October 2017


The One And Only:
Henry Rollins
Interview By: Shawn Stevenson

Henry Rollins needs no introduction here. Anyone reading Punk Globe is already familiar with him, so I'll spare you the generic Rolling Stone essay on his past. I was introduced to "new music" through the midnight movie "Urgh! A Music War" through cable television. By the time I was old enough to sneak out of the house and explore the scene, a new strain of punk had replaced its origins. For the live experience, I got Black Flag instead of the bands who were featured in that film. This new scene was much angrier and less fashionable.

One night, in 1985, I saw Black Flag perform. The experience blew my mind. Nothing about the band or the scene that spawned it resembled anything close to what had happened in Hollywood, NYC, or London just a few years before. Clearly, the first wave of Punk had evolved into something new. I asked Henry about that pocket in time. I also asked him about some of the current events presently unfolding in America and about an old book I read years ago titled "Letters to Rollins", which was written by R.K. Overton. The satirical content had eluded me up until this interview, so I can't imagine why he politely corrected me when I asked if there might be another book of letters in the future. Einstein strikes again! Fucking idiot.

Anyway, regardless of what you think of Henry, he does make for an interesting interview. No subject worthwhile is off limits. I can't ask everyone I interview about politics as they simply won't touch the subject and prefer to leave anything political unanswered. But, that is one of the components of Henry's work that attracts people's attention. Another might be the dualism of his personality. I think it's a mistake to cram him into a nihilistic category of unrelenting anger and rage. There is his sense of humor that has emerged since his days with Black Flag that directly contradicts any idea that he walks around miserable and angry 24/7. There are strains of both humor and anger running through his books and live performances. Love him or hate him. It's up to you. Either way, this interview won't change anyone's opinions of him. Good or bad. That's okay. Please enjoy it at your leisure. And be sure to check out his website HenryRollins.com.

PUNK GLOBE: You've had a long career as an artist. Back in 1981, did you imagine that you would be where you are today, in 2017?

Henry Rollins: Wherever I am, I'm looking to get to the next place. I never had any goals as to where I wanted to end up. In the summer of 1984, I looked around me and saw a lot of very talented people around me who between tours all struggled to get by. I figured if they were talented and had problems, I was really in for it. That's when I decided I needed some different skill sets to survive America. I started working harder on writing, talking shows, etc. I realized that I was going to have to be very adaptable and take chances. This ended up being a pretty good idea. As to where I am in 2017, as far as I know, I’m just here, working on things, trying to get them done so I can start other things. I don’t acknowledge achievement by the things I own or how much is in my bank account. Unless there are mistakes I can learn from, I have little or no interest in what I’ve done, only what I’m doing or doing next. The only end I’m interested in is the one that leads to the beginning of something else. Once you think you’ve “made it,” you’re as good as dead. Also, I’m not an artist. I’m nobody from nowhere. I’m from the minimum wage working world of the 1970s and 80s. I got a break. I know exactly what I have to go back to if I ever stop paddling. That’s all.

PUNK GLOBE: Speaking of 1981, back then, things were quite different. Not just in the hardcore scene, but even the more traditional rock shows had a dangerous element to them. People weren't managed by security as much. Do you think that rock-n-roll in general has become too safe?

Henry Rollins: I used to see bouncers just beat people up. They hated the audience. On that level, I don’t think things can be safe enough. I don’t think that the chance of getting beaten up by another member of the audience or security adds to the concert experience. I don’t think going to a show should come with the risk of getting injured to make it more “real.”

PUNK GLOBE: When you were in Black Flag, were you aware of how crazy the hardcore scene appeared? Even to the first wave of the punk scene, it was off putting due to the violence. I know you had plenty of fights at some of those shows, but could you conceive of how terrifying it could be for the audiences? There wasn't much security back then.

Henry Rollins: I was aware of it. From my vantage point, I could see everything from stabbings to fights or whatever else. As far as I could tell, the three guys who came to the show to beat people up could pacify an audience that far outnumbered them. A little intimidation goes a long way, especially when some poor guy is picked out and beat up so people see that the threat is very real. I never grew numb to it but got so used to it, that it stopped affecting me to a great degree. I was in environments like this for many years. It didn’t do me any good, didn’t make me do anything better. All it did was force me to know a lot of things I can’t forget.

PUNK GLOBE: No one is immune from being scared of something at some point in their life. You came off as fearless. Ready to crush anyone who even looked at you the wrong way. Did you ever find yourself in situations at those shows, whether performing or not, where you were worried that you were going to get seriously hurt? Any moments of vulnerability back then?

