Born in Washington, D.C., Henry was raised by his mother after his parents divorced when he was three. As a teenager, he suffered from depression and low self-esteem. He was diagnosed with hyperactivity and prescribed medication to help him focus. Henry was regularly beaten up, being the minority white kid in a black D.C. neighborhood. He also endured physical beatings and mental abuse from one of his mother’s boyfriends, further contributing to a deep, suppressed anger.
Dropping out of college after one semester, Henry began working a series of minimum wage jobs. At twenty, he had become manager of a Haagen-Dazs ice cream store. He was sharing an apartment, had a small record collection, and drove a (mostly) functioning Volkswagen. His mother had instilled in him a love of literature, and reading provided him some escape and release. In considering his life, he felt that it was as good as it was likely to get for him.
That’s when Henry and his friends discovered the blossoming hardcore punk scene, which was especially active in D.C. Suddenly, they were seeing shows in places the size of living rooms. Caught up in the emotional rush and energy, Henry joined a local punk group. Around this time, an acquaintance introduced him to the music of the relatively popular Southern California punk band, Black Flag. He became an instant fan, especially after seeing one of their ferocious live performances. It was one of the most powerful things he’d ever witnessed.
One night, after a shift scooping ice cream, he drove all the way to New York to see Black Flag perform again. During the show, he yelled for them to sing “Clocked In," a song about work, because he was dreading the long drive back to New York and returning to his minimum wage job. The lead singer looked at Henry and motioned in a way that implied, “do you want to sing it?” Henry hopped onstage and nailed the song. The band and audience were both surprised at his talent. A few days later, he got a phone call from the band at his job. Their singer wanted to switch to guitar, and after having played with Henry that one night, they asked if he wanted to audition to sing for them.
Looking at the ice cream scoop in his hand and his chocolate-spattered apron, Henry considered, once again, his future in the world of minimum wage work. What was the worst that could happen? He would miss one day of work, maybe put on a poor showing in front of his favorite band, and then everything would go on as it already had. But he never considered that his choice to go and audition would put him where he is today.
Henry successfully auditioned for and became the most famous and recognizable singer for Black Flag, one of the most iconic and influential punk rock bands of all time. His output with them consisted of literate, idealistic lyrics over the band's harsh, grinding assault. With Black Flag, Henry took ownership of who and what he wanted to be, neither adhering nor bowing to the tenets of any scene: first he shaved his head like many punks to confuse uptight America, and then grew his hair long just to aggravate the punks. He also wrote frenetically about his experiences in the band, eventually starting his own publishing house to print and sell his writings on life, singing, touring, and whatever else he felt like saying.
Today, Henry Rollins is a brand in and of himself. He is an established spoken word artist and tours the country (and sometimes the world) performing to huge audiences. He appears in movies, shows, and has hosted both radio and television programs based around his signature humor and strong opinions. His publishing house has gone from putting out hand-stapled pamphlets of his writing to publishing works from world-renowned authors and musicians. Above all, Henry Rollins remains singularly himself. His sense of individuality, drive, and passion has helped him reach a level of success he never would have anticipated for himself based on his upbringing.
You too can rise to your own level of greatness if you hold on to your dreams and embrace your authentic self. Raise your flag of individuality and do everything you can to put your passion first.
Until next week...
Live Your Dreams