Originally published on February 1, 2001 at Ticketmaster’s LiveDaily.com
Henry Rollins has a lot on his mind, and he’s more than willing to share all of it with you. In a business filled with people who have nary a disparaging word to say about anyone or anything for fear of damaging their own marketability, Rollins has built a career out of offering his uncensored opinion on just about everything.
Since rising to prominence in the early ’80s at the helm of the post-punk group Black Flag, Rollins has gone on to enjoy success not only as the frontman of the Rollins Band, but also as a television and film personality, and as the founder of his own company, 2.13.61. Through 2.13.61 — his birthdate — Rollins distributes his Rollins Band and spoken-word albums, books he has authored, and other Rollins-related merchandise, as well as similar works by other artists.
His first 2001 offering — a spoken-word album titled “A Rollins in the Wry” (Quarterstick) — is set for release on Feb. 20, and on his 40th birthday, the muscle-bound, tattoo-covered icon will launch a spoken-word tour that is expected to run into May. The already-completed follow-up to the Rollins Band’s 1998 release “Get Some Go Again” (DreamWorks) is tentatively set for release that same month, and a summer tour with the group is planned before Rollins returns to the spoken-word circuit in the fall.
JZ: What is more terror inducing: Performing music on stage with a band, or standing on a stage all alone with a mic and revealing intimate details about your life?
Henry Rollins: Oh, neither. I’m one of those pathetic performer-types who can’t wait to go on stage. I grew up on stage. I’ve been on stage doing shows since I was 19 and I’m [almost] 40 now, so it’s what I know. I don’t want to sound like I’m bragging. It’s not that I don’t have any fear up there. I just really feel comfortable–not exactly confident–but I’m really comfortable up there, and I’m really enjoying it. So there’s never any trepidation on my part, just a desire to really deliver … and in that, there’s plenty of pressure … because you don’t want to let anyone down. You don’t want to let yourself down. You don’t want to deliver anything but 100 percent, and you have no one else to blame when you’re by yourself. If you hand in a show that’s a B-plus, you’re like, “Well, whose fault is that?”
Does the spoken-word stuff feel merely like entertainment for you, or is it catharsis?
Oh, no, it’s definitely the smashing-together of atoms, you know? Entertainment–that’s a weird word for me. That’s what you do to get away from the grind. If I had a shitty week at work, I would want to see “Lethal Weapon 3,” ’cause it serves its purpose. It is entertainment. That’s why you can have corny scripts: as long as enough shit blows up, everyone gets to watch a car blow up instead of blowing up their neighbor’s car. Mission accomplished. I’m one of those guys. I like those movies every once in a while, too, so I can go “Wooo!” when shit blows up. Great. I can’t be chucking Molotovs at my neighbors like I used to.
But I’ve always thought that you can entertain–as in, keep an audience from leaving you–and still give them high-content goods. I don’t think you need to dumb it down or do dick jokes to get a point across.
You once said in an interview that smart people are out there, but that the struggle is finding them, getting to them, connecting to them [and] keeping them. How do you do that?
Well, just try to be a bright light yourself and hopefully you attract like-minded. The real coup is to pull over a few of the mediocre to a more enlightened side of the fence. I’m not saying that I’m some beacon of literacy and cranial intensity, but there are a lot of boring people that wait for the next episode of “Friends.” They set the VCR when they’re gonna be doing something else. When they’re recording kiddie-porn in the paneled den, they set the VCR — they actually read the manual — so that they don’t miss a drop. That’s too bad. They could be reading Mark Twain. Or they could be learning to read [laughter].
We live in a country — this potentially great place — that’s just full of these people who are so hot to settle for mediocre street poison, over-the-counter poison, cultural poison, viewable poison, readable poison … just like this artery-clogging, heart-slowing, boring shit that, eventually, wears and tears. All those Budweisers, all those Marlboros, all those legal stress-relievers, and all those bad movies, all those corny fucking books. You see what people read on subways on the way to work. “Dog Training for Dummies.” “HTML for Dummies.” For dummies? Well, what does that make you when you buy that thing? Fuck! I get out of the house more often than not. Up to nine months out of the year, I’m out of the country. We are one of the dumbest countries in the world.
You go to places in Europe, like Switzerland, France, England — in England, people dance on your head with their vocabulary. You get these interviewers that are just fucking dealing on you with the driest, sharpest scalpel. You come in all, “I’ll fucking kick your ass, dude.” “You will, will you? Well …” You’re like, “Aw, fuck.” [laughter] You’re pinned to the mat. It’s not like they’re privileged. People are a lot sharper on the whole, I have found, in other parts of the world. What’s up with that? Why is that? We’re supposed to have all the good tools.
