Stay Fanatic!!! Vol. 1

by Henry Rollins

Reading Review by Michael Channing

Stay Fantaic!!! vol. 1 by Henry Rollins

Henry Rollins was on a podcast once, I forget which, and one of the peripheral members of the show seriously thought he could go toe-to-toe on music trivia with Rollins. It was brutal and embarrassing. The guy would say, “Have you ever listened to ______?” and Rollins would say, “Oh, yeah. I saw them do a five-show stretch in Australia.” Then the guy would ask, “Have you ever heard of ______?” and Rollins would say, “They used to sleep on my floor in the 70s.”

But the worst was when the guy said he didn’t understand how people could stand listening to huge, popular bands like Led Zeppelin or Black Sabbath.

Rollins’ reply was, “Then I feel sorry for you.”

Stay Fanatic!!! is a fascinating mixture of listening journal, album recommendations, and history lesson, with a bit of memoir sprinkled throughout. Since the birth of punk rock and independent music in America, at least on the East Coast, Rollins was there at ground level, collecting records, taping live shows at living room parties, and connecting personally with rock royalty. If a band played anywhere in the D.C. area, Rollins was there. But he doesn’t see it that way. From his point of view, whenever he needed it, the music was there for him. Hard time at work? DEVO has you covered. Depression descending upon you? The Stooges will pull you through.

Family may fail you. Friends can change. Music has never let you down.

The book is in journal format, a structure Rollins is famous for, but here he writes directly to the reader, calling us Fanatic. He assumes we are just as dedicated and reliant upon music as himself. Lean in close, fellow fanatic, and look at these cool new 7-inch Ruts singles I just acquired. This one has the name of the record label over the logo. This other one doesn’t have the label name, and the song titles are in quotes. Isn’t that infinitely interesting? He can go on like that for pages, presenting half a dozen or more versions of the same release. Alternate covers, foreign covers, different color wax pressings, typos, reprints, he’s fascinated by all of it. I’m not a record collector, don’t ever plan on getting into vinyl, but I am in awe of his unending wonder at discovering some new version of the same record he already bought five times. He’s always on the scour for something he’s never seen, never bored by minutia. He’s a hunter, an archivist. He’s got records, tapes, test-pressings, flyers, posters. He understands the historical context of every single show and the various movements and eras of music in general. If he likes a band, there is no bootleg or studio record he doesn’t find significant. For some folks, it can be overwhelming, but for Rollins, it’s all important.

You can treat this book as a primer on how to get started in a new, exhausting, and costly hobby. You can also use it as a guide to discover new bands and music. Every few pages, I would do a digital search for one of the bands he mentions. Sometimes, I would take in a couple of songs, appreciate the experience, and move on. But once in a while, I would immediately add an album to my download list or mark the band as a favorite. He’s right about the Adverts. Their final album, Cast of Thousands, is amazing. Lost Sounds has a challenging but melodic new-wave, synth grunge sound. Rite of Spring made one amazing record before disbanding and changing shape. Rollins gives us a history of each band, and when the particulars are unknown, he speculates on their state of mind based not only on sonic shifts of the music, but also on miniscule changes on record labels between pressings. He’s a detective, tweezering through clues and gasping at every new insight.

Rollins may seem stoic, driven by intellectual pursuits, but his listening habits reveal an emotional side I had never seen before. He equates certain albums with seasons of the year. It’s a system he mentions repeatedly throughout the book. Autumn weather reminds him of his youth, before he became a singer. He puts on the songs he first discovered back then and thinks of the people and places that made up his early life. Some of those people are gone. The music of that season is dark and moody to match his inner thoughts. Springtime is for brighter tunes.

Fridays always contain at least one listen to the Machine Gun Etiquette EP from The Damned. He spins that one every single Friday. Rollins says these rituals make no sense, but of course they do. He’s older. There’s more life behind him than in front of him, and music is the thing that connects him with times past, people lost.

Rollins sounds as if he’s obligated to listen to music and sometimes sounds apologetic when he can’t dedicate more time to it. After all that music has done for him, not being there to hear it is a betrayal. He’s not dedicated to music. He’s indebted to it.

Thinking back on that podcast, I realize what truly sets Rollins apart from that obnoxious guy is that Rollins doesn’t for one second believe he knows more about music than anyone. Throughout the book, he calls himself a student, an apprentice. He’s bought at least one new album every day for decades, has met, interviewed, or performed with nearly everyone in rock-and-roll, yet still he admits there is more to know, more to pursue. When someone mentions a band he hasn’t heard of, he takes a listen, and if he likes them, be buys their catalog. He’s open to the strangest sounds. He shouts their praises and passes along new music to anyone willing to try. He doesn’t do it to sound cool. That’s teenager stuff. He teaches what he learns so it won’t be forgotten, so someone else will be blessed, and he can pay off a little bit of that debt.

old timey typewriter

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