(Credit: Henry Rollins)

How Iggy Pop and The Stooges helped Henry Rollins become the Black Flag leader

Henry Rollins, best known for being the frontman of Californian hardcore punk band Black Flag, has been a strong advocate of the punk genre from the very beginning.

In 1980, after becoming a fan of Black Flag, Rollins began exchanging letters with bassist Chuck Dukowski and later decided to invite the entire band to stay in his parents’ home while they toured the East Coast. At the time, Black Flag vocalist Dez Cadena was becoming desperate to move away from singing duties to focus entirely on the guitar role of the band, thus freeing up a frontman spot.

After a partial audition for the role at Tu Casa Studio in New York City, Black Flag eventually asked Rollins to become the new face and vocals of the band after the former regional manager for an ice cream shop quit his day job after being offered a chance to try out for the band.

While his arrival onto the forefront of punk music may have been a fortunate one given his untypical route to music, Rollins was always destined to express his creative vision in one art form or another. Since his success with Black Flag, the musician has gone on to forge a career in film ever since appearing in independent films with the band. That said, after getting his dream job at the front his favourite band, Rollins was unsure about which direction to take it.

Reflecting on the music that shaped him as part of a past feature with Pitchfork, Rollins remembered how his own personality was shaped by one of his biggest inspirations; Iggy Pop. “I’m 20 and I’m super aggressive. I’m getting into fights at shows,” Rollins said. “I’m getting hit in the face, I’m hitting men in the face. I’m also in the adult world. I’m working, I have an apartment, Top Ramen noodles, 7-Eleven, microwave burritos, punk rock.

“In the summer of 1981, I leave Washington, D.C. to join Black Flag, and they’re a whole other animal. They’d ask me what bands I liked, and I would list them, and they thought almost every one sucked. ‘I like the Clash’. ‘Poseurs’. ‘I like the Sex Pistols.’ The Damned.’ They just thought punk rock was utter crap,” he added.

Rollins continued: “At one point, one of the band members said, ‘Look, if you want to be in this band you’ve got to be down with Black Sabbath, the Stooges, and the MC5.’ One day, in the van, I put on Fun House. Upon first listen, a few things hit me: OK, this is my favorite record, and it’s the purest record I’ve ever heard, and I’m never going to do anything that good. All of that remains true to this day. Fun House is just feral genius. They were not musicians, they were hyenas on the Serengeti that eat the antelope’s guts after the lions have had their fill. But what repulses you is the Stooges will have dinner and survive, and thrive on antelope intestines ’cause they’re that tough.

“I was not an Iggy clone on stage, no one can do that. But through the Stooges, I got in my mind that it’s Black Flag versus the audience. If we played a song that the crowd didn’t like, they always took it out on the singer. And for me, that meant many trips to the hospital to get stitched up. But the Stooges kind of gave me my posture: We are the street-walking cheetahs with hearts full of napalm. The cops don’t like us, we have religious groups protesting us, people would throw ashtrays, cans, bottles, whatever at us. But you put on a Stooges record and you go, ‘We’re going to be OK, ’cause they made it’.”

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