Henry Rollins - 2005

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Henry Rollins is the legendary singer of the Rollins Band and Black Flag, as well as a popular spoken-word artist, author, poet, actor, activist and all-around alternative rock icon. An intense and muscular man, I felt a bit of trepidation approaching him for an interview, but after a Deep Throat figure pointed me in the direction of Henry's email address, how could I resist? To his great credit, the ever-busy Henry didn't just throw my email away, but responded saying that he'd be happy to answer some e-mail questions. So I sent him a bunch and he answered them within like TWELVE HOURS!!! Now, THAT is a man who appreciates his fans. If you've never answered an e-mail interview within like twelve hours, you should now be ashamed of yourself. My questions are in bold; his responses are in plain text.

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What projects are you working on right now? Name them all! :7)

I am working on Johnny Ramone's autobiography. He and a writer worked on it all the way until JR's passing. It's really cool but needs a little shaping so I am working on that. I will be hitting that one hard this week. I am working on two books of my own for '05 and '06. I will be working on music in March of this year and have USO stuff, talking shows and travel planned all the way until the end of the year. It will be very uphill but it's good work, so I am happy for it.

Looking back through your lengthy career, are there any records you've made that stand out as your absolute favorites of the lot? Alternately, are there any that you are disappointed with as you look back?

Like many people who make records, I like them all. You work on them all so hard and they all mean so much when you're doing them that there's no real favorite. Some were more fun to make but sometimes when the work environment wasn't the best, the work was good, so in the end, it's all a good thing. I think everything I have ever done could have been better. That's one of the things that keeps me coming back to it again and again.

As a deeply honest person, how do you deal with living in a society (not to mention the entertainment industry) ithat s based on so many lies and utter bullshit? I'm specifically thinking of politics and exploitative record companies, but you encounter this stuff everyday. People lying for no reason, just to "get ahead" in life. Are you able to tune it out? Or if not, how do you combat it?

Not a lot of stuff like that is in my life. I make my own records and have my own companies to release stuff in an uncompromised environment. There's a lot of bs out there, greed, lies, etc., but it's not really on my grid.

I remember a story on one of your spoken word CDs about how disappointed you were upon meeting a guy from the band Chelsea and finding him to be an utter creep. Over the years, has this been a regular motif in your life (meeting heroes who turn out to be horrible people) or have you found most artists and musicians to be basically good-hearted people? Any anecdotes would of course be appreciated, either way!

Actually, that is not a regular motif in my life at all. Almost the exact opposite is true. Gene October was a drag but most of the time when I have met artists who have meant a lot to me, the experience has been well above expectation. People like Iggy, Lou Reed, Jerry Lee Lewis, Black Sabbath, Nick Cave, Hubert Selby, Billy Gibbons, Al Pacino, John Lee Hooker, James Brown, Johnny Cash, etc. have been really great to me. What strikes me is most of the time, the bigger the celeb/legend, the more polite and cool they are. It's the insecure ones who treat you like they're doing you a favor by shaking your hand.

You seem to be acutely aware of how little time we have here on Earth. Do you feel that this makes your life unnecessarily stressful (for example, when you're forced to wait in long lines, or the way that you are driven to constantly work, work, work) or is the end result an increased happiness and peace of mind knowing that you are getting a great deal more life experience than most people?

Lines and traffic are part of life in any city. I travel a lot so I am used to hanging around. I am in Moscow Russia right now, it's my 5th time here. You do a lot of waiting in this country. You have to just cool out and enjoy the journey and the hand it deals you. I do my best to limit the amount of compromise in my life so I have more time to do what I want. Not hanging out with many people really helps. I am not a people person and spend a great deal of time on my own and in this environment, I get a lot done.

I know from reading "Get In The Van" that the early days of Black Flag were filled with fans attacking you, and you constantly having to defend yourself, but as you got angrier and angrier, it seemed like you started throwing first punches after a while. Was this anger exacerbated when you began to build your body (in other words -- were you MORE likely to use physical violence because you knew you could win) or did it have a calming, therapeutic effect ("I'm obviously stronger than these people, therefore I don't need to use physical violence. If they make the first move, I know I'll win so I don't have to start it")?

Violent acts I have engaged in, and there have been many, were always reactive and protective in measure. Perhaps the man who shoved me who ends up hospitalized didn't appreciate the potential reaction to his action. This is not my problem besides litigation and possible incarceration. It's not as if I lose any sleep over the harm done. You hit someone and they take your ear off-that's life.

