Henry Rollins is a hardcore great, as well as a literary icon. Black Flag, the punk rock powerhouse, became cult heroes with Rollins as their frontman. Famed for their intensity, something the singer hieghtened greatly with his arrival, the band could put on a live show like nobody else. They helped spread the word of hardcore far and wide and his swirling energy filled up every room they visited, providing memories that would last a lifetime for the sweaty audience. Rollins isn’t your typical rockstar, he’s a teetotal character who isn’t going to be hitting up the local dive bar and instead will be backstage getting stuck into a book.
To this day, Rollins remains Black Flag’s longest-serving vocalist, having joined the band in 1981 before their eventual first-break up in 1986. The band plucked the singer from the crowd in a scene like something from a film. This moment transformed him from a 20-year-old fan into the band’s archetypal leader. It’s a punk-rock fairytale for the ages, and the opportunity was one that he didn’t take for granted. Following his addition into the group, Black Flag built up a devout fanbase over the world, becoming a de facto religion for their fans. Their following may well have been comparatively small, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a louder crowd.
His career is an amazing ride and the longevity he’s enjoyed has largely stemmed from Rollins grabbing every opportunity with two hands. His life story may sound like it would make a bestselling book well, that’s because it is. His 1996 memoirs, Get In The Van, told the story of what it was like touring the world with Black Flag, it depicts the less glamourous side of a life spent on the road than the one more frequently told.
Get In The Van has become essential reading for any budding musician who wants to see the unfiltered truth to what life is like when you’re a touring artist. Radical Reads compiled a list of Rollins’Rollins’ favourite books. With everyone stuck inside for the foreseeable future, there is worse things to do than take a couple of Rollins’ recommendations on board.
Shot In The Heart by Mikal Gilmore is one of the books that make his list, with Rollins revealing that the two of them have built up a bond over the years: “I don’t really have friends or family but there are some people I keep in touch with and have recommended it to them as well as people if they ask me to recommend a great book. Mikal is an amazing writer.”
Rollins was also full of praise for Ryszard Kapuscinski’s Imperium. “I think Ryszard Kapuscinski is one of the greatest writers I have ever read. Amazing journalist,” the former Black Flag man said before paying the ultimate compliment and stating, “One line of Kapuscinski is worth ten of anyone else’s.”
Henry Miller’s Black Spring is another book with a special place in Rollins’ heart: “There is a lot of life in that book. He allowed me to think that writing was possible for me. I wish I read him a few years earlier than I did.”
He has this same feeling of adoration for John Steinbeck’s classic, The Grapes Of Wrath, which he commented: “One day, I just picked it up and started reading it. Guys at school didn’t believe I was really reading it but I was. I found it hard to put down.”
Whether or not Rollins’ insatiable thirst for literature is a necessity for being such an influential punk band, we can be sure that it certainly helps. Rollins has always conducted himself with the authority of a well-read member of society and it shows.
Check out the full list, below.
Henry Rollins’ favourite books of all time
The Great War for Civilization by Robert Fisk
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Black Spring by Henry Miller
Imperium by Ryszard Kapuscinski
Shot In The Heart by Mikal Gilmore
Ask the Dust by John Fante
In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust
Swann’s Way by Lydia Davis
The Speed Of Sound by Thomas Dolby
Selected Speeches and Writings by Abraham Lincoln
Letters From the Earth by Mark Twain
Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Mysteries by Knut Hamsun
Ghost Wars by Steve Coll
The Sorrows of Empire by Chalmers Johnson
United States: Essays 1952-1992 by Gore Vidal
The Castle by Franz Kafka
Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche
The Book of Five Rings by Miyamato Mushashi
Maldoror and Poems by Comte Lautreamont
Howl by Allen Ginsberg
Of Time and the River by Thomas Wolfe
Paris Spleen by Charles Baudelaire
The Fiery Trial by Eric Foner
In Cold Blood and Other Voices Other Rooms by Truman Capote