In 2008, I spoke with Henry Rollins. The man's credentials seem endless; lead singer of Black Flag, Rollins Band, spoken word artist, author, actor, activist, and more.
One thing that always stands out to me about this interview was how strategic in speech Rollins was with me. Very put together, very timed, and never wavering. I wouldn't expect anything less though.
At the time, he was out on the promoting his upcoming IFC specials and taking a break from his tv show. He was on the road doing a spoken word tour and we had a chance to talk when he had some downtime in Athens, GA.
In the interview we discussed his experiences traveling the world, his thoughts on the upcoming Presidential election of 2008, his routine on the road, and more.
I know you’ve been traveling around a lot lately with the tour. One of the stories I saw on the website that I thought was really interesting was your experience in Cape Town, South Africa. Can you expand on everything you experienced?
Henry: It was mind-blowing. I’ve been to Africa seven times and of all the trips there that was the one that really moved me the most. Unless you just sit in the hotel all day, you end up seeing things that are very moving and extremely beautiful, very sad and sometimes scary. Life and death is so in your face there. It’s very real. In South Africa, what was interesting and much different than Egypt or Morocco was the white/black dynamic. There’s a lot of white people, there’s a lot of black people. I wasn’t use to seeing so many white neighborhoods in Africa. The apartheid, which is in the past, is still a topic. You can’t not talk about it. What I saw was a lot of people dealing with the aftermath of it. Trying to get move on past it and get on to what the new chapter is going to be. That was the fascinating thing.
The white and black people that I met were working together to move forward. To see these people really wanting to make tomorrow different. I ended up walking around in these townships, basically a government run zone. People get housing. You see a whole lot of people living in a small space. Basically, the dorm room from hell. People having to make due in very close proximity to each other. 1,000 people, four toilets. Aids clinic, 150 patients a day, one doctor. It was very hard to see some of the stuff but it was inspiring to see how they were dealing with it. I met some of the strongest people I’ve ever met like these doctors treating AIDS and HIV patients. It’s the most grueling work and they are saving lives. I don’t know what their off-time is like. This one woman who worked there, she’d been there for eleven years. This is what she does. Teenage HIV- positive moms with their kids walking by you. ‘Wow, this is very real.’ We are not joking around. In America these days, we are given some wiggle room. It’s not in your face like it is in South Africa. That’s what I encountered. The audiences, primarily white people, incredible audiences. I can’t wait to go back there. The show sold out really quickly. The promoter said we could do these shows tomorrow night and we’d sell them out again. Doing shows is what I do. We are looking at trying to get me back out there sooner or later. I’d love to put South Africa on my tour.
Experiencing everything in Cape Town, and even around the world, how do you bring all your experiences of being out on the road to your every day approach to life?
Henry: A lot of that stuff informs me in a really good way. It’s made me very patient, very tolerant. It makes me see a bigger picture. Even when you’re looking at something small. You’ve seen other versions of the same thing in other countries. It gives you a bigger and better perspective when making decisions about things. In Africa, I saw all these kids and their clothes were immaculate. Their mothers wash these clothes. I watched these women wash these clothes with such fury. These kids are going to have clean clothes and that’s that. They aren’t going to look like bums. This isn’t some ghetto they are living in. This is their town and this is their life. That’s what they are trying to convey. You see this desire for dignity and respect. That’s what I bring from all of this. I was never really disrespectful to people. I was raised right. You are just very careful with someone else and what they are going through. If they fuck with you, then you stomp on them. Intellectually, you don’t hold back. I’m not saying be weak but I’m saying be very careful and aware.
You’ve done so much with your career. The list is endless. Do you feel like now it’s more a challenge to do spoken word?
Henry: Sure. A band gives you a cushion. You queue the words up, snare drum and loud guitar covers it. The song is the song. You can mess it up and it’s rock and roll. We’re not making up music as we go along on stage. It’s not an exploratory free jazz jam, which I have nothing against. I’m sure a lot of bands go up there, ‘Here’s your eighty minutes. Here’s the hits. Thank you goodnight.’ I can never do that. With spoken word, if you stop talking for a second, everyone looks at you like, "what, are you high?"
You’re the only thing on stage. There’s a lot of vulnerability. That doesn’t bug me. I’m happy letting it all hang out. There’s more opportunity for things to go wrong. You have to go out onstage very front-loaded. I know what I’m going to say. I’ve done my homework if research was needed. When I start talking, here it comes. I’m not up there just rambling. You didn’t pay your money to see somebody talk about the weather. We are going somewhere.
