“I don’t want to pass through life like a smooth plane ride.”- Henry Rollins
Henry Rollins will not go gently into that middle-age, and has turned up the energy levels on his relentless search for knowledge by traveling the lesser-beaten paths to the not-so glamorous (but certainly interesting) parts of the globe.
The peripatetic IFC talk show host, rocker and author has grown comfortably into his one-man show tours that reveal a wicked sense of humor amid the messages; his reams of hate mail from irate right wingers (his “love letter” to Ann Coulter was a stand-out detour), recent trips to the middle-east and Israel and harassment from US customs officials have added layers to the material.
Henry is a consummate showman at heart and knows how to entertain an audience, making them pause to think, perhaps hit their own internal reset buttons with his staccato observational musings and rants about stereotypical status quos.
Coming up in the 1980s hardcore punk scene, Rollins made a name for himself as the fit and fierce leadman for the non-stop touring machine known as Black Flag, where his intensity and his surprisingly abstemious nature that avoided clichéd rocker vices set him apart from everyone else on the circuit.
He was and is an ascetic minimalist, who has always preferred the company of a good book or listening to a great set more than the mantle of fame and fortune.
His creative world includes writing, running his own record labels and publishing company 2.13.61, (his birthdate), or popping up in odd, cool movies, like the cult 2005 kitsch horror film, “Feast”, or in television such as “Californication. ” Rollins does voice-over work and hosts radio and television shows, including the critically lauded “The Henry Rollins Show” airing on IFC.
Rollins is no one-note performer that can be easily summed up, and IFC has wisely hitched their trailer to this nomadic soul whose genuine sincerity and natural curiosity in artists of every stripe has yielded some of the best interviews with pop culture’s most enigmatic personalities ever presented on television.
Henry revels in jumping headfirst into some of the more problematic world areas in search of better understanding and human connection. What fans of Rollins will truly enjoy are the upcoming IFC specials “Henry Rollins: Uncut,” where he immerses himself in various local scenes with surprisingly emotional in-the-field segments that tell touching and gut-wrenching stories from the trenches.
The “Uncut” series begins with New Orleans (Nov. 7) then South Africa (Nov. 14) and Northern Ireland (Nov. 21).
Rollins is currently on tour, and took time out to talk to Monsters and Critics about his new specials, and his perspective on life.
What, do you feel, has inspired much of your political ideology and perspectives? What do you think the role of government should be?
HR: Here are some factors that have influenced me: Being a white boy in an almost black school grades 1-3.
I saw what was going to come of many of these people. I knew that many of them were set up to fail. It didn’t matter what they were taught, the home life and the neighborhood were going to do a number on them.
At that age, I saw that they were being groomed to fail. I didn’t understand why that would be a good thing. I found that out later.
Growing up in racism was a large factor in my thinking. I know what the enemy is and how to beat it. You want to have a government small enough to drown in a bathtub like that little twerp Grover Norquist wants?
You give people a solid education and a working wage and watch there be less need for government. All government needs to remember is ‘We the people’ and go from there.
It seems as though rage and anger serve as an impetus for much of your material—music, writing, your spoken-word. Do you feel that this has in any way tempered as you’ve aged? Do you see yourself as more measured, less prone to gut reaction and irritation, now that you’re older and more experienced? Or, seeing all the things you’ve seen, are you even angrier now with the current state of things?
HR: I am an angry person but I cut with a blade, not a flamethrower.
You have to have keen aim and let your years benefit your decisions. Things don’t get to me like they used to, other things do.
One of the things you get to do when you’re older is to cut the crap and get to the point. I enjoy that.
Your friendship and work with Hubert Selby, Jr. is fairly well known. Have there been any other contemporary writers recently whose work you’ve admired, even if not to the same extent as Selby?
HR: I think the fiction of Michel Houellebecq is quite good but not nearly as impactful to me as Selby.
I don’t know if anything as raw and hard hitting as his work will come around again. He was truly unique.
I read non-fiction almost exclusively at this point. In that arena, there are many people I greatly admire. Naomi Klein, Kapuscinski, Mark Crispin Miller, Chalmers Johnson, Vidal.
Your publishing company, 18.104.22.168, has placed a great deal of focus on publishing your own work and the work of other musicians, such as Nick Cave. Hypothetically, when it comes to your own literary interests, what out-of-print or orphaned works would you really enjoy putting out?
HR: ‘Somebody In Boots’ by Nelson Algren. What a read.
New Orleans, three years later, still looks like it was carpet bombed only months ago. You talk about the need for greater government involvement in the rebuilding of the city, and helping people overcome the obstacles they’ve had to face since the hurricane. What do you think there is to be done about this situation? Should the government help people relocate or do you think more should be done to help people rebuild?
HR: I think the re-build of NOLA is much more involved than fixing houses. You have to fix the coastlines that are now disappearing or the city risks the same thing happening again. That’s a huge undertaking.
The Bush administration employed disaster capitalism to NOLA. They let people die and move away and now it’s softened so people like Steve Wynn and Donald Trump can come in and buy it up and make it a white person’s paradise maintained by submissive Hispanics and Asian workers like you see in Dubai.
This is what these people do, they do it all over the world.
I think it would be great if a mini new deal was set up to get people on their feet and functioning but I don’t think this government values these people.
Again, there’s more profit to be had when the locals fade away and eventually, they will.
It very well could be too late.
You commend the tempting rich food of New Orleans, and how you would be the size of St. Nick if you lived there in your first ‘Uncut’ special. I noticed your normally pumped mesomorphic physique seems lither, more compact. So, given your comments made during the performance there, are you the now repentant former Eichmann of lab mice? Have you gone to the vegan side?
HR: I train much differently than I did years ago. I changed things up when I turned 40. A lot more cardio. I have not eaten meat for many years.
Ireland: Unity or no?
HR: No. I think it’s a cease fire with small skirmishes here and there. I think they’ll perhaps get there in a generation or two.
In ‘Uncut: South Africa’ Your guide Africa’s segment with you was touching, his graciousness as he shepherded of you through the township. Are you optimistic for South Africa?
HR: I am very hopeful.
I think what is needed is continued aid to help the people there be healthy enough to further on change and prosperity.
I think that’s what most people there want. I could be wrong of course but from what I saw, people want the future now, not the brutality and ignorance of the past. I think with education and opportunity, race relations improve.
If you’re smart and getting a humane salary, why would you care about the color of someone’s skin?
You are a voracious reader and workaholic, but is there any television that you make a point of watching and that you enjoy?
HR: I sometimes watch television on DVD. ‘The Shield,’ ‘Rome’, ‘Rescue Me’, things like that are great for hotel room jetlag and general escapist needs.
I watch crime shows on television like the ‘First 48’ as criminality and crime solving are interesting to me. I watch television on the tour bus, not so much off the road.
Tell me who your dream guests are for your IFC talk show, and who were some of our favorite interviews in the past?
HR: I would like to talk to people like Paul Waldman, Naomi Klein, Rachel Maddow, veterans, Chalmers Johnson, James Nachtwey.
I very much enjoyed (Wener) Herzog, (Gore) Vidal, (Larry) Flynt, (Marilyn) Manson.
A clip from the IFC Henry Rollins showNote the date on this article may be incorrect due to importing it from our old system.