When the last parcel I sent to Lou was returned, I assumed I had gotten the address wrong. I'm bad about that. So I set the thing aside and made a mental note to check it against the information I had on file, maybe give him a call to see if he'd moved. I let a couple of days pass. Then I looked closely at the "undeliverable" postal stamp, at the box marked "deceased." Fuck.
I considered that it might be an error, but when I contacted one of Lou's few acquaintances the news was confirmed ("I'm afraid rumors of Lou's death have not been exaggerated at all").
Well, fuck. There was unfinished business. There always is.
Lou Rollins, better known to his small but devoted readership as "L.A. Rollins," was probably the least sentimental person I have ever known. When we were putting together The Myth of Natural Rights and Other Essays he sent me an obsessively comprehensive list of acknowledgments to close the book, but when he discovered that one of the people on his rollcall had died (I believe it was Samuel Konkin) Lou was emphatic that the name be removed before press. There was no point, he insisted, in thanking the dead.
I'm not that hardcore. Selfishly and pointlessly, I want to acknowledge Lou's time on this whirling rock. I want to thank his ghost for a few precious laughs, and for the shape of thoughts, now mostly forgotten, that he once inspired or ignited.
Over the past few years, Lou saw to it that the Nine-Banded PO box was perpetually stuffed. Seriously, it was with some now regrettable annoyance that I would unlock the copper-plated box to find another batch of hand-addressed, multi-stamped business envelopes bulging with news clippings as well as Lou's own satirical poetry, occasional essays, and — the burden of it — a seemingly endless supply of new or slightly revised material for a long-planned update of Lucifer's Lexicon. All of it was in longhand, scrawled with nary a spelling error on hastily ripped spiral notebook pages. I have the lot of it compiled in these giant three-ring binders. A teeming, taunting transcription nightmare.
The last piece of such correspondence with a legible postmark was dated April 16, 2015. Lou's body was discovered in his apartment on May 6. Call it from there.
I don't know the cause of death. Last I heard, the coroner was investigating and would share a report with next-of-kin. That's probably done by now. Could have been any number of undiagnosed afflictions. Cancer. Heart failure. Maybe a fatal slip and fall. I don't suspect suicide (or ISIS assassins), not that it matters. Lou was, I think, 66. By all accounts, he was a ruined alcoholic — a devotee of what one of his friends described as "cheapest, most godawful rotgut whisky imaginable." He was a hermit. He didn't tend to his health. People die.
Here is a "Lexicon" entry that he sent a couple of months ago:
Death, n. A life going off, after having gone on.
L.A. Rollins received his B.A. degree in philosophy from California State College at Los Angeles in 1970, which happens to be the year I was born. Throughout the glorious decade that followed he edited and published a sporadic fringe-libertarian newsletter called Invictus: A Journal of Individualist Thought (Good luck finding a copy). As a freelance writer he contributed to a number of publications, including some respectable magazines like Playboy, Reason, and Grump, as well as some not-so-respectable (but far more fun) marginal outlets like Samuel Konkin's New Libertarian, Bob Banner's Critique, and, ahem, The Journal of Historical Review.
(Regarding that last one… Yes, I understand that Lou's straightforward — and actually highly critical — engagement with Holocaust revisionism proved to be "a bridge too far" for some otherwise amused readers. To me, it just made him more interesting. It's one thing to indulge in cheap talk about slaying sacred cows; it's quite another to wield the bolt-gun. Lou didn't think twice about this shit. And as for the prophet Muhammad, piss be upon him.)
So, Lou did that stuff. But I think it's a safe bet that L.A. Rollins will be best remembered as the author of two books, both of which were originally published by Loompanics Unlimited (where Lou worked as a copyeditor) in the 1980s.
The first of these, which would probably be better described as a tract or monograph, was The Myth of Natural Rights. Still notorious in certain circles, The Myth was a sharply honed attack on the moral and political concept of "natural law," especially targeting such rebranded iterations of the concept that figured in the writings of libertarian luminaries like Tibor Machan, Ayn Rand, and Murray Rothbard. It's an underground classic.
Rollins' second book, Lucifer's Lexicon, took up the project of the Ambrose Bierce's Devil's Dictionary (albeit in a less universal key) to showcase Lou's satirical nous, aphoristic flair, and so much wicked wordplay. It was in Lucifer's Lexicon that Lou memorably defined "Libertarian Movement" as "A herd of individualists stampeding toward liberty." That's the one people seem to remember, but there were other good'ns. Here's a ripened batch, plucked more or less at random from Allah's stinky butthole:
Americanist, n. One who knows that America is the freest country on earth, but has no idea which is the second freest. One who loves the Liberty Bell, and resembles it as well.
