The Long March
Henry Rollins speaks on current events and his current tour
Writer, musician, actor, spoken word artist, photographer—Henry Rollins is all of these things. For 30 years Rollins has been entertaining people through his music, from the early days of Black Flag, all the way through to the end of Rollins Band. He has graced the silver screen on more than one occasion and also our television screens. Henry has written a number of books, mostly chronicling his adventures and experiences that his life has led him to. He has also toured relentlessly as a spoken word artist, enthralling thousands at a time with his iconic style of storytelling. And through it all—the blood, sweat, and the tears—Henry Rollins has remained loyal to his fans. Go to one of his shows and if you wait around out back when it is over, you will more than likely have the opportunity for an autograph and a photo. Write him a letter and he will most likely personally respond to your communication. Even those that email him receive an answer back like Henry has been their friend for ages. Henry Rollins has been around the world and back. He has seen horrific injustices and glorious celebrations. He has witnessed the kindness of man to strangers in the most remote areas.
Henry Rollins recently graced the state of the Bijou Theater here in Knoxville, and for almost three hours he kept the packed building entertained. He told stories that made people laugh. He spoke of terrible things that he has witnessed and has been a part of that made people look inward and reflect on themselves. He spoke wisdom from his lips that may have caused some to decide to try again, to not give up. Henry Rollins is just a man, but he is a man who knows his place in the world. He is a man who knows what he wants, and he knows how to get it.
Henry Rollins is a human being, in every sense of the word.
Blank News was given an opportunity to talk with him, and so, on a cloudy Saturday morning, I dialed Henry’s cell phone number into my phone (yeah, I have his cell number… the fan boy in me is giddy about that) and waited for the answer.
“This is Henry.” And that was how we began.
B: What are your views on music piracy and the bills that congress have been trying to pass to combat it, like SOPA and PIPA.
H: Well, to me, I come from a genre of music where you’re quite used to never getting paid. Where it was kind of, record deals were always kind of a laughable joke and just a gesture. You can’t say you aren’t in it for the money; you gotta get paid at some point if you want to pay your rent and all that. But never getting paid was the norm and so I expected record companies to not do right by me. So when fans download your records and rip them on their recording device, I reckon they are just getting in on the fun of taking something from the bands. Why should the record labels have all the fun? Now the fans get to keep the bands from their earnings. That’s how I feel about it, in that I don’t download Zeppelin IV from somewhere on the internet, I go out and buy the record. That’s just me though. It doesn’t make me angry, I’m used to it, and I don’t really equate making records with making money now. I just make them. The crackdown on all of that I can understand. But trying to put someone in jail or fine them I think is a bit much. I think what the major labels are dealing with is, they’ve been giving people a lot of mediocre music for many years and charged them a lot of money and I think a lot of people are sick of paying $18 where maybe three songs were good. The record label made the band do something that they were not ready to do. If you look the smaller independent labels are doing better now because they have real fans. I think some of the bigger labels have consumers. There is a big difference between having a fan and having a consumer; one feels like music and the other feels like product.
B: We are, of course, in another Presidential election year. In your views, do you think we need more change or should we stick it out with the old guard?
H: Well we can go the way we are going and jobs can keep going overseas, and America can still be 44th or 45th in literacy… We can have people preaching abstinence-only sex; that’s confusing, which leads to more people getting pregnant and the spread of STD’s, so let’s let that keep going. The rich can keep getting richer and other people, like those who densely populate your state, can get more and more broke ass. And the Ayn Rand Brave New America will fall completely on its head. Then they will tap people who have worked hard all their lives, and paid their taxes in full, like me, and say “hey, can you help?” And I’ll say, “Well, I’m a liberal. I’m the one you told to get out of American because I’m a socialist.” And by golly, me loving America as much as I do, I’ll say, “Gosh I’ll give you some of my tax dollars so your trailer home doesn’t explode.” So, I don’t know. I think we probably need some smart governance. Or let’s go for some massive deregulation that some people want in this country and let’s see how that works for you. I think it’s a state’s rights question, pretty much. I’ll let the 10th amendment weigh in; The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people. So as far as what America needs? What it needs will make itself duly apparent in the next several years, in that push will come to shove. The rich will keep getting richer and there will be a lot of people kinda, hanging out there and we’ll see how that works.
B: Keeping on the same topic you had, or rather still have, the Occupy Wall Street movement. Do you see those making any difference?
H: I think the Occupy Wall Streeters bring up some really good points. I think you are seeing that push coming to shove. I think it is not in the interest of a corporatized media and corporatized governments to have these people stand up for their first amendment rights. Maybe that’s why they’re getting pepper sprayed in the face so often in Oakland and all these other places. I think when the snow melts in America in the next couple weeks, Occupy Wall Street will get some traction and it might become an issue again. I think the idea of just occupying some small part of land to get your ass kicked by cops every day is kind of a fool’s errand in that the cops are going to beat you up, you limp home or get arrested, and there is not much to show for it. If Occupy Wall Street can turn into legislation, if they can get something moving by going to their congressmen and saying, “Look, we want to get something pushed forward or we don’t vote for you again.” But if it just turns into some kind of sit-out then the cops will eventually start cleaning it out with more and more force. What you are seeing though, is a lot of people standing up to what they think is something that is un-American and unfair, and America will do or not do. At some point I have to throw my hands up and just watch from the side.
