Henry Rollins is not a major part of my artistic life. But he provided me with one of the most powerful, pivotal moments of my existence, artistic or otherwise.
I was in 7th grade and, after a brutal custody battle, living with my father on a military base. To say I was unhappy is an understatement. I had no friends, no one to talk to, and was surrounded by bullies and predators; I was going through an intense puberty but couldn’t talk to girls, around whom I felt like an abomination; I was experiencing the early symptoms of some mental health problems and didn’t know what they were; I was anxious, depressed, and developing severe insomnia.
My refuge was music, specifically the 70s and 80s punk and goth music I had inherited via mix tapes from my older brother, and the alternative rock revolution happening at that time, which was 1992. I watched MTV constantly and listened to bands like The Ramones, The Dead Milkmen, Nirvana, Alice In Chains, Ministry, The Sisters of Mercy, U2, The Violent Femmes, The Cure, and many more.
I didn’t really listen to The Rollins Band. But, living just outside of Petaluma, CA, I listened to a radio station out of San Francisco, Live 105, that, at that time, fully embraced and embodied the alt-rock culture.
The thing was, I barely received the signal on my stereo. To get it clearly, I had to actually, physically, hold the antenna.
Which is how I heard this spoken-word piece, late at night, scared, sad, alone, looking for salvation in alternative radio, reaching my hand out from my bed and grasping the antenna to get the signal, my own body the receiver, and suddenly out of the ether this voice is speaking to me, passing through my arm, saying, “I know you,” describing how I felt and what my life was like with astounding precision, in a monologue in the second person, literally addressed to me, saying everything I needed to hear: seeing me, hearing me, believing me, in a way no one else was – this from a perfect stranger – and as I held that antenna in that dark room, in that dark night, in my dark life, hoping my dad wouldn’t hear the radio, I knew I wasn’t alone and I knew there was hope.
It was almost like a religious experience. And it’s obvious, listening to it now, that he wrote this piece for this exact reason: to reach kids like me.
It worked. I love Rollins because he reached out and took my hand and told me I mattered and it got me through.