Sic By Henry Rollins, 260 pgs.

Mar 10, 2023

I’ve read pretty much everything Rollins has published. Recently his tone has changed drastically, from the gloom-and-doom of the early tour diaries to something more reflective and appreciative, even grateful. His Stay Fanatic!!! books have been a joy, bubbling over with nerdy record collector minutiae. “When I write about music,” he says, “I feel better, so I try to do it every day, in two completely different voices.” It’s been fascinating to watch him change—dare I say mature—after more than forty years in the public eye.

So reading Sic was a jolt. The façade is gone here, as is the music voice that makes him feel better about things. Instead, rage and trauma over the murder of his best friend Joe Cole in 1991, as the pair were returning from a show. Rollins has been up front in his anger about this since the day it happened, and continues here. Passages describe how he would murder the assailants who killed Cole and narrowly missed shooting Rollins. He’ll kill them with his bare hands, he says, murder their families. They are the product of USA. Not the USA, as in United States of America, but USA, something like ’Murica, the gun-obsessed capitalist society of the spectacle that enables murder and consumption.

He, too, is a product of USA. He sleeps wearing his clothes and shoes in case he needs to protect himself or make a quick getaway. It’s shocking to read this, given how much and how hard Rollins works on his zillion projects—the idea that he deprives himself of comfort in the name of being prepared speaks to the PTSD he feels in the wake of Cole’s murder and of abuse suffered as a child, which he gestures towards with more detail than anything I can remember in the past (still not a lot, that said).

The book’s final chapter was the centerpiece of his recent spoken word tour: a chronicle of the mentally ill Finnish stalker who heard voices commanding him to break into Rollins’s house. This happened on Henry’s sixtieth birthday (!). I don’t want to say too much about it here. The reckoning Rollins faces with his stalker—both wearing COVID masks—is foreshadowed a few pages beforehand when he writes “perhaps somewhere along the line I lost the plot and became part of the problem.” Maybe Rollins became USA. Became the thing he loathes. Maybe USA subsumed him—or maybe he did it to himself. Maybe.

Rollins no longer views things as black-and-white as he used to. That things can’t be so cut and dried. He can be consumed by USA and fight against it at the same time.

This book is grim and morbid, yes. But throughout, his prose is some of the best he’s ever written, taut and searing. And the confusion and anger here are unconcerned with feeling better. The fight of the two voices remains—in turns, revulsive, pitiable, searing, and essential. –Michael T. Fournier (2.13.61, henryrollins.com)

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