How Henry Rollins gave up scooping ice-cream to be a full-time punk

Henry Rollins makes an appearance in the Big Think video series, explaining how he came to quit his job at the Haagen Dazs to sing for Black Flag. Jason Gots writes on Big Think:

That was 30 years ago. The years Rollins spent in Black Flag launched his career as a musician, writer, and performer. He seized the opportunity, ran with it, and numerous albums, books, films and tv shows later, he's still running. Rollins says of the Black Flag audition that he "won the lottery." Ok, the timing was lucky. But it was Rollins' energy as part of the DC punk scene (while working those day jobs) that earned him Black Flag's friendship, which got him the guest-spot, which got him the audition. And a less humble, hardworking guy might very well have burned out after a year on tour and ended up at rehab, then back at Haagen Dazs.

Instead, Rollins took calculated risk and decisive action at the right moment, then committed fully to making the most of the life he'd chosen for himself. And instead of resting on his laurels, he's continued to learn, grow, and reinvent himself. That's what makes him heroic. What Kahneman's studies don't tell us is which of those once-aspiring actors worked tirelessly to create, then seize opportunity, nor how many of those failed entrepreneurs picked themselves up and went on to succeed in other bold ventures.

Henry Rollins: The One Decision That Changed My Life Forever


  1. I love that guy.

    As a leadfooted young moron in college, I came within an inch (literally) of running him over with my car in the underground parking lot of the old Virgin Records on Sunset Blvd. I am so, so glad that didn’t happen. (Although at the time, the glare he shot me made me almost wish I’d finished him off, just for my own safety.)

  2. The day that self-promoting anti-union jarneck jock became part of Black Flag is the day I gave up on hardcore and started listening to Devo.  Literally.  Nothing bugs me more than machismo borrowing the guise of anti-authoritarianism to gain street cred.  But I am thankful to Rollins for pushing me out of adolescence and into music that continues to intrigue me:  Talking Heads and Mission of Burma are two good examples of bands that matter.

    1. Wait, I’m not protecting Rollins (I know absolutely nothing about the man) but I’m trying to find some kind of reference to how he’s anti-union. So [citation needed]?

    2. His first LP with BF, “Damaged”, is their best album.

      That said, should I hate him because he’s a “jar neck”?   The previous BF singer (Dez) was a “pencil neck”, so I guess you just can’t win.

    3. Using “self-promoting” as an insult against a performing artist is like insulting a fish for swimming.

    4. Talking Heads and Mission of Burma are two good examples of bands that matter.

      “Bands that matter.”  Pretty sure I can safely ignore the opinion of anyone who uses that phrase earnestly.

  3. I like how in the 70’s/80’s you could tell your boss that you have a chance and he’s okay with it.  Where as now you’d be banned from working at that company ever again.

    1. I resigned my position at Wolf Camera more than six years ago to finish a fuckdiculous art degree and my boss was totally okay with it. This was even after he’d spent more than a year training me to be a manager and lab tech. Of course, right after this the company went bankrupt and closed most of their locations, but he was still surprisingly decent about it. 

  4. Ahh, Henry Rollins, that middle-class offspring who bunked off, got a one-in-a-million lucky break playing with a hardcore punk band, and then used that cred to help Apple sell computers.

    Truly an inspiration to us all.

    Nah, scratch that.  Screw Henry Rollins.

      1. Errm, I don’t have a career in music.  I’m just not particularly fond of Henry Rollins.  Problem?

        1. Snarky moderator will snark. And I’m not above it either.

          BTW, I was impressed by Henry’s whole “The Iron” thing, about how working out is the ultimate expression of your individuality because there is nobody else involved. Until I realized that there are 500,000 overmuscled bohunks strutting around L.A. who have accomplished buffness and little else. Most of them can’t write as well as Henry, granted.

        2. Problem?

          Seems like an awful lot of bile toward someone who has no effect on your life.  Did he run over your dog?

