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Henry Rollins criticizes on Robin WIlliams, apologizes and gets dissed by everyone

Henry
Henry Rollins‘ recent editorial for LA Weekly titled “Fuck Suicide” made a huge fuss after sharing his following thoughts (read below). Henry noted that Robin’s death will have its devastating effect on his children and stated that people like him “have nullified their existence because they willfully removed themselves from life. They were real but now they are not.”. Read up and scroll down to chek out the developments of this story.

Days after Robin Williams died, I kept seeing his face on the Internet. His death seemed to have a momentum of its own. It went from a sad death of a famous person to “a nation mourns” pitch, which I didn’t quite understand. Sites such as Huffington Post swim in their own brand of hyperbole. They call it news and culture, but often, it’s just content.

I understand why people feel Williams’ loss so intensely. His talent as an actor is not in dispute. His performance in Good Will Hunting is unimpeachable. I wonder if he was tapping into his own deep trench of personal pain to deliver some of those scenes. It was brave and excellent work. 

The more you think about it, the more you remember one great performance after another. Good Morning Vietnam is a favorite of mine.

When someone with this level of exposure dies in this way, it is confusing. An Oscar-winning actor, well-paid, with a career that most performers could only dream of — how could anyone so well regarded and seemingly fortunate have as much as even a single bad day, much less a life so unendurable that it has to be voluntarily voided?

On more than one of my USO tours, Robin Williams had been on the same stage a few days before me. That’s all I needed to know about him. As far as I was concerned, he was a good man. 

But it’s here where I step off the train. I am sure some will strongly disagree with what I’m about to say. And I also understand that his personal struggles were quite real. I can’t argue with that.

But I simply cannot understand how any parent could kill themselves. 

How in the hell could you possibly do that to your children? I don’t care how well adjusted your kid might be — choosing to kill yourself, rather than to be there for that child, is every shade of awful, traumatic and confusing. I think as soon as you have children, you waive your right to take your own life. No matter what mistakes you make in life, it should be your utmost goal not to traumatize your kids. So, you don’t kill yourself.

I know some people will disagree. And I get that you can’t understand anyone else’s torment. All that “I feel your pain” stuff is bullshit and disrespectful. You can appreciate it, listen and support someone as best you can, but you can’t understand it. Depression is so personal and so unique to each of us that when you’re in its teeth, you think you invented it. You can understand your own, but that’s it. When you are severely depressed, it can be more isolating than anything else you have ever experienced. In trying to make someone understand, you can only speak in approximation. You are truly on your own.

Everyone handles their emotional vicissitudes in their own ways. I am no doctor, but I think the brain is always looking for a sense of balance and normal function so the body can operate efficiently. Some people medicate accordingly, in an attempt to stay somewhat even. That pursuit can lead one down some dark paths. Someone who is an addict might not be an “addict” in the pejorative sense but merely trying to medicate and balance themselves.

Many years ago, I lived in Silver Lake with a housemate who suffered from severe bouts of depression. When she wasn’t in her small bedroom with the lights off, crying for hours, she was bright and hilarious. Anywhere we went, we laughed our asses off. She fought her depression with everything from bike rides to drugs, prescribed and otherwise. Years after the last time I saw her, I guess she could no longer keep up the battle and killed herself. No one who knew her was surprised. When she was in her deepest misery, she was unrecognizable. 

The hardest part about being around her was you knew there was nothing you could do to help. 

I get it, but then again, maybe I don’t.

When someone negates their existence, they cancel themselves out in my mind. I have many records, books and films featuring people who have taken their own lives, and I regard them all with a bit of disdain. When someone commits this act, he or she is out of my analog world. I know they existed, yet they have nullified their existence because they willfully removed themselves from life. They were real but now they are not.

I no longer take this person seriously. I may be able to appreciate what he or she did artistically but it’s impossible to feel bad for them. Their life wasn’t cut short — it was purposely abandoned. It’s hard to feel bad when the person did what they wanted to. It sucks they are gone, of course, but it’s the decision they made. I have to respect it and move on.

A few years ago, a guy I’d known for many years hanged himself in a basement. Weeks later, I went to the spot and picked up bits of plastic coating from the cord he used, which were on the floor after he was cut down. I liked the guy, but all I could think of then is all I can think of now — the drawings his kids had made that were pasted up on the walls of his kitchen.

Almost 40,000 people a year kill themselves in America, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In my opinion, that is 40,000 people who blew it.

Fuck suicide. Life isn’t anything but what you make it. For all the people who walked from the grocery store back to their house, only to be met by a robber who shot them in the head for nothing — you gotta hang in there. 

I have life by the neck and drag it along. Rarely does it move fast enough. Raw Power forever.