It seems like we are the Uncle Bucks of the planet.
Fuckin’ A! It’s hilarious when you hear a German, an Australian, someone foreign, do an imitation of an American. The last two seasons of “Monty Python” were just brutal to Americans. [laughter] It was just like [in a dumb, exaggerated tone], “Hey, man, how are ya”? [laughter] It’s the worst. You’re like, “Oh my god. Is that how we’re coming off to them?” Well, yeah!
America’s the comic relief.
Yeah. And people fear us, too, because they know we are crazy enough to start blasting like it’s the wild, wild west. What I would like to do, if I was president — people are mad at me now; they’d be way more mad at me if I was elected dictator for four years — there’d be no fucking tax cuts. There’d be a tax increase. People would be trying to shoot me. Everyone would be paying about $135 more a year so that we can raise the salaries for teachers instead of giving them the same salary as a guy who hands you a Happy Meal over a counter. … And I would incarcerate those kids in the classrooms and they wouldn’t be allowed to leave third grade unless they could really do it. Then you start solving the problem.
Half the problems these kids get into is because they’re too stupid to see around it, and they’re put in situations where stupidity and ignorance have put their backs up to the wall. I mean, I don’t rob banks because I learned to read. Also, being white and male in America helps, too. Some of these kids would be angels, but they weren’t given enough tools, so the liquor store hold-up is a viable alternative to a career at Burger King. That’s the kind of stuff that will always keep this country grinding away on itself. It’s like bone-on-bone now.
When you see those Joe Camel ads, when you’re unabashedly pimping tobacco to young people … that’s a country that hates its inhabitants.
You were speaking in terms of “If I were president,” and something that I would love to get your take on is the recent presidential election.
Well, here’s my take on it: You live in a huge country. It’s about 2,700 miles long and 1,500 miles wide and full of idiots–who can’t drive, ’cause they’re always in front of you in traffic or lines at the post office–so there’s a lot of people in America. There are some real smarties, too. Some real bright pennies. And, out of millions and millions of people in this country, those two fucking clowns are the only people you can get? Can you believe that?
It boggles the mind.
When you think about it in that way, it really does boggle the mind. You go, “Noooo!” George W.? He should be selling used cars between lethal injections. He’s a knock-off of his not-so-great dad. And Gore, who really means well, but he’ll always be the Adrian Belew of politics: a great sideman, not your frontman. He’s never gonna be a David Bowie, but he makes those Bowie records sound good, and he makes those King Crimson records sound good. He’s like your ultimate guitar-wielding sideman, but he ain’t the lead. It’s like a movie that stars Joe Pesci: don’t go. He’s not the guy for the job. Great sideman. He’s no DeNiro. He’s no Russell Crowe.
And so, you get this yahoo [for president] who’s never even been–the guy’s never even been to England! [laughter] Boy, this is going to be great when he goes over there calling the prince “Buddy.” That’s gonna be hot. I can’t wait to listen to how he pronounces Yasir Arafat. “Can I call you Buddy?” “No!” It’s gonna piss off people worldwide. We’re going to offend some very touchy situations with a guy like George W.
And I think I miss Bill Clinton already, because I think he was a people person. He did take time to get the names right, and other leaders in other countries really liked him. He’s fundamentally a good guy. I wish George W. would put Jimmy Carter on his staff, just so we have one friendly guy who knows how to talk to people out there. I think we’re gonna have kind of a cold and plot-lost administration, and, at the end of the day, we’re gonna have to answer for it.
But I had a revelation last summer. Now I know we will always be safe from foreign invasion. I went to a KISS concert last summer. I was surrounded by 20,000 KISS fans. The KISS Army, basically. The most intense, speed-sniffing, mullet-having, troglodyte-girlfriend bearing, giving-birth-to-frog-like-double-thumbed spawn. Unbelievable. When Ted Nugent, the opening act, kicked the quasi-racist, “Speak English or get out of my country,” I blanched and everyone around me went, “RAWWRWWWR!” I realized then that any invading force upon our shores will get decimated. First, the pot smoke is gonna hit ’em. Then they’re gonna get hit in the head with, like, tall-boy malt-liquor cans. And then the KISS Army will come waddling, trundling and limping over the hill going, “Fuck you, dude!” until these guys get back on their carriers and go back to the sorry sandpit from which they came. So we will be safe, but it’s not going to be the American armed forces; it’s going to be the KISS Army. We may have to rely on them if this guy gets us into trouble.
