Henry Rollins

Henry Rollins had one of the more diverse careers in punk rock, evolving from the fearsome lead singer of Black Flag to a respected writer, actor and monologist. Raised in DC, Rollins attended American University for one semester but fell under the punk-rock spell by 1979, getting into the Ramones with his friend Ian MacKaye. He began working with various local bands, sometimes as a roadie for MacKaye's early band Teen Idles (MacKaye would later form the more celebrated Fugazi), occasionally jumping onstage with the Bad Brains, and joining the band State of Alert. Most significantly he heard the early singles by the California band Black Flag and began writing to them; by the time they played the East Coast he was known to them as a friend and fan. Black Flag had now been through three singers and after singing a number with them in New York, Rollins became the fourth and best-known. Rollins fronted Black Flag from 1981-86, changing their visual style with his muscular tattooed look, and their music with his preference for darker, self-lacerating lyrics. Beginning with 1984's My War album, Black Flag were arguably the first hardcore band to fully embrace metal and slower tempos. Confrontational with audiences at first, Rollins ultimately warmed to the frontman's role and Black Flag toured and recorded incessantly during his tenure. He also began breaking out, devoting one side of Black Flag's Family Man album to spoken word, and began doing spoken concerts, sometimes in tandem with MacKaye. While his early spoken performances could be quite angry, particularly after the murder of his close friend Joe Cole, over time Rollins' barbed humor became more of a trademark. After Black Flag's demise Rollins continued their punk-metal direction, with guitarist Chris Haskett as his main collaborator. After a trio of solo albums he dubbed the group the Rollins Band and signed a higher-profile deal with the Imago label. By now the grunge movement was underway and Rollins' music was suddenly mainstream-friendly. In 1994 he played the Woodstock revival and scored a radio hit with "Liar"-which like many of his songs, urged personal strength and railed against users, with plenty of sarcasm thrown in. In 1998 the group disbanded and he launched a new, less commercially successful Rollins Band. This group also disbanded after a 2002 tour, in which a set of Black Flag songs was performed to benefit the defense in the West Memphis Three murder trial. Rollins effectively left music afterward to focus on other sides of his career. As an actor he appeared in more than two dozen films, working with Al Pacino in "Heat" (1995), with Jeff Bridges in "Scene of the Crime" (2001), and with Will Smith in "Bad Boys II" (2003). He released numerous spoken word CDs, surpassing his output as a singer; beginning in 2003 he also performed on numerous international USO tours. He also wrote regularly on both music and politics for the Huffington Post and the LA Weekly, and hosted the discussion series "Henry's Film Corner" (IFC 2004-05).