Chris DeLine

Cedar Rapids, IA

On Henry Rollins… or: “Why I Don’t Believe in Horoscopes”

Published in Blog, Strays.

Henry Rollins Five Flags Theatre Dubuque

It was a nice day, I’d say, and I’d parked in the below-ground Music City Center lot. Heading north, I walked up the street several blocks to meet my friend for lunch. I had hot chicken to celebrate what might be the last time I might eat it in Nashville… or ever, if I’m being honest. It was good, but was followed with what has become standard consequence for that sort of thing, as the spiciness kept me up at night with a stomach ache. Maybe there’s a metaphor there, for not being able to stomach a thing the city has come to represent; this once-barely known regional dish, adopted on a national scale and branded with the name of a city that has exploded in size and popularity over the past decade. The novelty of incinerating my tastebuds wore off long ago, much as the appeal of today’s Nashville had, as well, I suppose. I still long for the essence of the dish, but my ability to digest it has changed. I walked back to my car, passing the Stage on Broadway, then the hotel across from the Country Music Hall of Fame. Both spots remain landmarks on my timeline; backdrops for meetings and interactions that will remain interesting bits of trivia for as long as my memory serves me. Those stories are for another time.

It could have been later that same day or another close to it, but I decided to walk around downtown to reflect on where we were both at, the city and me. I didn’t recognize large parts of what I saw. Stopping to capture a thought, I wrote a note to myself on my phone, “Trying to find a way to live that is in line with that I need to live.” Another line I added reads, “Thinking about this is an absolute luxury, afforded only by good luck.” If anything might be true of my experience in Nashville, it’s that I had good luck there. 

When I first moved to the city in 2010 I found murals off the beaten path; discovering some in hidden spots, others hiding in plain sight, all representing counter-culture to me, standing in the face of southern tradition. But now there are murals everywhere; each well done in their own way, though most failing to evoke any sort of accompanying feeling. I first landed in Nashville on a whim and when I walked around the downtown area this one final time I felt a sense of completion. Maybe it was completion, or maybe it was sadness. Could be both, I suppose. “I’m seeking closure from a significant portion of my life while simultaneously attempting to articulate why.” There has to be a why, even if it’s forced.

I spent countless hours at the Bicentennial Mall during my time in the city, particularly during the periods where I lived in close proximity; be it my time at Capitol Towers downtown, or my pair of stays at an apartment complex up on Rosa Parks. But there, on that day, it felt like I’d been visiting a city I used to live in. When I first moved to town I’d take advantage of the free admission to the State Museum, when it was still in the basement of the TPAC. How many times had I been there? Hard to say. But I’d only been to the new museum once, since it’d relocated next to the Mall. I was there with M. It was where we shared our first kiss. It’s a special memory.

I sat in the Court of Three Stars, settling in just in time for the four o’clock bells to engulf me, thinking about — of all things — the landscaping. Not the landscape, but the landscaping. All around me it was elaborate. What were once empty lots or barren plots of land, were now spaces overtaken by a heavily groomed gardens, seemingly existing largely to be a manicured backdrop no different than the murals I’d come across. I wasn’t sure what any of it represented to me that day, and a year and a half later, thinking about the city now, I’m still not sure I have a handle on it. I don’t know that it has to represent anything. It was a special time, now made that much more special by the filter through which I’m remembering it all. There was so much pain, despair, and anguish along the way, but time softens those edges, filing them down to resemble something closer to good times. Better times. Times that I wish I had back, despite absolutely knowing better.

The second time I moved away from Nashville I moved to Hiawatha, Iowa, which might be graciously referred to as a “suburb.” It’s a small extension of a small city in a small state planted in the heart of the Midwest. During the few months I actually lived there I got my first tattoo, of a sun, on my forearm. It’d like to say that was January of 2012. It’s faded since then. Maybe I’ll get it touched up sometime, maybe I won’t. I’m not sure what it says about my personality that my tattoos have some sort of meaning for me, but the tattoo represents something. Since junior high I’d been a fan of a singer, author, actor, and spoken word performer named Henry Rollins. At the time that meant I was a fan of the his band, simply enough called Rollins Band. Along the way I picked up several spoken word CDs and committed them to memory. His books resonated less with me, largely because they were probably too much like me. They were too angsty. I liked the escapism of his spoken word stories. He was funny in a way that I understood, and he talked about the vast expanses of the world that he’d been afforded to see. Trips to Russia, to Brazil, to the UK, all producing stories characterizing an interesting life lived by an interesting person. Part of me would like to say I wanted to be Henry Rollins, but that was never true, I don’t think. Henry stayed away from the excesses often aligned with being “in the industry,” but I didn’t have much interest in not drinking until well after the point it was already a problem for me. Like Henry though, I do write. And I wear simple clothing, for the most part. And I’m single. And my hair is no longer the color it once was in my youth. And across Henry’s skin you’ll find several faded tattoos, including a massive sun that covers most of his back. That sun is something we’ve shared for over a decade now. Above his are the words “Seek and Destroy.” Above mine, “Rise Above,” referencing the Black Flag song. The latter felt more authentic to me.

Sometime earlier this year I found out that Henry had moved to Nashville during the pandemic. He’s working on an as-yet-unannounced project, which he’s sunk a good amount of his money into. When I learned about this I felt conflicted. I felt like maybe I’d made a mistake. With zero consideration to the feelings that had arisen during my farewell walkabout, my find focused only on how something was building there, in Nashville, and it was building without me. I’d left my home and moved several states away, back to Iowa, mere miles away from where I’d gotten that tattoo, and in doing so I was now thinking only… what had I done?

