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Artist Henry Rollins sells himself for Mercedes. Is it worth it?

For many years, great artists have depended for their flourishing upon the generous patronage of…blah, blah, blah, Leonardo. Give it a rest with the Renaissance Defence. Yes. Of course. We know: all art demands material support for its creation and survival. In this way, it is much like every single part of human life.

Art does not simply occur. No matter how transcendental its intention, the expressive work is produced in the muck of the real. The real, as we know well at Daily Review, is governed by profit. This is not, as many would have it, a natural form of existence. I mean, jeez. If you want to get into this whole “competition for profit as evolution” thing—which I really don’t, I’ve got a new podcast to hate—consider the figure of Bill Gates. Is this the Darwinian Giant fated by nature to dominate all other organisms? Or, is he just some guy who got so lucky with copyright law he was able to park an unexceptional operating system anywhere he pleased? Gates exceptional wealth is as natural as my eyelash colour. (Buxom Midnight.)

Survival of the fittest. Naff off. Do evolutionary biologists even believe this of a natural world clearly formed and changed by extraordinary acts of interdependence? Even if they do, who cares? My point is: there are plenty of very “fit” artistes unable to survive by profit alone. Our globalised market, as employees of Bill Gates’ investment company would tell you after a few wines, does not reward excellence. Supply something great and create great market demand? Seriously. That just doesn’t happen.

How tough must an artist, a writer or any sort of person be not to give themselves over entirely to compromise?

Doesn’t happen with a fizzy drink, won’t happen with an expressive work. Coca Cola will piss in the fizzy drink until it is no longer potable. The work is unlikely to be appreciated or even made in our era unless funded by a patron or a diehard who embrace risk or a private firm fixated by avoiding it.

All of which is to say, artists need money, just as arts review publications do. The acquisition of that money is not a simple matter. A job robs an artist of time. A private firm robs an artist of freedom. Creating “an innovative revenue stream” may rob an artist of the will to live. As for state grants. I’m all for them. But. Sheesh. State funding bodies do seem to form quite particular aesthetics.

So, blah, and, indeed, blah. What I want to say is: art, like all life, is interdependence. No one much gets to make what they want and no one at all produces in isolation. Compromise is inherent not just in art, but in every act of human labour as it is currently organised. But. FUCK ME. Isn’t there a limit, Henry Rollins?

If you’ve not heard of the bloke, here’s a crib: he’s about my age and became initially known as the person who shouted into a microphone to the accompaniment of US punk rock band, Black Flag. As a teenager quite fond of anything that appeared to advocate for the demolition of the state etc, I quite liked Black Flag. I was less fond of Rollins Band, the bloke’s next project, as (a) calling a band after oneself struck me as unseemly and (b) I was by then attending university and so became suspicious that Hank had been reading and interpreting Nietzsche in the worst possible way.

What next, though, for Hank? How can he, an artist whose chief work has been his persona, ever make anything of value ever again?

Henry then began to perform “spoken word”, which is the more brash cousin of “gentle comedy”. I.e. stand-up which is not that funny. A lot of white people I knew liked it. I was v pretentious, so didn’t. Also, I found it a bit hostile to my gender. Maybe my memory is biased, as I understand the man once devoted an entire “spoken word” show to describing my person, both physical and moral, unfavourably. This is what I have been told.

Still. You know. Cop it sweet, Razer. If the guy saw me as a powerful enemy of something-or-other, I have no objection to his public expression of this. I do imagine that the audience were bored. Still. Good on him for his anger. I am also an angry person wont to declare curious loathing in public spaces, even now in my advanced midlife.

But. Would I do it if sponsored by the Mercedes-Benz X-Class? Fuck, no. I mean, sure, it comes with halogen headlights, 18-inch alloy wheels and a covert promise of cure for erectile dysfunction, a widespread problem for persons of our age. But, seriously? The television show and the podcast and the web presence of Rollins the car salesman might make him some sweet cash. It may be his view, and the view of others, that the interviews he conducts on the topic of “toughness” (get this: even women can be tough) is in itself good work. Actually, I will say I enjoyed the conversation with Briggs. But, I enjoy any conversation with Briggs (with Rollins in picture above). The man is not just a fine musician, but a funny and insightful fucker.

