Henry Rollins: Alone in a Crowd

On September 29, 1984, photographer Greg Blair saw Black Flag play at the Lawrence Opera House in Lawrence, Kansas. It was his first time attending a hardcore show, so as Blair recounts, he was taking it all in as he walked around the venue that night. As one of the opening bands played, he ran into a young Henry Rollins, sitting by himself before Black Flag’s set:

I saw Henry Rollins sitting at a table before the show, looking at the crowd, kinda brooding. I went up to him and told him that I’d gone through a heartbreaking experience (I got dumped) and that I’d listened to the Black Flag song, “I Love You” over and over while drowning in self-pity (well, that’s not EXACTLY how I said it). I wanted to tell that to a member of Flag if I ever met one, so I did. He said, “Yeah, Chuck (Dukowski) wrote that one.” Not one of Henry’s songs, oops. I asked him if I could take this picture, and he said, “sure.” So here it is. He looks kinda lonely. He also autographed the book of his poetry I bought that night.

Blair’s story reminded me of my own experiences going to metal and hardcore shows in the weird isolation of Western Pennsylvania’s suburbs throughout the late 1980s and early to mid-1990s. Particularly my experiences at a club called City Limits, which was located in a strip mall outside of Pittsburgh in a town called Penn Hills. For a kid obsessed with metal and hardcore, it was a dream to be able walk to shows from where I lived nearby. I could buy an issue of Metal Maniacs at the drug store next to the club and, sometimes within hours, be able to see one of the bands that was featured in the magazine.

At City Limits it wasn’t unusual to see members of bands like Corrosion of Conformity, Sepultura, Napalm Death, Kreator, or Sick Of It All standing around waiting to play their sets. Often you’d see them hovering near the merchandise table at the back of the club, or sitting at a table in the corner, much like Rollins in this picture. I always imagined the backstage accommodations at City Limits were pretty abysmal, like much of the club, a reality that probably pushed band members out into the crowd as a way of feeling less confined (and perhaps less depressed). Being so close to the bands was also a reminder that the metal and hardcore scenes were far more intimate and close-knit than the arena rock of the time.

(Photograph: Greg Blair. Caption: Black Flag at the Lawrence Opera House in Lawrence, Kansas.)