Interview: Henry Rollins tells us how he really feels

By Julia Simon

October 7, 2016

Henry Rollins has done it all. DJ, musician, publisher, editor, spoken word artist, television personality, documentary filmmaker, you name it, he’s tried his hand at it, usually successfully. The 55-year-old once-frontman for legendary punk band Black Flag works tirelessly to shape the world to his vision, unapologetically asking difficult questions of everyone he meets. This year alone, he’s traveled to Antarctica to report on climate change for LA Weekly and been to 15 European cities as part of his spoken word tour. He’s got three movies coming out that he’s either produced or acted in, yet the man still flies economy class, insisting that “you’ve gotta ignore the money you make and stay fearful of failure” or success will dull your edge. He’s been the ever-moving eye in the middle of his own hurricane for close to 35 years now and shows no evidence of decelerating.

Rollins has attained a type of fame that takes a lifetime to coalesce – the kind that allows him the freedom to investigate anything that piques his interest. Whether with his KCRW spot, his Vanity Fair column, or the dozen books he’s written, he pursues his truth curiously and with wide open eyes. We listen and watch when he speaks and writes, because we know whatever he has to say will be, at worst, divisive, and at best, harshly revealing and candid, possibly even cathartic. “Visionary” isn’t quite the right word to describe Henry Rollins but it’s not wrong, either, and his ability to evade pop culture’s efforts to label him are a big part of his mystique.


CLTure: You seem to function with a particular kind of tenacity – to learn, to do, to experience. What drives that in you?

Henry Rollins: I am driven mainly by curiosity and a desire to do things. Life is short and I want to do stuff. That’s it really. I am not looking for a career, just looking to keep things interesting and to keep testing myself.

CLTure: In Charlotte, we’re seeing a lot of our older, independent music venues crumble either financially or physically, or succumb to the real estate climate’s volatility. Is this something you’re seeing nationally, and if so, what are your thoughts?

Henry Rollins: I started seeing that in the 1980’s. With small to medium venues, independent record stores, etc. It’s sad to see these places go but that seems to be the way of things in USA.

CLTure: Why did you tour with the USO despite being notoriously anti-war?

Henry Rollins: Because soldiers don’t start wars. They fight them. My disagreement isn’t with the military. Those tours gave me a lot of insight into the whole thing that I couldn’t have gotten any other way.


CLTure: You’ve said that you’re done with making music, and that continuing to tour “at 50 with music (you) wrote at 20” can appear “desperate, a little balding, and a little rotund.” But many of us that weren’t there at the beginning LIVE for those later tours, and they shape younger generations. Do you really feel that older musicians that tour with their early catalogs are inauthentic, or is that just how you feel about your work and career?

Henry Rollins: I think all those bands should do what they want. The guys who were in Black Flag who have been going out as a cover band of the band they were in, are doing it because they are broke. It’s not love of music. I think when you’re in the moment, the music plays you. After that, you’re playing the music and that’s when it’s time to move on. To me, I think at some point, the music becomes entertainment and when it gets to that state, I am out. Like I said, these people should do whatever they want to. For myself, I am only interested in moving forward. Resting on past achievements lacks courage as far as I’m concerned.

CLTure: Are there any themes to look forward to at your Charlotte performance? Is there a particular point this tour is trying to make?

Henry Rollins: No single point. I tell stories from where I have been, comment on things. I think the through line is that I am trying to get to the truth of things.

CLTure: Do you really feel that people are ungovernable? If so, why get behind Bernie Sanders’?

Henry Rollins: What I said has nothing to do with any one candidate. I have said before that people are for the most part, ungovernable. Not completely so. The point I was making is that any system of government will have difficulties because there are people who will always disagree with aspects of the governance. That’s why there is more than one party, vetoes, etc. You vote for who you share the most values with and hope for the best. But don’t think that Homo sapiens will suddenly become all cozy and everyone will agree with everyone else. The species is too high functioning.


CLTure: What are you listening to right now? Reading right now?

Henry Rollins: I am re-reading the biography on The Ruts. It’s called ‘Love in Vain’ by Roland Link. I am listening to a lot of different stuff all the time. I have been listening to a lot of music from the M Squared label, an old Australian label. The records aren’t all that easy to find but very interesting stuff.

CLTure: You’ve traveled the world extensively – is there anywhere that you feel is your spiritual or second home? Where and why?

Henry Rollins: I don’t have that anywhere. I just go from place to place. There are some countries I like a lot. I am in Alice Springs Australia right now. It’s amazing. I have never been to this part of Australia before.

CLTure: You’re managed to stay very fit despite being insanely busy. What’s your diet like?

Henry Rollins: Just lean and sensible as I can make it. Nothing special though. I try to stay away from food that is too much fun basically.

Catch Henry Rollins in Charlotte on January 11, 2018 at McGlohon.

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