Get in the Van: On the Road with Black Flag
I originally purchased the spoken word tape of this when it came out, loved it. Then I picked up the tenth anniversary edition of the book . . . the pictures were nice. Let me start off by saying that I was a big Black Flag/Henry Rollins (Garfield) fan back when Henry was in S.O.A and when he first joined Black Flag. Like many of us young guys back then, I wasn’t overly enthused about the direction they took in the mid to late 80’s. I think the track Rise Above was the ultimate punk track of its time; it was definitely the blueprint for L.A. hardcore.
The first hundred pages of this book are great, the next fifty are all right, but after that it’s all-bad. As you’re reading, you witness Henry’s mental unraveling. He seems like a somewhat normal guy, but as time drags on you start to see Henry turn, and start to turn against to the fans or vice versa. And eventually, he doesn’t really seem to like the band or its members much, but like he’s stuck in a tractor-beam, and can’t leave. Originally, I got this a while after it first came out on tape, and listened to it often. Then, when they brought out the second printing of the book, I picked it up, but there are a few incidents that Henry writes about that are a bit too nutty. One scene is when he’s coming off stage with Black Flag, and he’s so amped he feels the need the self-mutilate, so he starts cutting himself with a bottle, I guess the whole action weird’s everybody out so bad that Ian MacKaye, from Minor Threat, starts crying. Another twisted scene is midway through the book, Henry is in a car talking to some girl, and they see a cat get hit by a car, Henry gets out of the car, and snaps its neck, and takes it to its owner’s house, and dumps it in the yard. After this bit I just stopped reading. Not that I can’t handle the whack-a-doo behavior, but all I really wanted was an in-depth story of Henry, and Black Flag, not how the world doesn’t understand him, and everyone’s bad. He seems to become a mental case without a real reason for the transition. I don’t know if it was for shock value, or he just felt that the singer for the mighty Black Flag has to be crazier than everyone else.
In the introduction, he says that he began to compile the book in 1990. He goes on to explains that many of the journal entries were written while living in The Shed, a “tool shed” in the back yard of Black Flag guitarist Greg Ginn’s parents’ house.
The book begins in Spring of 1981, and documents the time surrounding Rollins’ personal introduction to, and the joining of Black Flag. From here on Rollins recounts a string of violent shows, long hours on the road, and abuse by police while immersed in the poverty-stricken lifestyle where the band lived. A major part of 1982 is dedicated to the band’s first tour of England, which Rollins paints as a pretty hellish affair. As the book goes on Rollins describes the band as being alienated by its audience, and alienates himself from the band. July 12, 1986 is the final entry. Following it is an afterward by Rollins describing the effects his experiences with Black Flag had on him and the time immediately following the band’s breakup.
In 1981, his friend Mitch Parker gave him a copy of Black Flag’s Nervous Breakdown EP. Rollins soon became a huge fan, and began exchanging letters with the group. When Black Flag toured the East coast, playing Washington D.C. and New York City, Rollins attended as many performances as he could. At an impromptu show in a bar, he asked them if they would play “Clocked In,” as Rollins had to return to work after the performance. Rollins asked singer Dez Cadena if he could join the band onstage for the song. Unbeknownst to Rollins, Cadena wanted to switch to guitar, and the band was looking for a new vocalist Black Flag’s members were impressed with Rollins’ singing, and stage demeanor, and the next day, after a semi-formal audition, they asked him to become their permanent vocalist. Despite some doubts, he accepted, due in part to Ian MacKaye’s encouragement. His high level of energy, and intense personality made him a perfect fit as their front man.
After joining Black Flag, Henry Garfield changed his last name, and got the Black Flag logo tattooed on his arm. It was to be the first of many tattoos (others are The Misfits’ Crimson Ghost logo and the “stickman” logo of German experimentalists Einsturzende Neubauten). As Rollins became more heavily tattooed, and more built, he wore less clothing on stage, often hitting the stage bare-chested, barefoot, and wearing only a pair of black shorts (Is this where Mike Tyson got it?)
While in Black Flag Rollins began publishing his own books. His early efforts were self-made poetry books, photocopied, and stapled; though he quickly began printing chapbooks before moving on to establish his own publishing company 2.13.61, named after his birthday.
The spoken word version of this book was read by Rollins, and released as a 2-CD/tape set, which won a Grammy in 1995 for Best Spoken Word Album. On the January 1, 2005, episode of IFC’s Henry’s Film Corner, Rollins says the entire Grammy affair was “corny,” and that he gave his Grammy statue to a friend.
In 2004, on the 10th anniversary of this book Henry produced a new version of the book with 50 more pages, and a bunch of Raymond Pettibon’s flyers. It includes extra journal entries; artwork, and an additional afterwards.
The photography in the book are works by Glen E. Friedman, Edward Colver, and Naomi Peterson as well as drawings by Black Flag’s crewmember, Davo. The cover photo, taken by Gary Leonard, depicts a squad of Los Angeles police officers marching on a show on November 17, 1984. The back cover features a Photo taken by Peter Gruchot of the February 19, 1983, show in Munich Germany; the band, and crowd, singing along to “TV Party,” after the PA was turned off.
An appendix of Black Flag line-ups and tour dates starting with Rollins’ joining is included. One of the afterwards mentions a journal authored by Joe Cole, roadie, and published by 2.13.61 titled Planet Joe which offers an alternate recount of the same dates as the Rollins offering.
Rollins met Joe Cole While in Black Flag. Cole was an acquaintance of Ginn’s. They became close friends and, in December 1991, Rollins and Cole were robbed at the home they shared. Cole was murdered by a gunshot to the head, and Rollins escaped without injury; the crime remains unsolved. Most of Rollins’ subsequent efforts have been dedicated to his late friend’s memory.
LIFE WON’T WAIT will be out August 2013, reserve a copy today: http://tiny.cc/rutyvw