In some of your earlier spoken word performances, you speak of feeling completely alienated from society. Over the years, however, you became an extremely charismatic, warm and friendly speaker. Did this confidence carry over into your everyday life as well? Or do you still feel uncomfortable around people like you used to? For that matter, how on Earth did you manage to pull yourself out of that psychiatric mess you were in during the early Black Flag years?

I am cool with people. I am not the one at the top of the water tower with the rifle at all. I am cool when they are cool. As I stated before, I am not a people person. I live alone and don't visit much with people. I do answer all the mail and meet anyone after the show though. I have no problem with this. These people took the time out to check me out, there's no way I am blowing that off or in any way disrespecting that. The Black Flag years were turbulent and it took a lot of work to be cool with people after that. I have never been one to go to clubs or events unless I am performing or on business. It's just not me.

Does it ever upset you if a new Rollins or Rollins Band album doesn't sell as well as expected or isn't received as warmly as its predecessors? Does criticism ever make you doubt yourself?

You want all your records to sell well and you want everyone to like your new record because you put everything you had into it so when someone is mean to it, review wise, you can't not take it personally. That being said, you can't stop because someone who makes a living by getting your record free in the mail and writing the minimum amount of words about it for a paycheck-basically an ant at the picnic-you can't allow their opinion either way to affect your work. No matter what is said, you keep jammin'. What are you going to do, stop because some guy at a magazine doesn't like you? I think not. Magazines like Maxim have taken shots at me but whenever I meet them and confront them, which I do, they never have the stick to back anything up so we already know what the right thing to do is-go on with your bad self.

Your spoken word performances usually revolve around stories filled with particular details, while your songs tend to speak in wider terms and generalities. Do you go through times of writing one way or the other, or do you write interchangeably and sort them for performance? Or do you feel that your more detailed material is inappropriate for the rock and roll context?

I think you're generalizing. I write song wise about all kinds of stuff. Stuff for the stage, talking show-wise, is usually stuff that tells well and translates in that format. Songs, for me at least are a high impact low word deal. Say a lot with a little.

Your writing and life clearly evoke the positive aspects of discipline. How do you avoid, and how should any person or group avoid, the negative aspects that can arise from discipline carried too far (e.g. fascism or solipsism)?

=I think that you do what you do. How to avoid the negative? I don't know, perhaps draw the line when you start bombing churches and shooting politicians in the face. Regretfully, there is in everyone, a facist, a solipsist. Those who can't call themselves on their own bull or see it in others are easily manipulated. It's how Bush won an election.

What do you remember most fondly about your early years as a DC hardcore roadie and member of S.O.A.? Do you think there could ever again be an exciting, innocent new music scene of that sort?

I think the best part of all that was that we were all very young and it was all very new and breaking at the moment. It was a very exciting time. I think possibly that something is lost with MTV, Clear Channel and the fact that things have become so formalized. I remember things being very pioneering in nature in the early 80's. I am very glad I was there for it in DC.

Do you still seek out new music, or have you found your enthusiasm waning over the years (having heard the same types of bands over and over and over). If the former, have you heard any new bands recently that have excited you?

I think there will always be great new music and bands. As long as there's people around, there's going to be great music. I think there's bands like Wolf Eyes, Q and Not U, the Evens and many others that are doing great stuff. The music that doesn't please you, you just don't listen. No one makes me listen to Nickle Back so long may they wave.

How would you define "selling out"? Can you think of any musicians that have made calculated concessions for the sake of their career? (I ask because I remember some people getting upset when you did a Gap ad a decade ago -- for the record, I think that doing a Gap ad is EARNING A LIVING, not "selling out.")

I think selling out is taking the song off the record because the company doesn't like it. That kind of artist cave-in, or not saying what you want so you can please people you don't like because you need the job, that's selling out. It happens in the real world all the time. You don't like the boss but you stay at the job because you need it. I can dig that. As far as someone saying that I am selling out; I work for a living. I don't live with my parents any more. What you think of what I do is really of no consequence to me, my actions or plotted course. Thank you though, for the sentiment.

At this point in your life, are you generally happy? So much of your writing is so centered on your anger, sorrow and uncertainty, I guess I'd just like to think you're actually happy way back in there!

I am not happy as much as I am grateful. I am grateful to be able to do what I do.

What are you most proud of in your life? This can be anything - a record, an act, an attitude, something you've affected, etc.

I am proud of a friendship I have had with Ian MacKaye for over 30 years. Past that, I just want to do the thing and them move up the trail.

Over the past few years, have you grown more optimistic or pessimistic about the West Memphis Three ever being granted a new trial? What are the latest developments there?

