December 29th, 2005


Another book ...

The Wife's eldest nephew (now in his 30's) has been a big fan of Henry Rollins for ages, and he got me a copy of Get In The Van: On The Road With Black Flag for Xmas. Now, I'm a few years older than Henry, and, while being aware of Black Flag, I was never that much of a "fan" (although I did have a couple of their albums), and never went to see them live.

The concept of this books is interesting, in that Rollins starts up a journal where he initially jots down a few sentences about what's going on every day or so, and this grows into longer (if less frequent) postings as the years go on (no doubt aided by having Spin tab him early on for a column). On one hand, it's a rather strange little window onto the history of Black Flag, but it really is more "watch Henry learn to write", especially looking back from a point where Rollins is perhaps better known as a "spoken word" performer.

The book is broken up into yearly "chapters" (with monthly sections that have the various daily postings), going from 1981 when Rollins was simply a fan of Black Flag being somewhat serendipitously added as the new singer (I'm not sure, but he was either the third or fourth lead singer for the band, replacing Dez Cadena who was wanting to switch off to just playing guitar), and on through the end of the band in 1986. It's funny reading it this way, again, from a place 20-some years down the line, as pretty much what he was going for back then was a "blog", but was keeping it on scraps of paper rather than via something like LiveJournal.

Get In The Van is not a comfortable book to read, as it is primarily a vehicle for Henry to deal with his demons, and there is a lot of rage and loathing involved. Needless to say, the boy had "issues", which evolve as the book moves on, but very few get "resolved". This is also a look at what crappy conditions bands like Black Flag had to tour in back then ... he's always hungry, always sleep deprived, always dealing with some physical issue. However, his antipathy for the "straight world" is such that he keeps going back to preferring touring over anything else. His hatred of Cops is a common thread for these aspects, and is another thing which makes this an "uncomfortable" read.

Frankly, I wished there was more "dishing" and less ranting ... the "name dropping" bits come and go, almost off-handed, and it's fascinating (especially for somebody who was pretty much into the Punk scene back in those days) to hear who was hanging with who, who was working on side projects with who, etc. I would think that this would also be a big disappointment for Black Flag fans, as there is more Henry saying "well, fuck them" than really detailing the inner workings of the band.

As a guy who's been "clean and sober" for a couple of decades, it was interesting to watch Rollins process his angst and rage without the "benefit" of booze and drugs (things that he is violently against), so contrary to the "rock & roll lifestyle" cliché, albeit his use of physical pain as a way to process psychological pain is in itself a cliché (no doubt familiar to any LiveJournal reader), which could be argued is as "weak" as using substance abuse to distance oneself from what one is feeling.

Oh, also ... if this sounds like something you'd want to check out, make sure to get the Second Edition (published in 2004) of the book rather than the original 1994 version (not that one would be more likely to run across the older one, but still) as there is supposed to be a LOT more stuff (photos, copies of flyer art, etc.) in this one, as well as the various corrections and text additions that one would expect from a second edition (although, I must admit, I found a good half dozen outright typos in this). Again, this is a book that I wouldn't necessarily recommend to everybody, but if you have an interest in the band, the time, or Rollins (or the psychology of the struggling rock performer), it would be well worth the read.

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The quickest sort of read ...

O.K., so this one is almost "cheating" ... I'd gotten this about the same time as the Dead Sea Scrolls book that I finished (and reviewed) a week ago, but I didn't realize at the time I ordered it that it ... well ... that it wasn't really in English! Yes, the Foreword and Introduction and various editorial bits are in English, but the other 120 or so pages of the book consist of print-outs of 1st Century Hebrew and Aramaic texts ... neither of which I can even begin to decipher! Needless to say, I'd sort of assumed that there would have been some translation involved, but that's not the case, no doubt due to the "scholarly audience" for which A Preliminary Edition Of The Unpublished Dead Sea Scrolls: The Hebrew And Aramaic Texts From Cave Four - Fascicle One was intended.

As anyone familiar with the Dead Sea Scrolls is aware, there are some really twisted "academic politics" involved with their publication. Various texts were "assigned" to a small group of experts back in the 50's, and the vast majority of these texts have not as yet been officially published. This current volume was sort of produced "on the sly", having been based on a concordance of texts which listed all the words in the Cave 4 material (which was all very fragmentary, possibly having been intentionally destroyed by Roman troops at the time of the suppression of the Qumran community associated with them). The concordance, while not reproducing any of the texts themselves, did list all the words in the texts and the words that appeared on either side of them. Obviously, in the 1950's this was a pretty locked-down way of providing some information, but the "author" of this volume, Ben Zion Wacholder, wondered what would happen (in the late 80's) if he fed the data into a computer. Remarkably, a very coherent set of texts resulted from this experiment, and he decided that he would publish this outside the purview of the "official" Scroll teams. Again, there has been a very high level of scholarly frustration with the speed at which the Dead Sea Scroll material has been being released, so, as put in the opening words of Hershel Shanks' Foreword "This is a historic book.", allowing researchers access to materials that might have languished under jealous control for decades or more.

I, of course, don't have the linguistic tools necessary to really make use of this book, but was eager to get a copy, as rare as the source material is. Needless to say, I wouldn't suggest that anybody run out to get their own copy of A Preliminary Edition Of The Unpublished Dead Sea Scrolls unless you are a 1st Century Biblical scholar (and I'd suspect that were you one, you would have already picked up a copy of this in the 15 years since it appeared!) ... but it is a fascinating thing to have.

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