Sentimentality and Sincerity: Morrissey vs Henry Rollins

by on Feb.06, 2012

To give yet another spin on the sincerity/sentimentality rhetoric I discuss below, here are two interesting cases:

Rollins reaction to the Morrissey video is pretty extreme (horrific, xenophobic, homophobic, stupid, yes that too): it seems the intensive vulnerability, intensive artifice (polyester shirt, English), intensive “sentimentality” of Morrissey “inspires” this horrific fantasies in Rollins, who is supposed to be such a sincere and intensive guy, but here proves to be totally taken in by Morrissey’s “orbit.”

In difference to the article I discuss in the last post, here sincerity is masculine and supposedly anti-sentimental, while artifice and its netshirts and makeup is sentimental, and by being sentimental inspires a kind of violence, but a kind of violence that exposes the charade of Henry Rollins’ macho persona. Maybe this complicates the framework of sentimentality and intensity a bit. Or maybe it’s just fun to look at youtube clips from the 90s.

(I should admit that I’ve been a Morrissey fan since I was like 11, but I’ve never liked Rollins.)

9 comments for this entry:
  1. Johannes

    I keep thinking about the netshirt as a kind of medium: it’s what seems to bring poor Henry into the video, and it’s also how he envisions damaging Morrissey. Something about that texture reminds me of film.


  2. alex c

    You do realize that Rollins is speaking tongue-in-cheek, right? He’s hyperbolizing to call attention to Morrissey’s own hyperbolic melodramatic persona. If you’re into Morrissey, then maybe that’s offensive, I dunno. I think it’s funny and laugh with Rollins. Morrissey is an even bigger windbag than Rollins could ever be.

  3. Johannes

    Thanks for the comment. I sort of agree with you. I’m sure Rollins thought he was being “tongue-in-cheek” about Morrissey’s “hyperbolic melodramatic persona,” but I tend to see it in the model of “orbits” that I’ve been writing about on this blog. The thing that makes Morrissey objectionable to Rollins is Morrissey’s “melodramatic” and all around hyperbolic “persona” – that is to say of the artifice of his image. That’s why Rollins pays so much attention to the net shirt and melting the net shirt etc. That’s of course also very un-masculine, a feature which in Rollins macho-US cultural norms blends into the foreign as well.

    But while Rollins may have meant to be sarcastic, to me he comes off as somebody who has been brought into Morrissey’s “orbit” – through the means of the mediumicity of Morrissey’s artificial image. The result is that he loses the kind of agency that your “tongue-in-cheek” reading implies; to me he begins to participate in MOrrissey’s artificial world: he imagines being the director of the video, imagines a different ending, and that ending is a highly staged/artifice-y travesty of Rollins’ own dull/”sincere” machoness. But also: his cruel alternative ending is more interesting than pretty much anything I’ve ever read/heard Rollins say/write.And in that regard, I guess I thought the clip was funny as well.

    I also disagree with your suggestion that Morrissey fans wouldn’t realize that he’s melodramatic. I’ve never met a Morrissey fan that didn’t realize that; that didn’t in fact appreciate this “sentimental/melodramatic” aspect of his image/orbit. Also, when I called myself a “fan” of Morrissey that’s me entering into the melodramatic world of Morrissey since I haven’t bought a Morrissey record since around 1990 or 1991; but talking about Morrissey kind of makes one want to use words like that.

    Ie if Rollins is “calling attention to Morrissey’s own hyperbolic melodramatic persona” he is doing the most obvious thing in the world, something Morrissey does all the time to the hilt! Does that really need to be pointed out? His persona is very much that of the “windbag” – so what is Rollins really doing?

    There’s also somethign interesting about “sincerity” going on here (and going back to my previous post about sentimental poetry) – Rollins whose appeal is based on this simplistic idea of sincerity, and how this clip exposes this “sincerity” and its hatred of artifice as being in league with homophobia and xenophobia. But most interestingly, this clip shows how Morrissey’s artifice seduces Rollins into losing the very individualistic/autonomous model of personhood that Rollins and much of his era of alternative music espoused. I wrote about the book “Our Band Could Be Your Life” a while back. That book is a kind of collection of case studies of indie music from teh 80s and Rollins and Black Flag is the key trope-generator – and the book is all based on this simplistic idea of the true, honest, sincere band that stands up against capitalism – and importantly “mopesters” and “hipsters” who listened to depressing British music.


  4. S

    Watched this video twice and I still don’t understand where you’re getting “homophobic” from…Rollins is a macho stereotype dude for sure but suggesting that Morrissey is “hyperbolic” or “melodramatic” or making fun of his shirt hardly suggests that he is making a homophobic statement.

  5. Ryan

    I don’t know, there are certain markers here (like dog whistles in politics) that have often been stand-ins for homophobia, and fear of “sissies.” Rollins suggests Morrissey would wet his pants and cry and generally be overtaken by the more Masculine Male, Rollins. This notion of masculinity seems very narrow, and speaks to a “hetero-normative” aversion to “sissy” traits. While this doesn’t read as outright homophobia, it does incite others to violence against gay men and women. Rollins’ words are no different from those of a schoolyard bully. It’s not a coincidence that bullying targets the weaker “sissy” because it’s the sissy who is perceived as abnormal. An example: (Male) Bullies never tease other (male) children for their masculine traits. The sissyness is directly tied to the assumption that the subject is not normal. [It’s the same thinking that links assertiveness in women with “bitch,” and then seeks to marginalize that assertiveness, e.g., “It’s just not the way women should behave,” etc.] So it’s this perception of “weakness” that most bullying reduces and vice versa. Furthermore, this same interpretation of weakness leads Rollins to believe that he would actually be able to overpower Morrissey, to eradicate and stifle him, to erase him out of existence; it goes without saying that Rollins’ privileging of his own masculinity over that of Morrissey’s is deeply troubling.

  6. Ryan

    Sorry, a correction: “So it’s this perception of “weakness” that most bullying reduces and vice versa” should read: So, this narrowing of masculinity reduces “weak” to “gay and vice versa.

  7. Johannes

    Great response Ryan. Yes, Rollins doesn’t explicitly say “Morrissey should be brutalized because he’s gay” but he certainly seems to imply it.


  8. Hans Meiser

    Henry Rollins is gay.

  9. Dub

    I think Morrissey is simply more introspective and spiritual than a guy like Rollins. Rollins is just your typical limbic jerk, who decided life just feels better if you just: go to that rave, smoke that weed or cigarette, have a drink etc. etc. etc. He just a guy that doesn’t like to ‘think’ or really ‘feel’ too much. So, maybe Rollins has more of an escapist mentality than Morrissey. Morrissey calls a spade a spade. American culture hates malcontents anyway, that’s part of the reason that lug head doesn’t like Morrissey. Morrissey’s a tour de force in the opposite kind of way that Rollins. He likes that aggressive rock, so he’s the other kind of tour de force. Morrissey made the so called “weak” character traits a tour de force in his music. It’s powerful; and a guy who’s got a bully mentality can not dam stand that. It’s his complete nightmare. He probably really does hate Morrissey. That’s all right, I hate Rollins.