When I hit my formative years, I believe Rollins was mostly in his spoken word phase. I didn’t know anything about Rollins Band or Black Flag yet – I just saw this shirtless old man on mtv, shredded and screaming and intelligent. Most of my brainy musical icons were not aggressive body builders. I can’t imagine Jimi Hendrix or Jeff Buckley stabbing anyone with broken glass. Rollins intrigued.
A few years ago, I started reading and listening to longer-form interviews with guys like Rollins, Joe Rogan, Patton Oswalt, Hunter S. Thompson. I didn’t necessarily agree with what they said, but I wanted to know more about how their minds worked. In many ways, our worldviews were very different. In other, more important ways, I felt like we were brothers. Maybe Rollins says it best in his own book:
In my opinion, it is silent communication and unknown acknowledgment that is best. Like when two people at a record store are both looking through the John Coltrane section and they nod and smile at each other. If that instance could be a language, it would be the one I try to speak every time I write.
After reading Black Coffee Blues, I can safely say that Rollins is a guy I would nod at. (The book was written in the late 80s and 90s, but based on more recent interviews I think it’s safe to say we would still be buddies.) Blues is a journal, a conversation, a poem, a walk, a scream, a ramble, a protest. It’s made up of seven parts, some of which (I think) are fictional stories, some are dreams, and some are journals. The parts that resonated with me the most were his musings on depression and being on the outside. He is bitter at times, but aware of it. At all times he is open. Some favorite passages:
“Sometimes I think I’m from another planet. I bet a lot of people feel like that too. Like no one will know them and that they will never fit into this screaming horrific bullshit festival.”
“Once you have been on the outside, a part of you will always be out there.”
“I’m not close to people, I am close to myself. I spend a lot of time inside.” (Reminds me of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations.)
“I have nothing to say to them. Who is them? Them are them. Them are everywhere. I don’t understand them.”
While many sections of the book resonated with me, culminating in his ode to outsiders, “I Know You”, I had an awful time getting through “124 Worlds”. Some parts of it were pretty disturbing and it took me about a month to get through that initial chunk of book. The book isn’t for everyone, but if you like Rollins or the fringe you would enjoy it.