  5. Big fan of Black Flag & admire Henry Rollins a lot, but the story he tells here about going to his Häagen-Dazs manager and his manager giving him approval to quit the job is a bit off.  In the book “Get in the Van”—which basically chronicles his career in Black Flag—that quote, “It’s your shot. Take it.” seems to be attributed to Ian MacKaye.  I mean, maybe both quotes are true and both his manager and Ian MacKaye said that to him, but just thought I’d mention it.

      1.  Hmmm… So that makes sense.  Still a cool story. And anyone who cannot relate to the concept of someone with little to nothing taking a chance to be something is really disconnected from reality. He did more than most people & did it well.

  6. I don’t believe this – are we really supposed to be in shock and awe because a 19 year old working at a 14 year old’s job bravely jettisoned his career in food service to join his favorite band? We are supposed to view this as taking a big risk? I mean, what was the worst that could happen? He might have been banned from the ice cream industry forever? 

    1. Is someone asking you to be in shock and awe? Not every story has to be “I escaped Somalian warlords and now run a multi-million dollar NGO saving 10,000 lives a year” level to be nice to listen to or inspirational on some level. In part, the guy is a story-teller.  What young person can’t relate to that post-HS time?  To some people, dropping everything to hop in a van with strangers and travel across the country is no big deal.  For others it would feel like a big leap, something they’d never work up the nerve to do.  It’s a pep talk about a guy who rolled the dice on an opportunity and worked it for all he could.  That’s all this is.  

      1. “Rolled the dice”? My point exactly. He would have been doing himself a favor to exit the ice cream shop for any conceivable opportunity. The story is clearly phrased like the “successful Wall Street investor gives up seven figure salary to paint watercolors.” A better match for Henry’s story might be “college dropout bails on dead-end job for touring in a band with unlimited bootie calls”.

        1. How many times have you had to choose between feeding yourself and paying rent?

          If the answer is “zero” then what a coincidence.  That’s also how much credibility you have second-guessing broke people with low-paying crap jobs.

  7. Most of us already know this story.  Rollins has always bothered me on so many levels, I don’t know where to begin.  His attitude and his own opinion of himself were hard to see around.   I could never stand to listen to Police Story because Rollins sounds so phony on it.  He wasn’t even present for the harassment he was singing about.   Either way, he couldn’t really sing, but didn’t have a problem rendering what he considered the definitive opinion on other singers.  If he kept his opinions mostly to himself and practiced a bit of humility, I might have been able to stomach his presence in what was otherwise the penultimate punk rock band.   My opinion is that Rollins was, and is, nothing more than an unjustified, puffed up douchebag asshole.  He proves this every time he opens his mouth.

    1. I’d argue that he appears both humble and genuine in this piece. If I had to label someone a “douchebag asshole”, and had only your post and his interview as reference material… well, it wouldn’t be a difficult decision.

  8. Self-mythologizing: what happens when you’re not quite as huge as you think you ought to be.

    Me, I brought fire to humanity. MY FRICKIN’ LIVER, OI!

  9. I agree. I enjoyed the story and the way he told it. He seems genuinely grateful for his good fortune. Go Henry!

  10. Hey Cory, it would be nice if you would credit our writer, Jason Gots, who wrote 99% of this article.  You literally cut and pasted it from

    1. While there would have been nothing wrong with adding the writer’s byline, I kind of got the idea from the blockquote, the hyperlink, and the attribution to the site.

  11. Wait, so he  dropped out of college because he “didn’t want to hang out with people who were enraptured by stroh’s beer and marijuana,” and instead got a job at haagen daaz? Doesn’t that seem kind of counterproductive?

  12. I think the guy’s a real inspiration and always it’s great to hear his stories, but he tells the story of joining Black Flag so much better in Get in the Van. Forget the book, listen to Henry himself narrate the audiobook. It was made nearly 20 years ago so he was still angry and nihilistic and there’s not much sentiment or romanticizing in the stories. It’s also a great document of punk and hardcore from the 1980s. Henry is so multifaceted and hardworking, I hope he keeps creating and staying busy for years, the world needs many more like him.

Comments are closed.