In 2007 I saw Henry perform at First Avenue in Minneapolis. It was a spoken word show, not unlike the countless I’d seen on DVD and video or heard on CD since my teenage years. I had a chance to see him perform with a band, not long after first moving to the States, and didn’t go. I regret that with my whole heart, but I can’t say I regret not seeing him the numerous times since then that I’ve missed seeing him do his spoken word thing. The last time I saw him he was touring during the period where a show of his, The Henry Rollins Show, was running on IFC. Right in the thick of being in my music blogger days, an internet friend I’d made at a publicity firm hooked me up with a guest list spot for the show and mailed me a promotional IFC hat that Henry had signed. I was thrilled for both.

Back to a few months ago, where sometime in August, I was sent a link to tickets for a show Henry was doing in Dubuque in October. The idea was, maybe we’d go together. I wanted that so much. She had a Rollins Band shirt she showed me when I was at her house once, and during conversation one night I made a comment about how we could share that signed hat I still had with me, after all these years. It’s one of the few relics from that time I still have, but it felt honest to put it out there. For several weeks I felt like I could see myself with that person. That’s all I wanted. It was sort of manic, the swing, of thinking one day that I’m likely to continue living my days perpetually booking Rollins-eque tables for one, to then being matched in my enthusiasm for a connection which seemed mutual and real. There were so many synchronicities. So many moments that led me to think and feel like this would be different. It felt real in a truly incredible way that I still struggle to describe.

The last time I saw H. was when we drove to Omaha together to see Queens of the Stone Age. Of all the things I think about that night now, it’s wound up in a cloud of insecurity. Take, for example, the shirt I decided to wear. It was a Western style shirt I’d picked up thrifting, but had never worn because it was obscenely too large for me. I decided to wear it that day, to look less basic than I normally feel I look, and countless times I brought up how stupid I felt in it, wearing a button down version of pajama pants. But we were supposed to be just friends by then, anyway, so what did it matter? It mattered because I didn’t want that. I wanted to impress her. In two months we’d gone from nothing to discussing a life together. Then when a few points of conflict and potential incompatibility appeared, the entire thing burst. Next came an attempt at friendship, and I wasn’t sure if I could do it. I took a week to think about it, and during that time I missed this new person in my life. I’d missed texting and talking and sharing moments around the small inside jokes we’d already developed. So I said I wanted to try. And we agreed we’d go to the concert. And sometime that night I realized I couldn’t do it. I spent the entire show hoping she’d turn around and hug me. But she didn’t. And a few days later, in the span of a few brief text messages, it was all over. I felt heartbroken. Losing hope that things could have turned out differently might have been worse than actually losing what was already gone. Regardless, the pain was real. That passion and connection had turned into an equally as intense feeling of humiliation. Why had I let myself go to that space so quickly? Why had I pushed? Why hadn’t I allowed for more space? Why was I so hung up on this? Why didn’t she seem to care? Why was I the one who couldn’t turn it off?

Several days later I decided to go see Henry by myself.

Then, one night in late-October, I got in my car after work and made my way to Dubuque.

I have a few scattered notes I’d hurriedly typed into my phone throughout the show. Some will make no sense to anyone but me, such as “And that’s why I don’t believe in horoscopes,” but most had something to do with H. She’d gifted me a button with a singer on it who we were both fans of: Peter Steele, for the record, and one of Henry’s stories included an anecdote about him. Obviously, in that moment, it felt personal. The list goes on. One note I wrote touched on an idea of balancing a desire for love as I continue to grow older, recognizing that the older I get the harder it is to feel the pain of the break. Not a great headspace to be in to enjoy a show, but something you just gotta work with what you’ve got. I also thought about Henry and me. Why was I seeing him there, now, at this stage in our lives? He had moved to Nashville and I’d moved away, but we were both in the process of investing ourselves in some sort of “project” that we felt we needed to do. It was only in the despair that overtook me a few weeks prior that I decided I should… no, I needed to pursue this business idea I’d casually been developing this year. I needed to try. All the work I’ve done since I was a little kid has somehow, in some strange way, added up to me taking a step toward opening a very specific business in a very peculiar location, and here I was being given a sign that this is where I needed to be and this is what I need to be doing. I will regret it for the rest of my life if I don’t. So, despite the sad boy stuff, at least I had that going for me.

I almost kept walking, but something urged me to stop by the small merch table that was set up in the foyer. I bought a book, stickers, and a shirt I am almost certain I’ll never wear. Talking to the guy behind the table, I just kept looking down, then back at him, saying, “I’ll get this, too.” This will probably be the last time I see Henry live, I thought to myself. It felt like a thank you for twenty five years of parasocial companionship.

I stopped to take a photo of the theater’s window and proceeded to briskly walk toward my car. With every step I could feel it welling up in my throat, then my face began to contract, and before I could close the car door behind me, I began to weep. This was a once in a decade cry. This was an I can’t stop and I don’t even know why I’m crying cry. This was an I need to get out of here so no one sees a 40 year old man sobbing uncontrollably to himself in his car and calls the police cry. I felt grief. I didn’t feel alone, or scared, or any number of other things I could have been feeling. I just felt grief. And out it came. All of it. All at once.

As best I know, no police were called. No one noticed. And I drove home, went to bed, and got up for work in the morning just like any other day.

Onward, as best I can.