Henry Rollins: No. It’s not because I’m some tough guy, because I’m not. It’s mostly because while I saw many situations where I might get beaten up, but nothing more serious than that. I think you have to learn how to carry yourself, see trouble when while it’s still avoidable and make the right decisions. Most of the time, anyone who’s going to start something telegraphs it long before they actually do it. You have to know how to read people. As far as vulnerability, sure, all the time. Anyone can get got.

PUNK GLOBE: You've written a lot about the shift of Punk to hardcore, specifically in Los Angeles. What was it that put you at odds with the Hollywood scene? You were friends with members of X, etc, but you seemed kind of turned off by the scene as a whole. Was it the other bands, and/or the drugs that were involved?

Henry Rollins: I was unable to identify with people who didn’t seem to have any motivation. I was always in bands that were trying to do something. I would go out on the road for months at a time in very stressful conditions, play in some pretty rough places and suffer the slings and arrows offered every night. It’s a very hardening experience. To go from that to being around people who seemed to be obsessed with their clothes, image or whatever, it just wasn’t where I was at. I was no better than any of these people, I just didn’t identify with them. It seemed that anything that remotely smacked of ambition, drive, discipline or intensity was anathema to a lot of people in that scene. I guess they did their thing and I did mine. There was plenty of room for all to move freely. My life happens out on the road, constantly moving, proving myself night after night. I’m not interested in being local anywhere. I’m happiest when I’m traveling on my own or on tour with not many nights off. Every night I have to go out there and get it right. That’s pretty much all that matters to me.

PUNK GLOBE: Switching to politics for a moment. You've been pretty outspoken about Trump. There's certainly a lot to talk about there. Recently, you wrote something about how the wolves in Washington are using him as a puppet. He's a distraction so they can pass their agendas while America participates in the old divide and conquer routine. Why do you think people are so divided by extremities regarding Trump. Is it cognitive dissonance? Denial on both sides? Or do you think he fulfills the punching bag fantasies of the left as well as the savior of America for the extreme right?

Henry Rollins: He’s no punching bag of mine. I merely chronicle the slow disintegration of a man in America’s highest office. It’s like watching someone butcher themselves. The anger in America is real. One of the reasons you see it so much, that which gave Trump such traction, that he used so well to his advantage is that America was founded in slavery, genocide and elitism. In many ways, things have not changed all that much. Slavery is still in effect, it’s called minimum wage. Jim Crow laws, while perhaps not on the books, have been updated and are in use. Look in any American prison and you can see it. A lot of people are angry, wary, and scared. When you listen to Trump’s rally speeches, much like the bat shit insanity of his recent blow out in Arizona, you hear him lie or make promises he knows, as well as a lot of the audiences knows, he will never be able to keep. How many people really thought he would build a wall and Mexico would pay? Some, certainly but not nearly all. They just liked someone who talked against who they thought was their enemy, Hillary Clinton, President Obama, illegal aliens who were taking all those apricot picking jobs they really wanted. The reason there’s such a great divide is because many people in America are intelligent, embrace science, reject racism, homophobia, misogyny, religious extremism. Many of these people find Trump to be loathsome. For others, again, as evidenced in Arizona recently, he’s the freshest possible breath of air.

PUNK GLOBE: Is there anything that you like about Trump? For instance, the fact that he isn't a "politician". He's a nut case, for sure. I don't find him charismatic at all, but others apparently do. Do you see any charisma there? Do you give him any validity or credit for anything at all?

Henry Rollins: Yes. He’s done at least two things for me. Because of his presidency, I have a better understanding of how bad things can get and also, he makes me want to be a better person. He makes me see that everything matters now. Every word, every action. I thank him for these lessons.

PUNK GLOBE: Trump recently had a war of words with Kim Yong-un, which ended with North Korea backing down for the moment. Do you think Trump handled that well at all? Do you think his response was appropriate?

Henry Rollins: I think Kim Jong-un did what he always does and finally, an American president got in the sandbox with him. So now Kim’s got Dennis Rodman and Trump to hang out with. Trump’s corny, poorly worded wandering threat might have had Kim shooting his cognac through both nostrils when he heard it. The “frankly . . . power . . . “ must have made him fall off his highchair. In global matters, Trump never misses an opportunity to show everyone how small ball amateur he is. To be succinct, when a dictator hurls his whacky threats at you, the last thing you want to do is answer back in a statement that sounds like it was transliterated from a poorly dubbed Chuck Norris film.

PUNK GLOBE: In the past week, there's been a lot of controversy and violence regarding the Confederate statues around the country being dismantled Specifically, Charlottesville. Any thoughts on that?