Henry: The Fanatic book is just the third installment of these crazy radio notes I make for my show. The damn thing is a hundred eighty thousand words. Way too much information about far too little. It’s all these bands I’m geeked out about. Discography information and all kind of things like that. It’s a big book for ten bucks. A whole lot of paper for cheap and it’s a big labor of love for me. It’s for fans of the radio show.
A Preferred Blur is travel stories from ’06 and ’07. It goes all around the world to Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Australia, Scandinavia, Europe, America, Canada, all these places. That one is finished and just needs to be edited. Trying to work on this stuff on tour can be pretty difficult. You’re sitting on a bus working on it or this fairly dimly light backstage room. I’ve been working this way for over half of my life. This is what I prefer. I’d rather be here doing a show then at home or in a nice hotel. I really like living on the road. I get a little disoriented off the road. I really don’t know the motivation in that scene. When I’m out, this is what I do. I’m that guy and I love that.
You’re working on three “Live and Uncut Specials” this year. Is it going to be less of the show and more specials?
Henry: IFC wants to do specials this year. They’ve said they love the show. Great guests, great ratings but [the] limitations of the show they said are that “you’re in a box. We like you out in the world. More Henry out there in the element. We get more response off that ‘Live In Israel’ thing than any of the other mail from the TV show combined.” So they say would you like to not do the TV show and more of those documentaries. I would have preferred both but I’m happy with what I do. They said ‘where do you want to go?’ I said ‘let’s do one in South Africa.’ The next one will be in a few weeks in Belfast. We are doing one in New Orleans. I don’t know when that shoots. I’m on this tour until about May 3rd in New Zealand. From New Zealand, I’m going to Vietnam and Cambodia. That’ll get me back around Mid-May. Hopefully, in August I’m going to North Korea. Apparently Americans are allowed in August through October. We are working on seeing if I can get in. I’m just curious, I want to see it. This tour is like a snake chasing it’s tail. I’m working on new material during this tour. At the end of the year I was in Pakistan, when [Benazir] Bhutto was assassinated. That was a hell of a thing to see. So that’s on stage. It’s finding itself from night to night.
How do you keep your mind fresh?
Henry: I don’t do much else. I am living for these gigs. I’m living for tonight at 9 P.M. That’s my life. I’ve got nothing else going on. I’m not a slave driver. I want nothing. I make my own coffee and to do my own show. The thing is getting me up on stage and then on to the next one. I live with these thoughts every day. It’s a very small room that I live in on these tours. For me there is no other way to go up there and pound it for two and half, three hours and really nail it if you are worried about the girlfriend or my wife is mad at me or I’m high or my phone is ringing. I can even find this phone half the time. Most of the time, you want to talk to me call Ward [Henry’s tour manager]. By day, I’m working on the book, doing e-mail interviews that aren’t on the press schedule. Just kids that write me. Just a kid with his fanzine, I like that. I like that the kid thinks he can write me for his ‘Screaming Butt’ magazine or whatever. That takes a lot of time. That becomes my life out here.
I know we have to keep it brief but what are you making of all this election coverage and how it’s panning out?
Henry: I think it’s going to be McCain versus somebody. As for the Democratic side, I really don’t know. One day it looks like Hilary and one day it looks like Obama. For myself, I’ve never been the biggest fan of hers. I think she’s brilliant and she’s smart and if she becomes the frontrunner then I’m going to vote for her. I don’t hate John McCain. I bet you he’s not a bad guy. I’m not a fan of Republicans. I’ll vote for Rip Taylor before I vote Republican. I just got to have a new game plan. A new conversation with Iraq and healthcare. I think we are heading over to November. The need for twenty-four hour news. Twenty-four content. A guy like Chris Matthews makes money when he talks. I don’t mind the sport guys because they are talking about somebody's shoes. When these guys start fusing it with their own opinion, like Bill O’Reilly, who is real egomaniac. He thinks that if you don’t appear on his show you have no chance of being president. His ego knows no bounds. Same with Sean Hannity. You can’t get through their private security to show them what New Jersey is about. I think those guys have way too much say. I think it’s a problem that you need a lot of money to run. The guy with a lot of money wins. Republicans always have a lot of money because they are the corporate backed election, sticking with mega business. Exxon throwing millions of dollars so they can keep doing something. That’s my beef with it.
Man, the views on the election were pretty entertaining to read again in 2015.
Obviously, its hard to really pick one thing to promote here for Rollins since he never stops producing SOMETHING. So, the easiest thing to do will be to just go to the man's site.