Two years ago, Henry Rollins’ longtime assistant, Heidi May, suggested that the former Black Flag and Rollins Band frontman write a memoir. He pointed out that he had already published Get in the Van, a collection of journal entries covering his life on the road in the early Eighties, but May reminded him how many incredible experiences happened before and since.
Rollins had to admit that she was right. “I’ve had a very eventful life,” he says. “I got stories that’ll peel the paint off the car and kill your lawn.” Although he was spending his days filming History Channel’s 10 Things You Don’t Know About, he used his occasional free time to write down as many of these stories as he could remember. This wasn’t necessarily a nostalgic process. “My rearview is not the prettiest picture,” he says. “It’s a typical American upbringing with the divorced parents and all of that. You grow up a little quicker than maybe you should, because you’re kind of a roommate with your parent.”
After finishing 75 pages, he called it quits: The book was too painful to continue. He returned to it in 2014, but revisiting these memories left him “almost paralyzed by rage.” Then, earlier this year, May was able to convince the singer to give it another shot – this time, with a new format. The two set up a mic in their office and Rollins began to reminisce on his earliest months in Los Angeles. They released the recording as the first episode of the appropriately titled Henry & Heidi podcast, and two days later, it had been downloaded over 10,000 times.
“I think as it keeps going, there’ll be a lot of autobiographical stuff,” Rollins says. “She’ll be like, ‘OK, tell me about the time you and your mom did this.’ And I’ll be like, ‘Oh, that thing.'”
So far, topics have included his high school job working in a pet store with Ian MacKaye and Black Flag’s early days in the South Bay. We also hear Rollins’ Iggy Pop impressions, May’s jabs at her co-host’s failure to parallel park before an entire restaurant of onlookers and details from the days when he was so poor that he would eat scraps off strangers’ plates at a local Mexican restaurant.
May, meanwhile, is part friend, part tour guide and part audience surrogate. It’s a natural role for the woman who has kept it real with Rollins since she started working for him 18 years ago. Before her first day ended, she supposedly asked her boss if he was “always an ass.” Rollins happily corroborates: “She doesn’t take any shit from me,” he says, and their easy rapport reveals a side of the singer that even words on the page couldn’t. “Heidi does know me really well,” he continues. “We argue about everything, we talk about everything. . .I kind of forget there’s an audience that’s eventually going to hear it.”
Rollins says that the only other person who makes him feel so comfortable is MacKaye himself. “On the whole I don’t really hang out with people,” he says. “I get interviewed a lot, and yeah, I’ll tell you anything. I’ll tell you what I know, but there is a bit of armor up. When I talk to Ian or Heidi, none of that armor is up.” Although he’d love to have the Minor Threat founder on the show, a pair of missed connections with “a very popular host who was on the Travel Channel who went to CNN” have left him wary of scheduling conflicts.
Rollins still hopes to finish the memoir, but right now, he’s enjoying his experiment with broadcasting – even if it’s forcing him to revisit some of those past memories. “I’m not looking to be like, ‘Hey remember me, I’m the old guy from Black Flag!'” he says. “I’m not all that interested in kind of going back to all the battles I lost, ’cause almost every one of them I lost.”