Occupants by Henry Rollins – A book review

Although I never got to see Black Flag during its glory days, I did catch several of singer Henry Rollins’ early spoken-word shows around L.A. as well as many of the Rollins Band’s first gigs. Sweaty, smart, and life affirming. Many punks griped when he signed to Interscope and started showing up on Gap billboards, but I thought it was rad of him to take such deals and start a book publishing company with the dough. Cole, Cave, Selby–what could be cooler than publishing your friends and heroes, not to mention your own words? That seemed like a stretch for the the buff, tattooed, long-haired/shaved-head frontman but he’s gone even further since then. Acting in movies. Raising funds and attention for the West Memphis 3 (I finally did see him sing Black Flag songs at Amoeba promoting that particular record). Hosting a cool talk show. Starting a must-hear radio show. Writing a compelling column for the LA Weekly. And now publishing a coffee-table book of photography.

The thick and luxuriously-printed-but-fairly-priced hardcover Occupants collects many of the photos taken by Rollins over 25 years of traveling. Some are from business trips–spoken-word tours, USO gigs, and whatnot–but most appear to be from being a tourist. While many musicians just want to stay home after getting in the van time and time again, Rollins seems to be at home while on the road and totally fine being a white minority. (The result of living in a shed?) In the introduction, he admits that he is no expert photographer and says that his images have improved along with his gear. To make them worth printing, he says, he includes essays. They range from autobiographical recollections to tangential thoughts to abstract ideas, but all have a strong sense of narrative. There is a section of captions at the end to address the actual subject matter.

Those seeking punk rock photography should buy Ed Colver‘s book. Occupants images include bootleg Black Flag shirts in Indonesia (above) and a portrait of Jimmy Pursey (Sham 69) singing for his new band in England, but beyond that the only trace of punk is the no-borders mentality, open-mindedness, and questioning of authority, mass marketing, and groupthink that characterized the earliest and best punk rock and hardcore bands. Execution isn’t the point; it’s humanity which is represented in full glory from North Korea to India (the first and last images shown in the post) and all around the Middle East and Africa. Like his music, Rollins’ photography is singular in its focus, opinionated in its presentation, and powerful in its delivery. Worth checking out and signed by the man for early buyers (like me).