Anti-Semite, n. 1. One who hates Jews. 2. One who is hated by Jews.
Belief, n. A fig leaf used to cover up one’s ignorance.
Cynicism, n. The sin of doubting the sincerity of hypocrites.
Doubt, n. The philosophical device Descartes so cleverly used to prove everything he previously believed.
Egoism, n. The only “ism” for me.
Fountainhead, n. The very best kind of head, the kind that Ayn Rand used to give to Nathaniel Branden.
God-fearing, adj. Afraid of nothing.
Happiness, n. A wild goose (disguised as a bluebird) which everyone has an inalienable right to chase.
Iconoclast, n. An axiom murderer.
Klansperson, n. A racist who is not a sexist.
Libertarian, n. One who believes in liberty, just like a Christian believes in Christ.
Lynching, n. An application of participatory democracy to the judicial process.
Marijuana, n. The hemp plant, whose leaves and flowering tops are exhilarating when smoked or ingested but which can cause a deterioration of mental functioning and a tendency toward paranoia in chronic non-users.
Nihilist, n. One who believes nothing is sacred, and venerates it.
Objectivist, n. A person of unborrowed vision, who never places any consideration above his own perception of reality, who never does violence to his own rational judgment, and who, as a result, agrees completely with Ayn Rand about everything.
Pedophile, n. One who loves children, as so many parents do.
Philosopher, n. One who grasps at the essences of straws. One who loves wisdom, not wisely, but too well.
Quaker, n. One who follows the lunar light into outer darkness.
Religion, n. A cult with clout.
Skeptic, n. One who doubts what he does not want to believe and believes what he does not want to doubt.
Time, n. Our mortal enemy. We’ve got to kill time, before time kills us.
Unanimity, n. Completely concealed disagreement.
Vain, n. A foreign domain in which many a soldier has died.
White Supremacist, n. An inferior white man.
Xmas, n. A day celebrating the birth of our Savior, Malcolm X
Yahweh, n. Not my way.
And my personal favorite:
Zygote, n. A human being, just like you and me. Hath not a zygote eyes? Hath not a zygote hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? If you prick them, do they not bleed? If you tickle them, do they not laugh? And if you wrong them, shall they not revenge?
That last one wasn't in the Loompanics edition; it first appeared in The Myth of Natural Rights and Other Essays — the revised and edited collection of Lou's writing that Nine-Banded Books put out way back in 2008. I'm responsible for that one — for the book, that is. I regret that I didn't do a better job of it. The layout is amateurish, and there are some ugly typos. Too bad Lou won't be around to see the next shiny thing.
Here is the cover of the 2008 9BB edition of The Myth of Natural Rights and Other Essays.
Make the most of it.
I'm not sure what else to say. The last time I spoke with Lou was over a year ago. He was going on about Jesse Walker's book The United States of Paranoia. He liked it. He knew the history. He told me, not for the first time, that I should read something by James Branch Cabell. I made a note. He pointed out a couple of typos in Ann Sterzinger's novel NVSQVAM. I made another note. I encouraged him, not for the first time, to get a fucking Internet connection. He said the world had passed him by.
A few days later Lou left me a drunken voicemail in the middle of the night. He was belting out the chorus to "Eddie's Teddy" from the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Key of Dr. Scott. Dead on, actually. It made me laugh. I never called him back.
Lou Rollins was a smart guy. He was a true iconoclast. He was a wit, a jokester, a drunk, a writer, a friend.
3 thoughts on “L.A. Rollins, RIP”
Whoa. I suppose I’m a coward in that I’ve avoided having my real name associated with Myth, but my small connection to it is one of the few things I have to be proud of. I’m less interested in the internecine squabbles of any particular political movement than I was when I got Brian Doherty’s book, but it’s still unfortunate he won’t be around to give an account.
Despite usually not having an internet connection, he did briefly correspond with me. In contrast to his handwritten notes, I was surprised to find some misspellings from someone who’d worked as a proofreader. Different media, I suppose.
While writing a review of ‘Myth of Natural Rights’ I thought that a few words about egoism would help the reader. A few words turned into two essays, two into four or five. I remembered some older egoist essays I’d written, put them all together, and out came “Confessions of a Failed Egoist” (Baltimore: Underworld Amusements). Thanks to Loompanics, thanks to 9 Banded Books, and thanks to L. A. Rollins.