One of the most interesting articles that criticized Henry’s reckless piece that might misguide a lot of people struggling with suicidal thoughts was Bryne Yancey’s offering through The Runout:

Most punk fans have their own Mount Rushmore, whether they’ve spoken aloud about it to others or not. The same could probably be said for fans of rock ‘n roll, hip-hop, heavy metal, blues, and country music. (This brand of reverence is not something that generally happens in pop music though, because pop music is inherently disposable.) If you haven’t done so already, take a few seconds to think about who’s on your punk Mount Rushmore right now. Joe Strummer, Ian Mackaye, Keith Morris, Milo Aukerman, Joey Ramone, H.R., Jello Biafra, Greg Graffin, Jesse Michaels, Exene Cervenka, Ben Weasel or Henry Rollins might come to mind, among others. Or, you could go newish school and narrow Blake Schwarzenbach, Brendan Kelly, Dan Yemin, Jason Shevchuk, Chuck Ragan, Paddy Costello, Matt Skiba and Brian Fallon down to a foursome. You also could go cross-generational. You can pick anyone you want, is the point. It’s your Rushmore.

Unlike those other genres of music, it’s often very difficult, or perhaps impossible, for punk fans to separate the art of those on their Mount Rushmore from the artists themselves. Because punk is so inherently personal and its artists on such an even level with the audience, the artists’ extracurricular exploits often color the audience’s opinion of their art, whether or not the connection between the two is apparent. If your hero turns out to be a different person than you thought they were, it can taint all of your past experiences with them and simply cancel any future experiences.

And, though I’m sure he couldn’t possibly care less, Henry Rollins complicated the feelings of a lot of fans yesterday with his LA Weekly column. Titled Fuck Suicide, Rollins focuses on the suicide of Robin Williams and the nationwide mourning that ensued in the days following the beloved actor’s death. At first, he’s very complimentary of Williams’ talents and impact on our culture, but then the column takes a weird turn into a problematic manifesto that dumbs down severe depression into some kind of tone-deaf boilerplate language:

But I simply cannot understand how any parent could kill themselves. 

How in the hell could you possibly do that to your children? I don’t care how well adjusted your kid might be — choosing to kill yourself, rather than to be there for that child, is every shade of awful, traumatic and confusing. I think as soon as you have children, you waive your right to take your own life. No matter what mistakes you make in life, it should be your utmost goal not to traumatize your kids. So, you don’t kill yourself … When someone negates their existence, they cancel themselves out in my mind. I have many records, books and films featuring people who have taken their own lives, and I regard them all with a bit of disdain. When someone commits this act, he or she is out of my analog world. I know they existed, yet they have nullified their existence because they willfully removed themselves from life. They were real but now they are not. 

I no longer take this person seriously. I may be able to appreciate what he or she did artistically but it’s impossible to feel bad for them. Their life wasn’t cut short — it was purposely abandoned. It’s hard to feel bad when the person did what they wanted to. It sucks they are gone, of course, but it’s the decision they made. I have to respect it and move on.

The above is the worst fears of someone suffering from depression wholly materialized. It validates their feelings of dread, of unnecessity, of their depression or suicide being of total inconsequence to those around them. These words from Rollins aren’t just grossly generalized and misinformed, they’re callous and downright dangerous.

What’s more disheartening is that Rollins notes in the column that he’s lived with and befriended depressed people, yet his ability to experience empathy for them appears to be non-existent. For some fans of his artistic exploits, this will be a dealbreaker. Those Black Flag records, the four bars tattoos, the WWHRD? t-shirts, all that stuff may be tainted now. But should it be? Rollins’ stance on this particular topic is undoubtedly idiotic, but are we as fans being too naive by accepting our punk heroes as infallible human beings with perfect opinions on absolutely everything? It’s a difficult and intensely personal question to answer.

Maybe there are no heroes here. Heroes are, by definition, noble people with few if any flaws; punk rock, by historical definition, tends to attract weird, flawed, unsure, outcasted people to its ranks as a safe place to be themselves, exchange ideas, rail against the establishment and generally cause a ruckus. I won’t defend Rollins for throwing so much obliviously mean-spirited shade at depression, or Ben Weasel for hitting women, or Exene Cervenka for believing that the horrific UC Santa Barbara massacre was a hoax. Their words and actions are indefensible. But knowing full well the type of flawed person who gravitates toward punk, what exactly should we have expected?

DamagedMy Brain Hurts and Los Angeles are still some of the best, most important punk records ever. Maybe they’re better served as historical documents separated from their artists’ personal psyches. Maybe the artists’ personal psyches, good or bad, need to be taken into account in order to give their work proper context. Ultimately, it’s up to the listener to decide for themselves whether or not they can continue to enjoy the music. That’s the great thing about music: There’s no right or wrong answer, no objective truths. Interpretation and implementation is up to you, but perhaps it’s time we hurl wrecking balls into our Mount Rushmores and resist the urge to rebuild.

Henry apologized…

For the last 9+ hours, I have been answering letters from people from all over the world. The anger is off the scale and in my opinion, well placed.

