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. 

Going Out Strange

Do you think about when you’re going to die?
I think about it all the time
I watch the days and I walk the line
I wonder when I’m gonna get mine
I knew at an early age
there was no need to be afraid
there was nothing I could change
I was gonna go out strange

going out
going out
going out strange
going out
going out
going out of range

when you know you really know
when it shows it really shows
people say look at that boy he’s going insane
look ma, no plans, I’m going out strange

going out
going out
going out strange
going out
going out
going out of range

bullet brain, go insane
gone away, not afraid
horror mind, terror mind
paranoid, feeling fine

going out
going out
going out strange

Going Out Strange by Rollins Band.  This will be my last Rollins Band post for awhile.  I have spoken about how I become obsessed with something for a week or two, learn everything I can about it, and then move on.  Although my private obsession will probably continue for awhile, I don’t plan on posting anything else here about it.  But the title of this song alone has had my brother and I laughing for the last two days.  I have been exhausted from touring and canvassing, and he is exhausted from law school, so we have both been joking about “going out strange”.

Rollins Band Live

I almost wrote a review of the new Jackson Browne today, which I love, but I felt I needed at least one more day of listening to do it justice.  I have also been listening to a lot of Rollins Band and Black Flag.  This is extremely aggressive music, but it is also really musical.  In both bands you have musicians that can flat out play.  I know that Henry Rollins is a controversial figure because of things he has said.  He has even said things that I deem really stupid at times.  But he has made a lot of really great music and, as I have said before, he seems intellectually honest and capable of change.  In Black Flag he was picked, but in his own band, when he has picked the musicians he has worked with, his taste has been impeccable.  The above is a live version of Tearing from, in my opinion, Rollins Band’s masterpiece, The End of Silence.

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.  

The Poetry of Insanity

Herzog is a miserable, hateful, malevolent, avaricious, money-hungry, nasty, sadistic, treacherous, cowardly creep…he should be thrown alive to the crocodiles! An anaconda should strangle him slowly! A poisonous spider should sting him and paralyze his lungs! The most venomous serpent should bite him and make his brain explode! No panther claws should rip open his throat–that would be much too good for him! Huge red ants should piss into his lying eyes and gobble up his balls and his guts! He should catch the plague! Syphilis! Yellow fever! Leprosy! It’s no use; the more I wish him the most gruesome deaths, the more he haunts me. – Klaus Kinski in Kinski Uncut.

Your god is a mushroom cloud.  The Church of the Nuclear Christ.  Mushroom Cloud Messiah.  The fallout mission.  That would put the real fear in you.  Yes, forget this Christ guy.  He died for you.  Now you die for me.  That would be real cool to see you praying to an ICBM missile.  Watching you on television, kneeling to a perfect, gleaming warhead.  Now that’s a real idea.  Guaranteed destruction.  Forget the second coming.  You give me the missiles and I’ll melt heaven.  I’ll blow your saints to Lawndale.  That would be great to see you grovel in front of a god that you could see, that you could touch.  Only an idiot would believe that some god in the sky is going to wreck the place.  Let me give you something that you could really believe in.  Don’t you want, don’t you really need something to believe in?  Something solid?  Something to calm your nerves?  Yes, look to me.  Let me supply you with your faith.  The Church of the Real Deal.  Have mercy?  Why?  You’re into destruction.  Forget needles and suicide.  I am offering you something better.  You love to be controlled.  You dig ownership and control inflicted upon you.  Now you can kneel and confess and pray and grovel to something that offers you ultimate carnage without judgment or concession.  Isn’t that what you want?  Yeah it is.   Henry Rollins from Get in the Van

Oscar was not into serious street-fighting, but he was hell on wheels in a bar brawl. Any combination of a 250 lb Mexican and LSD-25 is a potentially terminal menace for anything it can reach – but when the alleged Mexican is in fact a profoundly angry Chicano lawyer with no fear at all of anything that walks on less than three legs and a de facto suicidal conviction that he will die at the age of 33 – just like Jesus Christ – you have a serious piece of work on your hands. Especially if the bastard is already 33½ years old with a head full of Sandoz acid, a loaded .357 Magnum in his belt, a hatchet-wielding Chicano bodyguard on his elbow at all times, and a disconcerting habit of projectile vomiting geysers of pure blood off the front porch every 30 or 40 minutes, or whenever his malignant ulcer can’t handle any more raw tequila. – Hunter Thompson on Oscar Zeta Acosta in Rolling Stone Magazine (As a side note I wanted to find something on Oscar from Revolt of the Cockroach People, one of his autobiographies and a masterpiece of insanity, but I found nothing online that suited my needs.)

I love the poetry of insanity.  I love it when a writer writes as if they have no concern of how they are perceived by the general public in their lifetime or after their death.  There is some kind of noble truth to letting all of your perversions and impulses hang out.  But it is more than this.  Vulgarity and insanity, when pushed far enough, become a kind of poetry.  The show Deadwood understood this.  Although Deadwood used Victorian language at times, it also trafficked in in a kind of vulgar language that reached the heights of art.  Total commitment.  It is taking the crude language and taboos of the day and making something beautiful out of them.  It is the language of freedom, giving up the most important earthly possession of all, your ego, and the willingness to be liked, and casting it aside.  I want peace and justice and love to become a reality for mankind on a daily basis.  However, this kind of language serves a purpose in that no matter how counterintuitive that is.  It frees the mind to go beyond the norms of everyday groupthink.  The writing itself might not be more than a personalized truth, but it allows for a wider circle of exploration.  Out there in the deep dark woods of the night might be a glimmer of truth that sets you free.


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.