When I was a sophomore in high school, Henry Rollins really spoke to me and my friends. Thanks to MTV's constant playing of Rollins Band's "Liar," I felt like I was hearing a song by a guy who could really tap into my teenage angst. Sure, a band like Nirvana supposedly spoke to more people with abstract lyrics, but when I was in high school and was very angry about various matters, "Liar" was intensely personal and explicit. Now when I listen to the song, I really can't get into it. Not that there is a lack of anger in me, but I can't into this kind of expression of anger. That said, I can't underscore enough how important certain other works from Rollins are to me.
After hearing "Liar" so many times, me and my friends were open ears to whatever else Rollins had cooking at that time. Released a short while later, Get in the Van is a collection of journal entrys from Rollins' time in Black Flag. Releasing a book and audio CD with Rollins reading passages from it, my friends and I clung to almost every word Rollins said. My friend Jeff got the CD and dubbed cassette tapes for me and our other friend Drennan. We constantly listened to those tapes on band trips and frequently quoted lines from Rollins. Sure, those were good times in high school, but why are they important to me now? Well, after watching We Jam Econo again last night, I've begun to realize how important Rollins has been to me as a music fan.
In Get in the Van, Rollins describes hanging out with Ian MacKaye, the music of Black Flag, touring with the Minutemen, hanging out with Nick Cave, playing with Bill Stevenson and the Stooges' Funhouse. Prior to this, I had never heard of any of these guys. In the almost ten years after of hearing about them for the first time, I'm just now realizing what all Rollins was talking/raving about.
There was a point in high school where, after listening to Get in the Van so many times, my friends and I decided to listen to some of the stuff Rollins was talking about. I picked up Black Flag's Everything Went Black collection at the local Best Buy and a few months later, Drennan found a copy of Black Flag's Damaged in a small record store when he was on a band trip. Keep in mind, this was well before the Internet could help us obtain any record, so finding stuff like this was a true hunt.
I'll never forget when Drennan (with his copy of Damaged, a portable CD-player and a car cassette converter all on him) played for me "Rise Above" and "Spray Paint" in my car as I drove him home one night. I had heard some punk rock before, but the sheer rawness of Black Flag was way more intense than anything I had heard before. (Yes, this was even more intense to me than Minor Threat.) Since then, I've read Punk Planet's oral history of the band and the band's chapter in Our Band Could Be Your Life. I have yet to hear any of the band's stuff post-Damaged, but I'm sure I'll eventually hear it.
I may now cringe at the sight and sound of "Liar" and many other Rollins Band songs, but I cannot thank Rollins enough for opening me up to so many great bands and records. In my stage of life, I have to remind myself that this kind of introduction is still going on. I'm sure there's a teenager somewhere that's really into Fall Out Boy right now and he/she may be reading a lot of interviews with the band. Somewhere down the line, if the fan is that interested, he/she may very well check out a band like Lifetime or the Get Up Kids. Since the band has spoken highly of those bands, there is a curiosity factor and this is a good thing. I may not agree with this fan's thoughts about Fall Out Boy's music or how cute bassist/lyricist Pete Wentz is, but if this fan later finds a band like Lifetime a life-changing band, I see no problem with this.
Yes, seeing great music that changed your life be watered down to embarrassing levels still sucks (recent example, Cute is What We Aim For), but I can't stop this from happening. I argue that in certain aspects, music for a mainstream audience has to be watered down to a pathetic, brain-washing level. That way, the better the chances are of someone to realize, "Hey wait, this really sucks" and finds something denser. Of course this doesn't happen to everyone, but I look forward to meeting more people like this.