The article I wrote in the LA Weekly about suicide caused a lot of hurt. This is perhaps one of the bigger understatements of all time. I read all the letters. Some of them were very long and the disappointment, resentment and ringing clarity was jarring.

That I hurt anyone by what I said, and I did hurt many, disgusts me. It was not at all my intent but it most certainly was the result.

I have had a life of depression. Some days are excruciating. Knowing what I know and having been through what I have, I should have known better but I obviously did not. I get so mad when I hear that someone has died this way. Not mad at them, mad at whatever got them there and that no one magically appeared to somehow save them.

I am not asking for a break from the caning, take me to the woodshed as much as you see fit. If what I said has caused you to be done with me, I get it.

I wrote something for the LA Weekly that they will post on Monday.

I wanted to get this out at this moment.

I am deeply sorry. Down to my marrow. I can’t think that means anything to you, but I am. Completely sorry. It is not of my interest to hurt anyone but I know I did. Thank you for reading this. Henry

… and issued another piece on LA Weekly:

As you might imagine, I got a few letters about my recent column about suicide. Actually, it was a lot of letters. For days. I read them. No matter how angry or instructive, I appreciate them all because they were written with complete sincerity, even if some had only two words, the second being “you.”

After reading carefully and responding as best I could, it was obvious that I had some work to do in order to educate myself further on this very complex and painful issue. I am quite thick-headed, but not so much that things don’t occasionally permeate.

In the piece, I said there are some things I obviously don’t get. So I would like to thank you for taking the time to let me know where you’re coming from. None of it was lost upon me.

I cannot defend the views I expressed. I think that would be taking an easy out. I put them out there plainly and must suffer the slings and arrows — fair enough. I won’t attempt to dodge them. However, that doesn’t mean that I can’t be taught a thing or two. I have no love for a fixed position on most things. I am always eager to learn something. I promise that I will dig in and educate myself on this and do my best to evolve. Again, thank you.

In the short amount of space afforded here, hear me out. Like a lot of people, I have battled depression all my life. It’s nothing special, in that it’s too common to be considered unique. This state has made me have to do things in a certain way to remain operational. There have been some truly awful stretches, as I am sure there have been for anyone who deals with depression, that have at times rendered me almost paralytic. Hours pass and I slow-cook on a cold spit. I have likened it to being a peach in a can of syrup yet fully conscious. In an attempt to keep moving along, I must stay in the immediate present tense, acutely aware of everything happening, like driving a car on a highway. If I conclude that I am not citizen grade, I do my best to avoid people so I do not act unpleasantly. No one deserves it. This has kept me in hotel rooms, my kitchen and the corners of gyms. When I have a show that night, it’s minute-to-minute.

One of the only things that gives me a breather is music. I medicate with it.

What has perhaps kept me from seeing things differently about severe depression is that I am sure I don’t have it.

But the power of severe depression was brought up quite a bit in the letters I received. Your anger toward me on this, believe me, I got it.

I serve. That is what I do. It is, to me, the most fortunate position to be in. I have an audience. It is because of them that I get to eat, move — everything. Each member of this audience is better than I am. Braver and more real than I see myself. The only thing I fear besides being misunderstood, which would be my fault anyway, is failing these people.

For decades I have talked to and gotten letters from people who tell me that something I did helped them, or saved them from killing themselves, helped them get clean, stay clean or come out. Never once do I really think that I had anything to do with anyone staying alive, but I get where they’re coming from. All of them are better than I am and it is them I serve.

In my mind, all of this is mine to screw up. While I don’t take myself seriously, I take them with a frightening degree of seriousness. They can take or leave me at any time; they have options. They are all I have and, beyond that, I feel I have a duty to serve them because they have made me better.

I guess this is what makes me wrestle with the issue of suicide, when it pertains to those who have an audience, or kids, or both. I feel nothing but debt to my audience. I will try my hardest, but I will never be able to even the books. If I checked out, I would be running out on the bill.

Like I said, I am trying to evolve on this. I have a picture in my mind. There is a person — one with a family and a huge audience — who is on one side of a seesaw. The family and the audience are on the other side. This person’s condition makes him heavy enough to tilt all of them up in the air and send him to the ground. He didn’t want to go, but the condition outweighed all of them and even he couldn’t stop it. Is that, albeit crudely drawn, basically it?

I understand it is my task to learn about this. It might take a while, but I will get on it. It is my belief about an ingrained sense of duty that will make this challenging, but I am always up for improvement.

I got several letters thanking me for what I said. However, it was the ones that took me to task that made me think the most.

To those I offended, I believe you and I apologize. If what I wrote causes you to toss me out of your boat, it is to my great regret, but I understand and thank you for your thoughts.

Be sure to learn David Foster Wallace’s point of counter-view titled “Infinite Jest” and form your own opinion:

The so-called ’psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ’hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. Yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ’Don’t!’ and ’Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.

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