Nonfiction: Road Rollinsby John G. Rodwan Jr.
Henry Rollins, A Dull Roar (Los Angeles: 2.13.61, 2007)
From late July to early September 2006, the Rollins Band toured the United States with punk-rockers-with-staying-power X. The version of the band with Sim Cain on drums, Melvin Gibbs on bass, Chris Haskett on guitar and Theo Van Rock on sound, which recorded the albums Weight and Come in and Burn, had last performed together in 1997. Vocalist Henry Rollins kept a journal of his experiences leading up to and during the As the World Burns Tour. His own publishing house issued his account (in a limited edition) a mere two months after his band played the final scheduled show. A second printing followed in early 2007.
The quickness of A Dull Roar’s appearance is all the more impressive given the other activities Rollins juggled (and described). In addition to band practice and concerts, there were acting in a horror movie filmed in Vancouver, taping segments in Los Angeles for his Independent Film Channel program and negotiating terms for another season, giving spoken word performances in England and elsewhere, working on a weekly radio show, planning a U.S.O. tour and—endlessly—writing. He reveals his dedication to rapid publication by writing directly about the process of proofreading and correcting the first part of the manuscript well before the series of events he set out to record—the rock shows—had even been completed.
His productivity and commitment to his work is mightily impressive, but the very same drive to get a lot of work done undermines his efforts as a chronicler. Rollins acknowledges that he has “always struggled with writing.” A Dull Roar and his other books suggest that precisely what makes his relentless drive to achieve worth recording is also part of what keeps him from becoming a better writer. At the end of each day, he records what he did and frequently looks ahead to what’s next. He doesn’t spend much time looking back and is fully aware of this inclination. “As soon as the tour is over, I have to get onto the next thing, whatever it will be, as soon as I can,” he writes when there are just a few shows left to play. “I think it is best when completing a tour, to treat it like a magazine with no more bullets and eject it from the weapon and reload with the next thing and not look back.”
His documentation of the movement from project to project reads more like solid raw material for a memoir than a completed, polished work. Rollins does not know at the beginning of the book how the story is going to end. Instead, he relays his experiences as they occur. He discusses future projects, such as another season of The Henry Rollins Show on IFC and another U.S.O. tour (having already visited troops in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar and elsewhere), but these matters are not resolved within the period covered. (After the book appeared, he did begin work on new episodes of his TV show, and in December the United Service Organization announced Rollins’s seventh U.S.O./Armed Forces Entertainment tour to visit troops in the Persian Gulf region.)
For Rollins, performing live music is analogous to going into battle. His style is confrontational. Referring to the 1974 “Rumble in the Jungle,” he likens himself to a boxer: “The show is George Foreman. I am Ali. I am going to take a beating but I will prevail. That’s how this music is. It is a fight.” Though in his mid-40s during this period, Rollins maintained a fighter’s physique and threw himself entirely into his intense and sweaty shows. However, his band mates do not share his view of music as conflict or his disciplined approach to exercise. “All the training and preparation I did is just being laughed at so there’s no point in thinking about any further work with this line up,” he writes on August 23. “There’s no way I’m going to feel like this any longer than I have to.”
Since A Dull Roar ends with the tour it describes, there’s no way for the reader to know if the way he felt then is the way he will still feel after having had time to look back on what happened. Because of his disappointment with the tour and his inability to see a future with the band that bears his name, A Dull Roar reads like a log of disappointment. Yet, because he expects defeat, he prepares for it and even thrives on its imminence. “Failure is a motivator,” he writes early in the journal. “Knowing I am going to fail anyway at least gives me a sense of humor about it all and allows resolve to take the lead in front of ambition. Going down swinging is what I reckon the last half of my life is about.”
ContributorJohn G. Rodwan Jr.
JOHN G. RODWAN, JR. lives in Brooklyn.