READ HELEN RAZER ON WHY ARTS JOURNALISM STILL MATTERS

Let’s even say that this experiment has produced a good work. What next, though, for Hank? How can he, an artist whose chief work has been his persona, ever make anything of value ever again? There are, surely, those compromises in art that can devastate the artist.

The subjects of the podcast, which I presume will be the stuff of the television program, are quite interesting people. And, the idea that “toughness” can be defined differently is okay. I’d say that a musclebound former fan of the bad Nietzsche may not be the ideal person to explore this and maybe the luxury cab of a turbo-diesel vehicle made in a nation whose devotion, inter alia, to its automotive industry put Greece in the toilet of debt forever is not really that apt.

Tell me about your hardship, as we recline together in leather and enjoy the infotainment tablet display made possible by the monstrous Merkel and her surplus-sucking nation-state.

Fuck, Henry. I mean, there’s a limit. I don’t care if Nietzsche appears to be telling you that there’s not, Übermensch. It’s not that I am saying that your choice to actually, in your own voice, recommend a 50K vehicle to persons in a nation of mortgage stress and stagnant wage is morally wobbly. Or, that cheering for emissions is plain wrong. Or that merging heartbreak and real life struggle with the idea of a car is a corruption of what it means to be fucking human, you capitalist serf.

It’s you I’m worried for.

Look. If you need money, there’s ways to find it that don’t detonate your hard-won persona.  Let me tell you some secrets. I once sold low-doc loans to poor people in a call-centre. (Well, I was unsuccessful and got the sack. Still.) I have written copy for beauty product discount vouchers, right up until the point I got that “skin lightening” job.  Once, I attended a “webinar”. I believe this modern term is a portmanteau of “bin” and “God. Help me. I’ve fallen into life’s latrine.” (Perhaps not all webinars require participants to fall first into a fetid pit of despair and next into the PayPal account of some perky American who promises to (a) “inspire content monetization’ and (b) “fuel the journey of your brand”, but this one did.)

I mean, obviously, no one is asking me to flog their luxury ute. But, once, someone did ask me to promote a financial services product on my Twitter account. I’m a fucking classical Marxist living under capitalism, Henry. That’s my “brand”. Even if I had desperately needed the money (which I did) I would have no future means of making money, because I would appear not just as someone who compromises in labour—we all do that—but as nothing but a compromise.

Henry. We could talk about toughness, you and me. I have a podcast, too. I have no sponsor and I cannot pay you. But we could nut this thing out, right? How tough must an artist, a writer or any sort of person be not to give themselves over entirely to compromise?

22 responses to “Artist Henry Rollins sells himself for Mercedes. Is it worth it?

  1. Its a gig. He delivered quality content. Very, very likely he could care less if you like it or not or agree. Thats punk rock. Get over yourselves. The only people you cry sellout are the ones who will never be asked to…

  2. Helen, Helen, Helen. I love you, but it’s very hard, knowing the particulars of your long and distinguished career, to stomach this piece. You know the game – you’ve been on the fringes of music your whole life. You’ve broadcast, interviewed, criticized and adored other people’s music for a long time, which is great – the world needs all these services. But you’ve never actually lived in the trenches, as the say “in the shit”. The loading of vans at 3am, the navigation of endless industry sharks and dopes, the incessant travel, the 300 shows a year grind, the relentless moat-defence of your finances from said sharks, the abject poverty, rejection and all-round arse-fuckery. Anyone who achieves long-term success in the toughest corner of entertainment is doomed to live through all of this on their way to any modicum of success. There’s no union, no career-security, no ombudsman, no recourse and sure as hell no superannuation. It’s a vicious, vile creature that will spit a fella out in ways you couldn’t possibly hope to understand.

    You say good ol’ Hank has compromised his values taking a payday? Let me tell you lady, the music industry is nothing BUT compromise. That Rollins made it this far with his dignity intact, doing things the way he’s always done them for so long, is a miracle in itself. He’s fought the good fight for independent hard-rock while you were allegedly alliterating allegories at an alarming rate, like a human thesaurus with a nasty case of Tourettes, all from the semi-comfort of your couch. Now an older musician is eyeing off retirement age and you want to stick it to him for cashing in some hard-earned chips? With a German car company no less? Come on Helen, it’s hardly a paid Goldman Sachs speech or a Pepsi-So-Woke commercial. Hell, if the aging founder of Black Flag and Rollins bands wants to do a AAMI ad in a ball gown for a little superannuation moolah who the hell are you to say boo. The hustle is real Helen – leave the guy in peace.

