Henry Lawrence Garfield, more commonly recognised as the uncompromising Black Flag frontman Henry Rollins, is an artist that comes with a certain cult pedigree. He is a musician, vocalist, presenter, comedian and activist. Whilst he is somewhat of a divisive figure in the punk scene, often accused of “selling-out”, his work as vocalist of seminal hardcore punks Black Flag from 1981 to 1986 remains iconic.
After Black Flag’s dissolution in 1986, Rollins established the record label and publishing company 2.13.16 as a platform for his spoken word albums. Subsequently, he formed the Rollins band in 1987, which toured extensively until their hiatus in 2003 and again in 2006.
In his Black Flag days, Rollins gained a reputation as a hardman and someone not to be messed with. This was due to his muscular, tattooed appearance and aggressive attitude on-stage and in interviews. We don’t have to mention the infamous interview from the ’80s where Rollins bullies the young interviewer. An opinionated, yet highly educated orator, Rollins has sent damaging criticism in the direction of U2, Californian cops, and American conservative Ann Coulter.
For someone that has such a cultivated personality, one of strong will, intellect and outright tenacity, in 2018, Rollins surprised us. This came via a surprising anecdote in his standup show, Henry Rollins: Keep Talking, Pal. In the hilarious set, he talks about the brilliance of RuPaul, supporting Ozzy Osbourne and why women should rule the world.
However, there is one stand-out moment from the entire show — one in which Rollins recounts his first meeting with the Starman, David Bowie. In this account, Rollins makes a couple of admissions. He talks about David Bowie walking past him at a festival, and claims “like you, I love those (Bowie’s) records. There’s not one thing wrong with those records. The more you play them, the better they get.”
Rollins remembers the moment they crossed paths: “He (Bowie) looks fantastic, hair perfect, suit perfect. I go rigid like an officer on deck. I just stand there silent as can be because I don’t want to be the thing that makes David Bowie fly away like a rare bird.” At the face of it, these are two startling admissions. In actuality, it is not all that shocking that Rollins is a massive Bowie fan, as Bowie’s work was pioneering and defied the social morals of the day, inherently punk even if his ephemeral and fluid aesthetic did not match it. In addition to this, Bowie’s music was simply groundbreaking.
However, what is shocking is the thought of Henry Rollins going rigid and being starstruck by anyone. But then again, it was David Bowie. Rollins then proceeds to recount his internal monologue from the incident hilariously. “David Bowie is walking by me. I am such a fan; this is all I need. Twenty years later, I’ll be standing on a stage with cameras rolling saying, ‘David Bowie walked by me, and I was fine.’ I don’t need to meet him; I just like to be near him, fine.”
This statement is made all the more hysterical by the intense, whispered voice Rollins puts on to recount his internal monologue. “So I’m standing there like ‘Wow. I like the cut of his jib. Good posture’.”
“He (Bowie) is walking by me… and stops. He looks to his left and points at me and says, ‘Rollins!’ I go running at David Bowie with my right hand extended like a lance, not knowing what I’m going to say when I get there, like if I said ‘Ah Bowie!’ That’s like two professors greeting each other down the long hallways of academia, ‘good morning Plato’, ‘hello Socrates!’, psst No!”
Rollins then reveals that Bowie’s records “saved” his life, and so when he got to Bowie all he made was, well, an inaudible noise. He also reveals that he gets the same feelings every time he meets Iggy Pop, another of his heroes and re-enacts his butterflies by putting on a high-pitched girls voice and screaming “that’s my name, ah!”, mimicking the crowd noises of Beatlemania et al.
He then remembers Bowie cutting to the chase. It turns out that Bowie was a big fan of Rollins’ work. The English icon says he found something Rollins said in an interview the month before “very interesting” and, according to Rollins, “proceeded to quote me back to me“. Rollins said: “I went numb.”
Bowie was not finished there either. “I read all your interviews; you’re very interesting,” he said. Showing the extent of his love for Rollins, Bowie then recalled an interview the ‘Liar’ vocalist had done in Germany the year before. This is astonishing as Rollins concedes that Bowie had to translate it from the German language first, displaying his cutting intellect and the extent of his interest in the thoughts of the former Black Flag frontman.
Rollins finishes by saying, “Kill me! Because my life is never getting better than this!” It is safe to say that meeting David Bowie would have been a surreal and life-affirming moment for the best of us, even Henry Rollins. Therefore, in our eyes, this does not damage his standing within or outside of punk.
Watch Henry Rollins remember the hilarious moment below.