Mark Desrosiers's Reviews > Get in the Van: On the Road With Black Flag

Get in the Van by Henry Rollins
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Jan 01, 2009

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bookshelves: music, memoirs
Read in December, 2008

As a misanthrope and a solipsist, young Henry Rollins is the midpoint between Gene Simmons and Arthur Schopenhauer (with whom he bears more than a passing resemblance). This book chronicles his transformation from an insecure D.C. ice-cream sales associate to a self-absorbed glossolalia Cardassian. Compassion, malice, and egoism (the nascent traits that Henry calls his "Discipline, Insanity, and Exile") are vividly enacted here, everything from skinheads interrupting Henry's taking a shit to his rationale for being booze-free ("I don't want anything to disturb my signal" 10.27.85).

I prefer the early scribbling, when he was documenting a DIY scene, putting down the facts. Round about 1985, entries get squishier, longer, stoopider. Not sure about his music tastes during this era either-- Diamanda Galas, Jerry Garcia, Nick Cave... Even despite the cannabis haze, I can kinda see why Greg Ginn was ready to remove Henry from his sonic vision.

"I am infected, I a lucky, I am stricken, I am alive," the diarist says on April 17, 1985 (after his hideous backpiece was fully inked). That's where I gave up reading closely. You get less a music memoir than a Spartan punker griping and philosophizing as fast as his empty stomach and the coffee grinds between his teeth will allow. Typical of austere solipsists: Henry omits LOTS of groovy band details and trivia. Hell, you barely notice that d. boon died after Henry mentions this funeral that he skipped.

Great photos though.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Sean (new)

Sean I guess I never really "got" Rollins or Black Flag, though a few musos have mentioned I might like their (B.F.) later Sabbath-y stoner-rock experiments.

Apparently, Rollins has (had?) a radio show and he does play some good tunes. I dunno, he just seems a bit up his own arse--which is fine, just as long as he's musically interesting, which I don't find him to be...not much anyway.

The book seems like it could be partially a decent read.


Mark Desrosiers There are many who think Black Flag's last album, In My Head was Greg Ginn's finest moment as a guitarist and songwriter -- also, Henry's voice is mixed pretty low on that album (I think Greg was phasing him out by that point). But for stoner-doom rock from that scene you should definitely turn to labelmates (and tourmates) Saint Vitus!

Oh and Henry himself says the best Black Flag album was The First Four Years , which consists entirely of tracks released before he came on board. I will give him credit for being very self-aware!


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