    1. Andrew….brilliantly said!! Just imagine Rollins getting his super from KIA or GREAT WALL….that would be unforgivable.

    2. I understand how you may have formed the view that Rollins has worked much harder than me, and everyone.
      I suggest this is a bit of what we might call a rockist view.
      The guy was not raised in poverty. The guy got lucky young to join an already established band. By the time Rollins Band started performing, about thirty years ago now, he had roadies.
      And, dude. If there were ever a time to rake it in with music, it was the nineties. He did okay.
      Me? I earn 50K a year. I work sixty hour weeks. This makes me a pretty typical Australian worker.
      I, like most women of midlife, have eff all super. I own no property.
      Some of this is down to life; I just get paid and exploited as most workers do. Some of it is down to my refusal, to believe that I worked so hard and long (and I have lugged amps for mates, many times, in my youth) that I “deserve” to take money to promote a major automobile manufacture at a time of climate crisis and one of wealth inequality.
      Once, I agreed to do a private gig for Apple. That was twenty years ago. I feel sick about it and if I ever get ten grand to my name again, I’ll give it to whatever entity I decide the very opposite of Apple is that day.
      These decisions should not, IMO, be taken lightly or seen as “reward” for “hard work”.
      And, seriously, if you don’t think it was hard work being a women in a workspace dominated by men who believed (as you do) that their work, of riding around in vans until signed to a major, could never be matched by someone with tits, well, son. I could tell you stories.
      And if you think this guy works hard at all. Let’s go to a factory in the global south.
      All of this Big Strong Tough Hard Working Men Who Deserve to Become Centi-Millionaires shit aside.
      The point of the piece was: does an artist change their work when that work is produced for the purposes of promoting a corporation.
      I say yes.
      If you see this as giving Big Tough Hard-working Hank a “hard time”. Well. Apparently, he’s already tough.
      And if you don’t like me writing, that’s fine. Don’t read it, and dismiss it as the “try hard” drivel etc you see it as. (Although allegories. can’t say I’m big on writing those.) Know that real strong men who believe in true things won’t be impacted by some little pretentious lady.
      But, fuck. Who writes on a couch? And, is my couch as comfortable as the cab of a luxury diesel?
      Doubt it.
      Your argument has sexism so embedded (Men;s Superior Muscular Work) you can;t even detect it and a reflex anti-intellectual strut. You want psuedo intellectualism? Go and watch a Rollins show. I work harder at understanding written ideas than that guys. My muscles are way bigger, dude.
      But it’s not about that, is it. It’s about slavish fanboi love for a guy who gives a shit for little but partnering with big brands and appearing to care.
      DO me a favour. Jog on with your “fancy lady and her thesaurus” and “big tough men who lift amps” shite.

      1. Andrew, Helen

        Seriously, your sprays are becoming a bit Pythonesque: “Yo think you’ve ‘ad it tough lud….blooody ‘ell we only got bath every week by runnin beside steam train with tin bucket to get ‘ot water”…….

        I don’t know Rollins from a hole in the wall, but he looks as if he hasn’t missed many feeds and anyone with tats usually indicates some level of imbecility.

        Mercedes Benz has a proud totalitarian (if not proletarian) history…from making the Fuhrer look good (was it the Mercedes SS?) on his national socialist progress past adoring crowds, to providing superior sets of wheels for gloriously dressed African tyrants and dictators worldwide, to rushing Diana to the afterlife with her Egyptian lover. Surely this is the car manufacturer (apart from the Trabi), socialists all should appreciate.

        If I read my Marxism correctly, artists like Helen, Andrew etc will not have to starve and lug amps and ride in dodgy Transits when the revolution comes….they will have a Grade 2 flat (one level below nuclear scientists), and at least a 250C Merc with salary on the level of senior ministers and they will all have to be members of the Union of Marxist Artists and have all their material approved by a peoples’ committee before publication or performance.

        Any divergence from the approved performance version could put them at risk of being declared an ‘enemy of the people’, which in the Australian context would mean permanent exile to a re-education workshop at the Rooty Hill RSL.

  3. “Oh Lord won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?

    Had the same thought Josie….