The DNA is being tested. All that can be done is hope the lawyers are successful with their work. I have suspended all optimism/pessimism with the thing. I just wait for news as it comes to me via Damien's wife Lorri.

What attributes do you respect most in a fellow human being? And what attributes disgust you the most?

Generosity, honesty. Ignorance, cowardice.

Is there any action or decision you've made in your life that you would change if you could go back?

I would rather live with my mistakes and learn from them than change anything. There are some people, now dead that I wish I had spent more time with.

You are the one entertainer about whom I honestly feel that your life is an actual "open book." You release your diaries, you seem to leave no topic untouched during your live shows, etc.... Are there any writings or feelings that are so private to you that you would never discuss them in your released work? Obviously I don't expect you to give examples! I'm just curious if there is a point where you have to separate the public Rollins from the private Rollins.

I would always withhold the utterly boring stuff, there's a ton of that. This woman I knew since I was very young just passed away and I miss her and sometimes I just write in my journal about missing her to keep myself company. I don't know if it would make for good reading.

Name the first ten GREAT albums that pop into your head. Don't try to think of your 10 favorite or you'll be here all day. Just the first ten GREAT albums that pop into your head right now.

Fun House by the Stooges.
Another Music in a Different Kitchen by the Buzzcocks
First Clash album
Houses of the Holy by Led Zep
Damned Damned Damned by the Damned
Fake French by El Guapo
Apollo by Eno
The So Young but So Cold French underground music comp. CD on Tiger Sushi
More Light by J Mascis
Blonde on Blonde by Bob Dylan

Reader Comments

hull5@charter.net
Rollins - WOW!

9904352O@student.gla.ac.uk
I love Henry Rollins.

hickoxr@swbell.net (Rose)
It was real and honest, I respect the guy and love his work!

CRASH324@aol.com (Jeannette)
Amazing man !!! The honesty and the knowledge this man has is absolutley unique and unmatched !!!

bscalise@promachina.com
I loved this interview. I have always had a respect for this man and his music. I love the fact that he is so brutally honest and a good person at heart.People like Henry Rollins should be a serious role model for all young musicians and young people in general. The man is honest, very humble,very intelligent and a damn good musician. What else could anybody ask for.

sonzabird@hotmail.com
hank's comments about the bigger the star, the nicer and more humble they have been really puts him in his place. check this out:

my band opened for the rollins band in toronto way back in the day. the year before he had made this big preamble before going into There's Nothing Like Finding Someone When You're Lonely about how you're home and alone, and you decide to go out to pick up some "bird" and after chatting her up for 30 minutes, you realize you just wanna be back home alone. something like that...

so when we opened, we did a little take-off on that preamble. that afternoon we bought ourselves one of those plastic bags of milk, and during our show (with rollins doing calisthenics off to the side, his bandmates just chilling there), before launching into our version of the shockheaded peters' version of john cale's version of elvis' heartbreak hotel, we did our own preamble: you know when you're home and alone, and you just want somebody to talk to, so you go down to the 7-11 and buy yourself a bag of skim milk, and draw a face on it (draws face on milk bag), and talk to it for a while, and after half an hour you realize you just wanna head down to the heartbreak hotel...

yeah, stupid. but hilarious. all his bandmates were on the floor... anyways, after the show, as he was jumping up on stage and we were hauling off our equipment, i said to him: "hope you didn't mind the little joke at your expense." he scowled and said, menacingly as he could: "it's not very smart to mess with an asshole like me."

being a delicate flower and a big fan of hank's, i was pretty much devastated. his bandmates said, aw, that's just henry, but i don't know. i haven't thought much of him since...

MITCHSULL@aol.com
I just had to write and tell you how much I enjoyed reading your interview with Henry Rollins. I saw his spoken word, live, two times. He is funny, passionate and smart. I enjoyed every minute of the two hours - he is a master at telling a story.

timcraig@comporium.net
Rollins is a damn smart guy, even if hes not, hes a hella a communicator, and hes fucking convinced me. Love tha guy, hope he keeps spewing shit out his mouth cuss I believe it no matter.

chucktonywhite@gmail.com
This guys is a fucking douchebag, he is a swindler of the low self esteem middle class and receives their disposable income, he knows they despise their mediocre lives, he constantly makes fun of them indirectly while getting a free round the world trip on their backs. He has nothing to offer and hasn't since 1994 past an occasional brilliant story/rant. Sure he's insightful and wise but he's also a dishonest leech who preys on the weak, don't give him your money, he's never going to offer you any solutions. I only come to this conclusion after being a fan for so many years. I will say this to his face and sue his ass off if he hits me (make some of my money back). Fuck this guy.

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