It's a tough job. But someone's gotta do it.
Henry Rollins is, of course, the spoken-word performer, writer, fourth frontman of Black Flag, frontman of his own band (the obviously named Henry Rollins Band) and possibly the most controvertial firgure in punk history. He's been criticized as extreme left, consrvative, whiny, unfunny and more, but he has a lot of fans which he completely dedicates himself to, and I mean completely: The man is almost always working on something.
Now, another tough job. From 1981 to 1986 Henry fronted Black Flag, the constantly touring pioneers of hardcore and key force in alternative rock (I mean in the Dinosaur Jr. way, not the My Chemical Romance way), and he kept a journal and notes throughout. So what we have here is the history of Black Flag, 1981-1986, now with added Rollins!
The book gets off to a good start: There's a dedications bit (most notably to Joe Cole, Rollins' best friend who advised him to write the book) and then an introduction of his life in the Washington, D.C. hardcore scene. Him and his good friend Ian MacKaye, future Minor Threat and Fugazi frontman, were taking in bands like Black Flag, the Damned and Bad Brains and through an amazing twist of fate Rollins is induced into the former. A quick move to Hermosa Beach and he's full-time frontman.
This first part, made up of memories interpreted in '94, is the best part. Not only does it show us what some believe is the golden age of Black Flag, it is fat-free and full of great anecdotes, like him and the legendary roadie, Mugger, eating Jello Biafra's food in a restaurant ("he didn't seem to mind at all.")
At first, when the horror sets in, it's shocking: The descriptions of Mohawked, pea-brained punk rockers spitting on them and Gene October, of all people, taking the piss out of them on their tour of the UK is compellingly horrible, and the situation seems to get worse as poverty begins to mean no food rather than simply little money. Also, much violence and aggresion is often caused by the Flag's oldest enemy, the police (or as Rollins calls them almost without fail, "the pigs").
This all makes for a great read until it switches from prose to journal, the journal made by the younger, highly volatile, fragile and depressed Rollins of the '80s. Some of it can be funny, or as cool as ever (the Minutemen's D. Boon shouting "FANATICS!!" at skinheads), but much of it gets repetitive. The formula for a bad show seems to be: went to the show; got spat at; people wanted shit from Damaged; the cops closed it down; and someone else ripped us off. For a good show: went to the show; got spat at; had a little fun with the audience; the cops didn't give us much trouble; met a couple of cool guys, but couldn't really connect with them that much.
Of course, the formula isn't always applied. The book can be less disturbing, or it can be much more. The journal gives coverage of the shed days, when the writer almost went insane. Some of what he scrawled during those days is disturbingly true, some of it just disturbing, and much of it I'm sure even "Hank" no longer understands. Perhaps the tough job I was talking about was actually "reading the book." It's often actively unenjoyable, but once these sections are over and done, he'll surprise you with a great laugh, a bit of cruelty, or a genuinely shocking story. Even as a young man, Rollins was an excellent writer, and he usually delivers well, right up until the end, which is the break-up of the band.
The book also has numerous photographs from Glen E. Friedman, among others, and Raymond Pettibond's deliciously nasty posters and artwork for the band.
All in all, the front half is a healthy five stars, the end about two and a half, and despite its weak patches this is well worth picking up.