Can we draft them into the service?
No, all you need to do is tell these guys that there’s a KISS reunion on the shore and they’ll go.
See, this was my solution last year, to solve this thing with who owns Jerusalem: either have a smart bomb that’s not smart enough, and accidentally SCUD [-missile] and level it. “Whoops! Sorry!” I mean, we’ve made mistakes like that before. Then everyone can go grab rubble, eBay it, and everyone gets paid. Give the property to Trump, let him build upon it, and then everyone will get a piece of the action. Or, just tell the KISS Army that there’s going to be a KISS acoustic gig at Mecca and have the American military load all those fans inside carriers painted with the airbrushed, heavy-metal dude with the sword going up toward the sky and the bosomy-woman hugging his knee. Dump them on to Tel Aviv and have those things hit the beach and drive to Mecca and have 300,000 KISS fanatics waiting in Jerusalem for [KISS members] Paul [Stanley] and Gene [Simmons]. You’ll have everyone from the king of Jordan to Barak–if he’s still around–to Yasir Arafat begging, promising that they will come to a nice agreement about the distribution of the property if these motherfuckers will leave. “They’re graffiti-ing the Wailing Wall!” “They’re shitting on the Via Dolorosa!” “They’re selling joints at the 14th station of the cross!”
Have you tried to get on the new administration’s cabinet?
No, but, you know, I wrote in [to the White House during Kenneth Starr’s investigation] and came up with the idea of a pay-per-view caning of Clinton’s butt on the White House lawn. Bring in the guy from Singapore who caned the kid who grafitti-ed the car, just so that the Republicans and everybody can go, “Ha ha ha. That must have hurt. You suck.” And then we can all go back to work. Take a dollar from each viewer and put it into the sagging American educational system.
I’m trying to innovate here. I’m trying to come up with some fun ways to get us up off of our knees and back on our feet again and turn America into one big, kick-ass rock concert. If you look at the paperwork, it is a rock-and-roll nation. Everyone’s supposed to get a shot. What we have now is 98 percent dictated by 2 percent. It’s scary.
Where do you see things being four years from now?
Kinda where they are now. Culturally, the music industry has consumers right where they want them. The tail now wags the dog brilliantly. You buy the accessories to music. A Backstreet Boys record isn’t music; it’s a music accessory. It’s alternative music because it’s an alternative to music. It’s kind of like NutraSweet: ain’t the real thing. Almost. Tastes like. But it ain’t.
Europe will be busy trying to grasp the idea of the Euro. America will just keep destroying, raping and pillaging its own. There’ll be minor flare-ups and little in-scene catfights and minor squabbles, but there’s always those big spatulas that they use to scrape the dead off the streets of major cities and they?ll just cart ’em off to Potter’s Fields nationwide and America will go blindly staggering on.
I think it’ll just be four years on hold … which, you know, we have so many resources that we can idle for four years at an intersection and no one will beep because there’s so much — well, not exactly “so much.” I just think that we have so many third-world places as a sweat shop that we can just kind of dog-paddle in place in the deep end and still look good. I never understood that until I went to different parts of Africa or Indonesia and saw that America’s everywhere.
You won’t find much of Kenya in L.A., but you’ll find a lot of America in Kenya: kids playing in dirt with a Nike T-shirt on. They don’t know what Nike is. Or, the only clean thing you can buy in a city street in Nairobi is, like, that clean bottle of Pepsi. Otherwise, everything else is just covered with fly specks and is infected. I walked around there saying, “Could I eat there? No. Could I eat there? No. Here’s the butcher shop. It’s a piece of gray meat on a string covered in flies. I can’t eat that.” I couldn’t hang. I can’t hang in this. What would I do if my Visa card exploded? If I couldn’t get to the airport? I’d be fucked. But you go through parts of Thailand and it’s all funky and strange looking, and then there’s that K.F.C.! [laughter] With a Thai woman in that K.F.C. uniform! You’re like, “My God! We’re horrible!” It just leaps out of the cityscape and smashes you in the eye: America’s the crassest place. I think it’s OK to do that kind of shit here, but when you go international with that stuff, it looks so gaudy. Those kind of travels made me see America much differently than I had previously. I still love the place. It’s my favorite country on earth, but it just made me see that there’s work to be done. I guess that’s what I’m saying.
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