Henry Rollins is a man possessed. Of that there is little doubt. The man could have well earned the label of “hardest working man in show-biz,” if it weren’t already taken. Rollins continually strives to do more and more, to make more of himself, to produce more material for his tours, his radio show, his acting career, what have you. He works himself into exhaustion, and asks for little else except the chance to work some more.
He also is a feverish writer, a man who desires to record if not all the little details of his very existence, the central themes which follow him on a day to day basis. Rollins records all of these emotions and musings in his ubiquitous journal, a running chronicle of his fantastically hectic life and myriad experiences.
To that end, he has just released “A Preferred Blur,” his latest volume of writings-turned-ongoing biography, which tells of his life during most of 2007. The book is a fascinating read, if for no other reason than to experience the psyche of a man with many mottled emotions and an impossible work ethic. As he nears fifty years old, Rollins at one point admonishes himself for only performing fifty of a possible fifty-eight nights, at theatres and other venues throughout the country. He finds the weekend nights when he didn’t have a show scheduled to be personally unacceptable. He yearns to schedule another tour into 2008 and work harder.
In Henry Rollins, we see the inner workings of a mind that, if not fraught with conflict, is at least perturbed. He is troubled by the ignorance of those people he comes into contact with, and struggles with the emotional load of the life he’s lead and the experiences he’s been a part of. He abhors the war in Iraq, and shakes his head at the, as he calls it, “cowardice” of the leaders who placed American soldiers in harm’s way. The letters he receives from enlisted men who find themselves entangled in a conflict they don’t understand often make their way into Henry’s thoughts. He feels profound pain for the returning veterans dealing with post traumatic stress disorder. Rollins more than once discusses how difficult but necessary his visits to the injured soldiers in the hospital are.
The murder of his friend Joe Cole in Washington DC is a frequent and occasionally painful topic. Rollins often finds himself in his hometown, visiting with great friends from his younger years, but grapples with depression about the people lost to him in his private moments. Rollins continually mentions having to fight back the sometimes crippling depression that he battles with almost daily. He must, in his words, keep moving, keep working, to make sure that he stays distracted from himself. He is a man who lives alone by choice; he suffocates any feelings of wanting to be around people or spending time with a woman. He largely views people as dangerous and emotionally damaging. I would hesitate to say he fears being hurt or let down, but Rollins is at least a man who trusts only in himself.
In the meantime, we also see a man who, although he puts it in more romantic terms, loves to travel. In the book he sees Iran, Syria, Lebanon, and a small host of other nations. He drinks in their uniqueness, speaks volumes of their people, and talks about how much he enjoys being a citizen of the world-at-large. Were it up to Rollins, I think he would spend all his time on the road, living in hotel rooms, belonging nowhere and having responsibility to no one but himself. He talks to people in every country, shakes his head at the irony of how similar we all really are, and tries to learn as much as he can about the culture and identity of the people he encounters.
The other thing that clearly keeps Rollins on the path is his love for performing. Although he doesn’t speak terribly well of his last “Rollins Band” tour, and admits that the musical portion of his career may be over, Rollins usually has something nice to say regarding the audiences he speaks to, and the everyday people that he meets. He is constantly trying to fix his performance, to trim down and streamline it, to work new thoughts into it, in an eternal attempt to give the audience a better return on their investment. If Rollins could find a way to write in his journal while he was performing on stage, I think he would have nothing but good things to say about being a performer.
Despite Rollins’ emotional protectiveness, the kindness of others who reach out to him or give him an opportunity to shine is not at all lost on him. He frequently writes of how much he appreciates getting to work, of friends who invite him to various functions, and how much joy he gets from watching his friends (be it a Minor Threat photographer or David Lee Roth,) succeed. The single biggest personal event that happens to Rollins over the course of “A Preferred Blur” is when he is asked to be the vocalist for The Ruts in their reunion performance. While Rollins is sad that the event is taking place only because the guitar player (Paul Fox) has terminal cancer and the band is raising money for his family, Rollins is overjoyed to be a part of the entire experience. And when the other band members tell him he could have sang for them in their heyday, it is a compliment Rollins vows to carry with him forever.
“A Preferred Blur” can be difficult to navigate at times, as much of the writing is unedited, off-the-cuff material from Rollins himself, and doesn’t necessarily reflect the smoothness or a more refined pen. Still, that doesn’t take away from the overall effect of the book, as it is not meant to be a story possessed of a beginning, climax, and conclusion. Rather it is the untamed thoughts of a virile mind, and they provide a window through the private face of man who is sometimes tormented by himself.
The book is an interesting, although occasionally repetitive read. Personally, I found that it functioned better as a companion piece to his speaking performance of 2007, as Rollins’ writings provided a rather one-dimensional profile of a man who is anything but one-dimensional. Rollins, through intention or accident, even manages to sneak a small moral into his story, which is that we all should take our part in combating ignorance and become the most intelligent, self-aware individuals that we can be.