need to realize the failings of not only yourself, but of your fellow human beings.  You need high minded rhetoric and people that are willing to put their neck on the line for change.  People that fought for civil rights were beaten, put in jail, murdered, and attacked by dogs.  How do you look at the reality of the world and not become a cynic?  How do you dream of a better world without becoming a pie in the sky utopian?

I’m talking about the Civil Rights Movement as an obvious example of where there was some real world gains, although we are a long way off from the perfect in that deal.  But really, this could apply to any social movement.  Lately I’ve been thinking of the climate movement.  The same rules apply.

A lot of my posts lately have been talking about the meaninglessness of popular culture.  There is so much in our culture that not only allows you to turn your head the other way, but actually wants you to.  People spend much of their lives focusing on assorted bullshit.

Now, that being said, not all bullshit is equal, and entertainment and escapism do have their place.  As a mortal being you only have so much energy.  There are times when you need to turn the brain off and recharge the batteries.  There are times to just enjoy something in life.  People are different.

I have commented several times that I am an introvert.  I can not constantly engage other people or I will burn out.  There are times when I need to be alone just watching a ridiculous action movie, or what have you.  Trying to find that proper balance for yourself, of how you can be most effective, is important.  How does one enjoy life and also find the time to make sure that your time on this planet was not wasted on meaningless bullshit?  I don’t have the answer myself, let alone for anyone else, but it is worth thinking about.

Misplaced Passion

Reading Henry Rollins’s Get In the Van in our tour van.  I feel like I am looking in one of those endless mirrors where you see a reflection of a reflection and so on.  Not that I am experiencing any of the insanity that was part of those times, but perhaps reading a book about touring in a van while touring in a van wasn’t the best move. 

I have been obsessed with Black Flag though lately.  Once I dive into something I want to know everything there is to know about it.  I can’t help myself.  I dive into a world until I exhaust it and then I move on for awhile.  That is why on this blog you will see a bunch of posts about a topic and then a week later I’ll move onto a new set of topics. 

This blog is sort of a catalog of my obsessions.  I only hope that there are enough people that share my obsessions and/or I can find an angle that makes them interesting to others for a few minutes. 

There is so much great art out there.  How could anyone be bored?  Jail or lines are the only places I have ever found boring.  If you give me my ipod and access to books the days just melt away for me.  I feel sorry for people that have no passions or have passion and no outlet for it. 

I think in the modern world there is a lot of misplaced passion.  We are told by the television to have passion for money or items or religion. 

Past the pub that wrecks your body
And the church – all they want is your money
The Queen is dead, boys
And it’s so lonely on a limb