Why Henry Rollins Says He'll Never Return On Stage With A Band

When the LA Hardcore band Black Flag invited 20-year-old Henry Garfield onto the stage to sing with them during a show in New York City in 1980, his world and that of the band would change forever. Garfield, a manager at a Haagan-Dazs ice cream shop in Washington, D.C., had befriended the band's bassist, Chuck Dukowski, and invited them to stay at his parents' house while they toured, as told in the book "Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground."

The band was impressed enough to invite him to audition since their current lead singer, Dez Cadena, was looking for an exit from lead vocal duties in order to concentrate on rhythm guitar. Soon after they invited Garfield to join Black Flag. Henry Garfield became Henry Rollins and his manic and aggressive stage presence and singing style that went from speak-singing to raucous screams helped shape and define California Hardcore and eventually rock music. As dramatic as Henry Rollins' initiation into musical history was, his decision to leave it behind was just as dramatic and abrupt.

Rollins woke up

After the break up of Black Flag in 1986, Henry Rollins went on performing with his Rollins Band through the 1990s and into the 2000s but even then the singer had begun branching off into spoken word, writing, and publishing. By 2006, he'd drifted from music. "I stopped processing ideas in terms of lyrics," he told The Guardian. "One day, I woke up and thought: 'I'm done'." This was a surprising move from a man who told the music producer Rick Rubin on the podcast "Broken Record" that the first things he bought with the money he earned from a paper route as a teen were records. "It wasn't candy. It wasn't drugs. It was music," he said.

The decision to quit the music business didn't sit well with his manager but Rollins wouldn't be dissuaded. "I called my manager at the time and I said, 'I'm done with music'," he told Rubin. "He was, like, 'No. No.' 'Yes'."

A younger man's game

"I didn't want to become a human jukebox playing old songs, so I filled the space the band took with films and TV and now my shows, my radio show, and writing," Henry Rollins told The Guardian. And while he felt some older rockers like the Rolling Stones or Iggy Pop can still pull it off, not everyone can. "The rest of us? Please," he told the News-Press in 2011. "These bands that go out and play 35-year-old songs? Good for them. But I don't wanna."

Rollins mused during his interview with Rick Rubin that there are "two different schools" when it comes to aging in rock, either giving fans what they want or following your own creative path. "If they happen to like what I'm doing, cool," he told Rubin. "If they don't, they can bite me." Rollins, who is now in his 60s, told Pitchfork he is "only interested in what I can do. I can think, I can write, I can travel, I can go onstage and talk, I can act, I can have a radio show. These are my things now. And I'm okay with that."