Author: Henry Rollins
Title: Get In The Van
Destination: USA, Canada, UK, Germany, Switzerland, Italy
Length: seven years
Gimme Gimme Gimme
The story: We’re in Washington, D.C. around the year 1980, and young punk enthusiast Henry Lawrence Garfield gives himself a new last name, thus becoming HR. His favorite band Black Flag asks him to become their new lead singer, which he accepts. They record the album „Damaged“, and it goes on to become a milestone in the world of hardcore punk. Over the next half decade, the band makes a few more records, they go through several line-up changes, grow their hair long, change their musical style and tour extensively. Their shows take them through the United States, Canada and parts of Europe. This book is HR’s tour diary. It’s about what he sees and how he sees it, about his feelings, about the music, the shows, girls, etc.
Why I can’t read this in a normal way
Black Flag, or rather their album „Damaged“, has always been special to me. In 1993, when I was twelve years old, I had exactly four CDs:
MC Hammer – „Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‚Em“
„Last Action Hero“ OST
Madball – „Set It Off“
Black Flag – „Damaged“
I loved every one of them. Back then, it was all new to me. I didn’t know that Black Flag had been disbanded for several years, and I didn’t understand much of what their songs were about. I could feel their energy, that was enough for me. Even today the intro to „Rise Above“ still gives me goosebumps. I am telling you this because I don’t think I can be dispassionate when it comes to this book.
What’s good about Henry Rollins‘ writing
I went and got the print edition, even though the audio book read by HR himself was apparently a bigger hit with both critics and fans. I guess I like reading better than listening to someone read. Also, the book is filled with tour posters and photographs from the shows, and I wanted that, too.
The book was good, especially the first half. Young HR is an angry guy who likes Henry Miller. His diary entries are short, sometimes even too short, and he is not shy to share his opinions about things. That means if he runs into someone he doesn’t like, he is going to tell you. If he behaves like an asshole, he is going to tell you. In fact, HR seems to crave physical violence, and he tries to go all out during most of his shows.
Much of his earlier writing transports this kind of energy, and the way he makes fistfights come alive in his writing has an almost surreal quality. I liked reading about the hardships of the early days of touring. It made me feel as if I was there, with HR and Black Flag, particularly during the first half of the book.
What’s not so good
The second half was where it got a bit repetitive. HR’s diary entries got a lot longer at that point. Sometimes he just seemed to be rambling on about some of the bigger or smaller philosophical questions in life, and I found myself peeking at the next pages, trying to find out if there were photographs that would speed things up a bit. In other words: I got bored. Also, HR comes across as a narcissist, a person who is constantly at odds with everything and wishes the world to revolve around him. It seems a bit like in the Black Flag song „Gimme Gimme Gimme“ actually. And while this might make for some pretty good punk show material, it gets tedious if you have to read about it for hundreds of pages.
Okay, I’ve told you some of the things that I liked about this book and some that I didn’t like. If you are into early eighties hardcore punk, then this is your thing. If you are going to read it like a travelogue, which you can since it is about HR and the band constantly touring, then you’re probably going to find it rather average. I would have given it a five or a six out of ten. But then, it was about Black Flag.
So for me, it will always be a good 7/10.