Tuesday night, October 14, 2014, a packed crowd listened to DC’s native son, Henry Rollins (aka Garfield). He shared his insights about the DC punk rock scene in the early 80s, where he played an integral part. I’m sad I was too young to experience it!
Rollins spoke at a Smithsonian Associates’ event at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History’s auditorium with Chris Richards, pop music critic for the Washington Post.
Rollins had strong rapport with the audience who hung on to his every word. He a standing ovation when he entered the room, definitely a warm homecoming.
Rollins was a shy kid and had a hard time making friends. Music was his way of connecting. He thought the albums he listened to, like The Beatles, were made for children. He would listen to the music after he came home from school and his mom was away from work. He and his best friend, to this day, Ian MacKaye, hung out and listened to music together as well. Rollins deplores music’s capitalism which makes artists focus on just one or two hits that can be downloaded online-because full albums tell a story. He believes our youth are missing out on the connection of music by listening to mobile devices on headsets instead of an actual sound system. Rollins doesn’t believe rock is dead as Kiss’ Gene Simmons has said. He supports independent artists and independent labels by buying an album per day from them when he is on the road, and he also supports artists by letting them stay at his house when they are touring. “Record companies have collapsed because of greed.”
Rollins found punk rock a place where he belonged. Girls would say hi to him at the concerts, which never happened at school dances. He thought, “I belong here!” The DC punk rock scene was like a Boy Scouts’ scene to him compared to other areas of the country. When he joined Black Flag and toured the country he was shocked when he encountered drugs. He loves punk rock for its honesty and authenticity.
Rollins’ buddy MacKaye explained that Rollins was and still is quite the entrepreneur. He found vacant lots in DC to have shows for all ages and started his own independent record label, which exists today. MacKaye and Rollins made fake IDs to get into clubs to see shows just because they were serving beer, and Rollins didn’t even drink. MacKaye also encouraged Rollins’ singing. MacKaye befriended Black Flag and through that friendship Rollins got his lead singer gig with them. What a best friend!! His entrepreneurship impacted Rollins because Rollins became one as well, starting his own record company, publishing company, band, etc.
Rollins recalled seeing punk bands like Bad Brains and The Ramones up close in intimate clubs in the DC area before those bands played stadiums. He felt so alive, seeing the sweat drip off one of the Ramone’s noses right in front of him. He saw the Ramones in an intimate club in Falls Church, Virginia. That club is now a Chinese restaurant.
When Black Flag broke up, Rollins never looked back. “”The past is past and I need to move forward.” He had nothing to lose, and he managed the Häagen-Dazs shop in Georgetown. He is especially proud of his roots. He maintains a friendship with his boss Steve from Häagen-Dazs and he gets misty-eyed every time he sees Steve. When Black Flag did a reunion tour Rollins refused to join them as he felt it ruined its authenticity. He believes in moving forward and “jumping into the abyss with bravery!”
Rollins is obsessed with archiving punk rock history and he has archived over 30 years worth so far. He might have plans to share it with the world eventually. Right now his collection sits in his home where his assistant and he see it everyday and where “the guy that fixed the leak on my roof” also had a chance to view it.
After being interviewed, Rollins answered questions from the audience. He put to rest the rumor that he is related to President James Garfield. He changed his named to Rollins back in the 80s, after the college MacKaye’s sister was attending at the time. Being part of Black Flag brought unkind scrutiny and it protected him from changing his last name.
This was a wonderful evening that was insightful and inspiring about DC and its native son. I’m sure Henry Rollins will return home again soon.
Henry Rollins on the DC Punk Scene was on October 14, 2014 at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History – 10th and Constitution Avenue, in Washington, DC.
Running Time: Two hours and four-five minutes.
Henry Rollins’ website.