    ‘Buxom Midnight’…..AKA Helen Razer……love it. Beats the hell out of ‘Stormy ****’.

    As one who has bought his own Mercedes Benz…ya just have to close the fridge smooth doors and play with the gadgets (one of which allows you to turn right and attack Poland with the Wifi); to know why the Oz car industry died on the vine.

    Having a Geelong Ford which rusted in 2 years and panel joints you could stick a pinky through, just wasn’t funny any more.

    Anyway who gives a rats about Rollins…the last thing we want is him getting the attention of the NRL and doing a Meatloaf at the Grand Final.

    Tell us more about ‘Buxom Midnight’….was it inspired by Midnight Cowboy? You have a whole new fan base of old prostates dying to know.

      1. Mein Gott….a mascara wearing classical Marxist. And all along I was half imagining something akin to a Sally McManus streak of misery in Viet Cong pajamas.

        Please don’t tell me you listen to Marian Anderson’s softly awakening heart while wok-ing the veges; and finish desert having Buxom Midnight smeared by Gili’s sublime Che Gelida Manina?

  4. I never paid much attention to Henry Rollins as he always struck me as more image than substance: the image carefully designed to impress insecure male adolescents of all ages. So flogging Mercedes seems a logical destination. Still, if I had his chin I might have tried the same thing!

  5. There is a backbone to your writing that has never faulted. You are a credit to writing and thought but I only re-read it for the pleasure. I don’t even know who Henry Rollins is.

  6. Helen, this made me laugh (with you, not at you) – I don’t know what a classical Marxist is, but I’m an old (late 60’s) leftie who thought I was drifting further left until I realised that I still had my values and the rest of society was sliding right…… The world is full of self-obsessed, middle-aged white men with tattoos and a gym habit who dress in denim and want more money: Rollins is just another one – when he gets a slot on Fox news the circle will be complete. I like your stuff and Rollins gave you a great column.

  7. Helen well said, it just didn’t sit well, the constant breaks to flog Mercedes. Not the right vehicle come (excuse the pun) for the subject Mr Rollins was presenting.

  8. I can’t see Keith Morris doing this.

    I don’t even really understand it from Mercedes’ point of view. Hank’s cultural capital super saver account stopped accruing decades ago and must be seriously in arrears by now.

  9. Angry people make the world. You and Hank should update your tatts and get a Mercedes symbol on your medial deltoids. Or a Norman Lindsay nude.

  10. Rollins…
    used to hate anyone hassling him after gigs, but now sells post-show ‘VIP packages’.
    once said ‘I want to see what you are without the gun’, but now shoots guns for ‘fun’ at shooting ranges.
    used to work with Drug-Free America, but now supports the sale of dope.
    I understood the Gap ad in the early 90s, as he took the money and used it to fund his book company.
    But he’s been a multi-millionaire for a long time now – wanting the wad for a 5th copy of a promo single with a misspelling on the b-side
    doesn’t cut it.
    Neither do a series of books and slideshows of his cheap holidays in other people’s misery.
    Rollins has come in from the storm.
    It’s over.

  11. You know, I originally struggled with the idea of Henry being the face of Mercedes in a PR stunt – however noble the subtext. But given his usual M.O. – I know that while Mercedes are paying him to travel and meet interesting enough people – he’s collating amazing new material for his own shows etc, and I get to benefit from that. And hell, Henry has never shyed away from the fact he’ll do anything for a dollar – and the fact he does that extremely well, isn’t his issue – it’s yours.

  12. If you had a bad experience at one of his shows I feel sorry for you. But don’t you have anything better to do with your time? What’s the point? He likes to travel. That can be pretty expensive these days. You can still make a legal living promoting things other than yourself. He’s been doing it for years. This article seems petty and shallow. If he’s not your cup of tea,let it go.

    1. If you had a cut-price international travel disaster once, I feel sorry for you. But don’t you have anything better to do with your time than defend the promotion of luxury vehicles? What’s the point? I like to point out the contradictions of capitalism. That doesn’t pay well these days. (Or ever.) It’s difficult for most people in the world to make a legal living under present labour conditions. But, we’ve been doing it for years. Your love of a coercive market and empty promotions that take real stories of human heartbreak and wed them to high end cars seems pretty shallow. If finding a better way of organising life on this planet is not your cup of tea, let it go.

      FFS. Read it again, mate.

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