Dear Henry Rollins,
In a recent interview you expressed concern, like so many of our other socially conscious celebrities, that the so-called “War on Women” was slowing the wheels of progressive permissiveness. It caused me to reflect on why I’m no longer much of a fan. I thought it might be cathartic for us both if I explored the subject in the form of an open letter, something like the one you once penned to Ann Coulter (not that I don’t think she’s a shrieking harpy myself). Since you share your angst with others on stages all across the world while clad only in a pair of skimpy shorts, I figure you’ll have no qualms about this.
Your career started inauspiciously. A number of great punk bands emerged in the early 80s, but Black Flag was not one of them (cool logo, though). Frankly, Henry, the band was at its best when you weren’t singing.
Still, it was during that otherwise forgettable decade that you began to forge something of a unique and compelling persona, committing yourself to physical fitness and acquiring a number of distinctive tattoos, many of them atrocious.
I liked you much better in your 90s phase. You had by then come into your own as a kind of countercultural “renaissance man.” There were books, music (often lackluster), spoken-word performances, and movie roles (mostly bad). But what you lacked in consistency and talent, you made up for with prodigious output and an unparalleled intensity.
It was this intensity that made you a source of fascination for many. It set you apart from your fellow rock stars whom you rightly chided for being weak in both body and mind. As embarrassing as it now seems, I found much of what you wrote back then inspiring. You implored us to “Not be like your parents. To not be like your friends. To be yourself. To cut yourself out of stone” and to “Keep your blood clean, your bodies lean, and your minds sharp.” Heady stuff for impressionable youths.
And you walked the walk, Henry, not allowing success to go to your head or up your nose like so many other “artists.” At the 1995 Grammys you performed in a tuxedo—but barefoot. Even Madonna observed that you’d never forgotten your roots. You were the antithesis of the rock star, the anti-Bret Michaels. You were somebody, Henry, because you were yourself.
But you’ve changed. Henry Rollins, you’ve sold out. Looking back now, there were signs of trouble. When you started being seen publicly with that loathsome loudmouth Janeane Garofalo (”the Tea Party is racist”), it was already too late.
It probably wasn’t a conscious decision on your part, but nobody plays for long with the showbiz crowd and remains untouched. Despite your eschewal of drugs and alcohol and continuing preference for unadorned T-shirts, Henry, you know you’re one of them now.
While you seem to think your political opinions are still perceptive and edgy, they’re mostly recognizable as the default liberal opinions of the LA set you hang with these days. But having read a few books by Howard Zinn or Noam Chomsky does not make you somehow more enlightened than the average Joe with whom you claim affinity but toward whom you actually condescend. At this point you have a lot more in common with Tori Spelling than you do with Sid Vicious.
Maybe you were always like this. Maybe it’s me who’s changed. But whichever it is, Henry, your self-serving stories about visiting the troops through the USO and knocking around the Third World to see how the other half lives—once so entertaining—have become intolerable these past couple of years. The same can be said of the inanities about universal brotherhood you derive from these experiences:
It makes you see humans can get along just fine….It’s governments and foreign policy getting in the way of the global fun to be had.
Your hysteria over contraception and the fact you “feel bad for women” and worry “we’re going back in time” is a facile pose, Henry. If you respected women you might have married one instead of scribbling about your many dysfunctional relationships. You wouldn’t be 51 and still dating because it’s hard for you to be “truly close to someone” or whatever neurotic Hollywood excuse you use.
Henry, in hindsight, it now seems clear that the supposed individualism and self-actualization you made a career out of promoting was only another form of the self-absorption that Malcolm Muggeridge called the Great Liberal Death Wish.
To prevent others from succumbing to that delusion, I think it’s time to ask you nicely to do what you once so crudely demanded of Ann Coulter: Henry Rollins—with all the love and respect due to you—please shut up.
T. R. Bennington
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