Henry Rollins Shares the One Decision that Changed His Life

February 15, 2016

“I don’t have talent; I have tenacity. I have discipline, I have focus.” –Henry Rollins

It’d be hard to miss him; you’ve either heard his music, heard his voice overs, or seen him acting on screen. Indeed, Henry Rollins is known for his multi-tiered career. Although he started as a singer for the punk rock band Black Flag, he moved on to front the Rollins Band, and from there he applied himself to every opportunity that came his way. Rollins has worked as a film and TV actor, host and critic; a writer of books and poetry; a spoken word performer; a comedian; a weekly radio show DJ; and he’s been the owner of a book publishing company and record label.

In this video, Rollins talks about the big break that transformed his career path from an uninspired, limited, low-wage worker into a punk rock star, performer, and entrepreneur. He was Henry Garfield back when he managed a HaganDaz ice cream shop in Washington D.C., often working overtime, and having little money to show for it. He’d dropped out of college to avoid having to go into debt because of student loans as well as wanting to steer clear of the college indulgences of beer drinking and pot smoking. What he loved was music. One night after he had a chance to jump up from the audience and join his favorite band, Black Flag onstage, the band members were impressed with his singing and intense stage presence, and so called Garfield to come audition to front their band. Fortunately, Henry dared to go on the audition, and when he got the gig, he decided to leave his steady job, and changed his name to Rollins.

His experiences in the band opened up many work possibilities including acting gigs. “In the eighties, Hollywood directors started coming to me like, ‘You’re crazy. Can you act?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’m starving, can you pay?'” Rollins was determined to do all he could to avoid having to return to ice cream scooping. He’d take jobs knowing he had to work harder than others with more talent, and understood that his discipline would keep him in the game.

Rollins couldn’t sing, he had no acting experience, and he didn’t have any momentum going for him in any of these creative areas. And yet he succeeded at everything he attempted. He didn’t allow himself the luxury of getting bogged down with fear and doubt; he didn’t talk himself out of anything. Instead he fought hard and applied himself, and repeated as necessary.