Phil Lynott’s influence on me: Henry Rollins

The singer, writer and actor on Thin Lizzy’s perfect pieces of music

Thin Lizzy tracks such as ‘Romeo and the Lonely Girl’, ‘Black Boys on the Corner’, ‘Wild One’, ‘Southbound’ and ‘Cowboy Song’ are perfect pieces of music. Thin Lizzy tracks are fully formed, almost cinematic, with big stories, real characters and endings that make you want to hear them again and again.

As a songwriter Phil Lynott brought courage to hard rock, because he proved that by opening up emotionally, by letting your guard down, by not winning, that's actually quite a tough thing to do. Lynott did that over and over. Those songs really stick.

‘Running Back’ is a song that hits like a truck because it’s a brave take on love lost. That’s probably why, for me, it’s the ballads that do it best. You can’t thank the band enough for writing them. The uptempo songs, like ‘Warrior’, ‘Jailbreak’ and ‘Fighting’, are amazing, of course, but the ballads make everything around you stop.

The band was real, which is, I reckon, why they were very much respected by punk rockers. They were as streetwise as any punk could hope to be. A band headed by a half-black guy who had to fight all through his life? That’s punk rock right there.

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Of course, it’s all about perspective. In Ireland he was probably your first bona-fide commercial rock star. The US? This is just what I remember – I can’t back this up with records of chart success – but as I recall it everyone had heard ‘The Boys Are Back in Town’, and maybe ‘Chinatown’, on the radio but little else. It was a while after ‘The Boys Are Back in Town’ was on the radio that I actually heard the ‘Jailbreak’ album. I really liked it.

I didn't know people who had Thin Lizzy albums until I was a bit more grown up. I don't think the band was all that well known in the US compared with other UK acts at the time. Real rock fans got it, but, as for mainstream success, I think that evaded them, which was a shame, because the records are so damn good. Oh – and Philomena Lynott is one of the most amazing, strong and beautiful people I have ever met. She is my Irish grandmother.