Henry Rollins is a man of many rants. Google any random topic prefaced with “Henry Rollins on … ” and there’s a good chance there’s already a YouTube clip of him delivering a think piece with his usual fevered pitch that’s equal parts angry drill sergeant, your dad after you wrecked the family car, and Sam Kinison on a good night.
Henry on alcohol? “If you hate your parents, the man, or the establishment, don’t show them up by getting wasted and wrapping your car around a tree.” Henry on feminism? “If I was a woman these days, I’d be killing motherfuckers. My handgun would never cool and my hands would be covered in testicular blood. I would have a horrible reputation with a lot of men because I would be calling them on their weak bullshit left and right.”
It’s all there in a search. Having an insightful opinion about anything from the sexualization of violence in pop culture or world hunger relief to post 9/11 politics and homophobia is what keeps the former Black Flag frontman, actor, writer, and spoken word artist in demand in all forms of media.
Henry recently talked with Salty Eggs over email about his travels to places the government tells you not to visit, getting older but not mellowing out, and what are backpack essentials for time spent on the road. His latest spoken word effort “The Long March” lands him in Fort Lauderdale at 7 p.m. tonight (Friday) at Revolution Live. Click here for more info.
Salty Eggs: Your tour “The Long March” is based on your travels in the last few years to places like China, North Korea, Vietnam, Uganda, and Cuba. While picking the places you would visit, you said that you were kind of spurred to go to places that made George Bush’s Axis of Evil list or places he had convinced the public were decidedly “un-American.” Why was this important to you? What were you hoping to find as a result?
Henry: Basically, I am offended when I am told that places are dangerous, that there are places you can’t go. It’s outrageous and offensive. It’s not for them to tell me. So, in reaction to that, I go far and wide. I wasn’t really hoping to find anything but I was hoping I would get to see what could happen and let that be the truth of the journey. What I do find in these locations, constantly is that people are friendly and often as curious about you as you are about them.
You also spent time in Haiti. And you’ve said that you plan on being part of the rebuilding efforts there. Here, in South Florida on the second anniversary of the earthquake many Haitian-American community leaders asked that, as part of the remembrance, yes, you mourn the dead — the 250,000-plus people lost — but they also expressed the need to revitalize the interest in recovery efforts. What did you see when you were there? What did you see as the immediate and even long-term challenges to rebuilding?
From what I saw, that’s the question you asked, from what I saw, I have no idea as to what to do in Haiti. I know that a lot of aid went there and I can’t see the evidence of it. Perhaps I did not go to the right places. I saw a lot of people living in tent cities. I talked to a lot of people. I was told that they are out of hope, miserable, that it’s too hot to sleep at night. It doesn’t look like there has been much done but then again, it’s not for me to sum up what’s happening there after being in Haiti for a week. I think one needs to understand the people you’re trying to help. Perhaps western help can’t always do good for a non-western environment.
You once said, “One of the best things to happen to America is that the McCain-Palin nightmare never had a chance to realize itself in the executive office.” As we gear up for another election year, are you any more impressed with the current republican candidates?
I think that the four you see now are just being trotted out to keep the base united. The real deal candidates on the Republican side will make themselves available for the 2016 election. I don’t think the ones who could win want to waste their capital against such a heavy incumbent. You are not seeing the best of the Republicans at this time. So, who are these magic men and women? I don’t know but I can’t think the real money people are taking these four men seriously.
Any thoughts on Rush Limbaugh this week?
He was just doing his thing. It is regrettable what he said but I am not surprised. Getting mad at the man for saying something bad is like getting mad at an alligator for biting you. It’s what they do, it’s what RL does.
You came up in a time in punk rock that was very much built around nihilism where it wasn’t necessarily cool to care but you’ve managed to transition into someone who seems to care deeply about everything from LGBT rights to feminism to international political struggles. Was there a turning point for you or was it always in there?
I never thought it was cool not to care. Quite the opposite. It was never apathy that was an inspiration or attractive to me. These kind of wrongs make a lot of people mad. I am far more aware of things happening than I used to be. That has come with age and travel, but there wasn’t any major change I went through.
Mortality and the general fragility of life seem to be common subjects in your work. As you enter your fifties, how has your opinion changed on the subject from when you were 20 or 30 and writing about it?
My idea of death and dying the potential to fear the inevitable left me when I was nearly killed several years ago. Now, nothing really gets to me. So yes, my opinion has changed, I now have a profound lack of fear. It’s not the same as being brave. It’s more of a numbness than anything.
Do you feel a mellowing coming on with age? Or are you excited by the prospect of eventually becoming the quintessential angry old man character?
As I grow older, I am becoming more interested in things, more curious, busier. I don’t feel mellow, just like I want to get a lot done.
Years ago, I remember reading an article where the reporter described your Spartan-like space as having only a bed, some books, and a workout bench. What are your digs like these days? What does it take for a place to feel like home?
I live in a large building. It is modern, steel beam, cement wall, somewhat industrial space. There are a lot of books, records and workspaces. A lot gets done there. It’s as home as much the tour bus I am sitting in now. It’s just a place I occupy when I am off the road and preparing for the next journey. I have been living on the move for so many years; I have no real idea of stability.
With traveling so much a part of your life, what can always be found in your carry-on bag? What reading material?
You have to have music playback and Internet access, so I have all that. All backstage areas turn into small offices where I have to get stuff done pre-show, often on a compressed schedule. Tonight, I had to write a new ending to a piece I just did for Rolling Stone Australia before I went onstage. I got it done and then heard after the show that they were happy with it and I am done. I try to get a lot of music listened to, and for most of this year, it will be through small speakers in a backstage area. I brought with me some books on Civil War-era America. Team of Rivals by Doris Goodwin and Lincoln by David Donald. I just finished The Fiery Trial by Eric Foner, that’s a great read on Lincoln.
Where haven’t you been that should be next in your travels?
More of the Stans. Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan. It would be interesting to go to countries around the Caspian Sea. I would like to go to Chad. I would like to get back to Laos and Cambodia.