Henry Rollins: I think they should be carefully dismantled, taken off public grounds and put into museums so they can be learned from. They could be effective teaching tools for helping young people to understand how the United States of America abided racism and treating millions of its own citizens like animals. That statues were built for men who mobilized an army in an attempt to destroy America and preserve slavery and that at least one president, Trump defended the statues, claiming that Democrats were trying to divest America of its history and heritage, I think is a good lesson in personal responsibility, how Democracy is only as good as you’re willing to make it and how now and then, it fails. Every public utterance and tweet of Trump’s should be made into books, so in the future, people can read the thoughts of a genuine idiot. Everything he says is a cautionary tale.

PUNK GLOBE: Without embracing any Alex Jones conspiracy theories, what do you think of America in general today? Specifically, with drugs, prisons for profit and a police state. Do you think America's future is a police state? And if so, what role do narcotics play in that scenario?

Henry Rollins: I think it’s full of nice people but that it’s not a very nice place. It’s a slavery based economy. A lot of money is made fighting the “War on Drugs” but there’s no money in winning it. That’s why it will never over. The Prison Industrial Complex and the Military Industrial Complex are two of America’s biggest money makers. There’s no conspiracy theory needed. All you ever need to do is follow the money. We’re never leaving Afghanistan. Sixteen years and you can’t teach some people to do something? Of course you can. There is too much tax dollars to be laundered through Afghanistan. If Trump sends in four thousand more soldiers there, do you realize how much profit will be made by the companies who make the food, bedding, light bulbs, bullets, boots, etc.? Even better for them if something happens. If you sell bullets, you don’t want them to sit in magazines. You want them out of the weapons so the magazines go empty. It’s just supply and demand. I saw this every day when I was in Iraq and Afghanistan. Americans get used every day. If cannabis gets legalized in all the states, Jeff Sessions has one less boogie man. The legal states are making too much money to turn back now. He’s mad because he’ll have one less way to throw black guys in prison. America’s future is coast-to-coast privatization.

PUNK GLOBE: I ask this question a lot to people who have toured America over the last four decades. Our landscape has been hijacked by corporate culture. What are the differences between the 80's against today. What's missing out there in the spaces between the bigger cities? What do you remember from years ago that is now gone?

Henry Rollins: What I notice missing is the small places. Independent record stores, book stores, leases low enough to where you can own and operate such a venture and not go under. The bigger the corporate presence, the less humanity. Wal-Mart treats their “associates” poorly. They didn’t hijack shit. They offered people lower prices on bad food and cheap goods from other countries. America said, yes and thank you. America, like any other country, gets the culture and government it settles for. If enough people wanted something different, things would be different. What you see now is the product of apathy, civic sloth and compromise.

PUNK GLOBE: You still have your publishing company 2.13.61, years ago, you published a book "Letters to Rollins", which was quite entertaining. There was a follow-up as well. You must get plenty of strange letters and correspondence still. Any plans to do another book on some of those. And whatever happened to the battleship guy?

Henry Rollins: All those letters were written by Rob Overton, the man whose name is on the covers of the books. If I published that many letters sent to me without signed releases I could get sued back into the Bronze Age.

PUNK GLOBE: I have no idea if you're a happier guy than you were back in Black Flag, but you don't seem as angry today. There's been comedy shows since then. Years ago, you never exposed your sense of humor. Obviously, you've always had one. Why was it obscured for so long?

Henry Rollins: I am never really happy. A lot of my anger has turned to resignation and disgust but not all of it. As I get older, there’s a lot more to laugh at. Mostly, myself.

PUNK GLOBE: What's next for you? Any new projects, books, shows coming up?

Henry Rollins: I’m editing two books and writing two others. I have some shows coming up and some film work towards the end of the year.

PUNK GLOBE: Last question. Do you have any advice for someone who is young today, who feels similar to the way you did as a young adult? What would you tell them to avoid? What can they do with the rage? How do they turn it into something positive?

Henry Rollins: I would recommend they do whatever it takes to avoid self harm. From cutting to drugs, there are a lot of ways to destroy yourself. Prisons are a for profit concern and they would love it if you were locked up for the rest of your life. They are making it easier and easier. Alcohol and tobacco companies love the anger and self destructive tendencies of young people so they can attract, addict and slowly poison them for decades until death. The America is full of grifters and suckers. You don’t want to be either. The less you partake in the stadium filling, intellect killing rituals, the better off you’ll be. Anger is energy. I wish I came up with that. You can use it for good or you can torch yourself with it. The more education you get, the better your chances for surviving the America will be. The America is not your friend. It’s an adversarial environment you survive by, strategy and utilization of intelligence gathered. The states are only united geographically and Constitutionally. You need to find the part of the country where you can be yourself. Life is short. If you’re an adult and you want to make a move, get your plans straight and get going. Become financially stable as soon as possible and stay that way for the rest of your life.

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