Henry Rollins Remembers the Life-Changing Decision That Brought Him From Häagen-Dazs to Black Flag

Metafil­ter recent­ly fea­tured this Big Think clip of Hen­ry Rollins telling the sto­ry of his most life-chang­ing deci­sion. This choice, of course, was the one that brought him to the front of punk rock band Black Flag. Before he made it, he could call him­self only a col­lege dropout assis­tant-man­ag­ing a Wash­ing­ton, D.C. Häa­gen-Dazs. In 1981, after catch­ing one of Black Flag’s New York shows — dur­ing which he hap­pened to climb onstage and sing a song with them — he decid­ed to try out to become the group’s actu­al singer. When Rollins ditched the ice cream game for the day (a for­feit, he recalls, of no more than $21) to audi­tion, Black Flag went from his favorite band to his band. Think­ing back, he real­izes he had lit­tle to lose: if he did­n’t give it a shot, he’d find him­self look­ing down the bar­rel of a long, hard exis­tence on his feet, answer­ing to cus­tomers all day, every day. If he gave it a shot and did­n’t make it, he’d at worst feel humil­i­at­ed, but, as he puts it, “humil­i­a­tion and young peo­ple kind of go togeth­er.”

“I don’t have tal­ent,” Rollins insists. “I have tenac­i­ty. I have dis­ci­pline. There was no choice for me but to work real­ly hard.” You may recall him mak­ing a sim­i­lar point in his pre­vi­ous Big Think video we fea­tured, in which he rec­om­mend­ed going at one’s pur­suits with a “monas­tic obses­sion.” But this time, he adds a note of fear. He talks about com­ing to under­stand that, with­out rely­ing on his four pil­lars of “appli­ca­tion, dis­ci­pline, focus, rep­e­ti­tion,” an enti­ty he calls “the Amer­i­ca” would have got­ten the bet­ter of him. This term seems to refer to the con­stant threat of crush­ing medi­oc­rity he feels in the Unit­ed States. “Every moment I am alive is because I have not been mur­dered by the Amer­i­ca,” he says in anoth­er inter­view. “The tasks I set out for myself are what I do to beat the per­fect point­less­ness of life.” Even if you don’t con­ceive of your own sit­u­a­tion quite so grim­ly, Rollins offers a per­spec­tive worth con­sid­er­ing. Per­haps his recruit­ment into Black Flag strikes you as a lucky break; he cer­tain­ly con­sid­ers it one. But as Bri­an Eno, anoth­er cul­tur­al fig­ure as well known for his point of view as his music, once said, “Luck is being ready.”

Relat­ed con­tent:

Hen­ry Rollins Tells Young Peo­ple to Avoid Resent­ment and to Pur­sue Suc­cess with a “Monas­tic Obses­sion”

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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  • VERY NICE. Includ­ed under Open Cul­ture in 20120714 Open Source Every­thing High­lights (http://tinyurl.com/OSE-ALL). You might find the new pock­et­book, THE OPEN SOURCE EVERYTHING MANIFESTO: Trans­paren­cy, Truth & Trust, worth a look Free review copy for blog­gers, send me an email to robert.david.steele.vivas AT gmail DOT com.

  • Thanks so much for post­ing this. Rollins is one of my absolute heroes — prob­a­bly in my Top 5 MOST influ­en­tial peo­ple in life. He has a way of telling sto­ries about his life that absolute­ly engage, enter­tain, and edu­cate that inspire me when­ev­er I go to see him. He does three-hour spo­ken word shows — no inter­mis­sion; just him and a micro­phone — and nev­er seems to lose his fire. He’s not kidding…he works REALLY hard, and for all the fringe suc­cess he’s had and peo­ple he’s met, he’s a man who real­ly does seem grate­ful to the uni­verse for the oppor­tu­ni­ties he’s had and things he’s seen in his life. If you have the chance, watch more of his videos on YouTube, or bet­ter yet…GO SEE HIM! : )

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