B: Let’s move on from the political questions. You recently released the book “Occupants.” Do you care to explain how that whole idea came to you and the process it took to release the book?
H: I do a lot of travel and over the years the level of camera gear got a little better and I started to work very hard on photographs. A lot of the travel I would do would involve me walking around all day with a camera over my shoulder and at one point I decided to see if there was any way to take those photos and communicate photographically. I had an idea of wild interest and invention, with me coming from the independent world it’s kind of how I do it. I get an idea and I pursue it. It allows you to get a lot done and you can just follow your wild inclinations and that is what I do. I wanted to make a photo book so I just started working on it. The concept, I thought, it would be a bit presumptuous for an amateur photographer to put out an album of amateur photos, lest it look like some phony celebrity product. That’s why I did a lot of writing for the book. I wasn’t just after the interior of your wallet; I wanted people to understand that it came with a lot of labor. That kind of writing is really hard for me to do, and it was really hard for me to take the photographs. I taught myself Photoshop and did all the cropping and it was hours and hours of work that took years. It was literally 2003 through 2010 to take the photos, and from 2009 to 2010 to do the writing. So when the thing was finally off my desk hopping off to the printer it was like a burden to put down.
B: You never seem to stop moving. Has the wear and tear that you put on yourself as a musician helped you to keep going every day?
H: Well—that kind of thing—if you want to succeed as a musician on an international level you have to really work at it. That is all I’ve ever known as far as anything in the entertainment industry. People like me have to scramble. There is not a lot of ease, there’s not a lot of cruising on something. There’s not a big budget, there’s not millions of records sold, this is a very small operation. With that you have less room for error; there’s less fat on that particular strip of land. One would be well-advised to work vigorously and with a great deal of attention. Pay attention to your fans. Don’t walk by them post show. Meet all of them that are out by the bus. When they write you, you write them back. You realize that there are the people who allow you to tour. I like them; they like me. We have a great relationship and I have a very interesting, cool crowd who check me out all over the world. So, that is all I’ve ever known as far as, if you want to keep doing this, you need to do a lot of work. That is how I understand it from where I come from. From minimum wage work, to what I learned in school, to what I learned from my parents—discipline, focus, and execution. That’s it really. I never wanted to spend most of my life smoking weed or watching television. In high school I had jobs during the school year and in the summer I would have up to three. As far as travel between tours and being on the road, I try to maintain an active lifestyle—capitalize on my anger and curiosity.
B: Is there any kind of central theme to this current tour?
H: No. It won’t have a big overall concept. I just tell you the stories of what I saw and where I’ve been and how I feel about it and go from there. That is kind of the format on every tour I’ve done. You know, I take a year to travel and then the next year I will go out and go on stage and go expository and tell you what I saw.
B: You’ve done quite a bit of acting, most recently in Sons of Anarchy and a bunch of movies. Do you have any acting gigs lined up in the future?
H: No. This year is just flat out touring until January or February of next year and then in 2013 I will probably be looking for some other work for the next tour. I would rather not do acting on TV. I would rather do more reality-based, or documentary-based things. I’ve been doing some documentary work for National Geographic the last couple years. May or June in American, a three-part-series that we shot last year for Nat Geo Wild will be coming out called “The Animal Underground.” That was kind of my TV for last year, and if something like that could be achieved again for next year, a reality documentary , I’ll take it. Acting is fun but I’d rather be doing a non-fiction thing as far as TV.
B: Do you miss performing music?
H: Not really. I miss it some, but I know that to do it would just be lapsing. As much as I think I can still go out there and do it, if I can’t write new music then I don’t want to do old music. I think that’s like resting on your laurels, resting on past achievements. While I don’t mind watching others do it, I don’t want to do it myself.
B: One final question for you; Are there any bands out there that you are listening to that don’t make you want to shove pencils into your eardrums? With all the music that is force fed to us, is there anything that you can listen to?
H: Well it’s not force fed to me because I have a choice. Any band that is on the Grammy’s really, where people win some huge award, or some mainstream music, chances are I wouldn’t even recognize them. I’m not trying to sound elitist; it’s really not a world of music that holds any interest to me whatsoever. So when tells me music sucks, I respond, “Maybe you are looking in the wrong place.” Where I shop you are fairly hard-pressed to keep up with all the records that are coming out that are worthwhile. I listen to a lot of really small label stuff. Fairly obscure… where the CD’s are burned on CD-R’s, labels are hand folded, color Xerox sleeves, put into a small plastic envelope or a limited edition vinyl that sells very quickly—bands like Electric Wizard, and High on Fire. These are small bands that are extremely zero compromise. And so whatever Beyonce is doing, more power to her, but she’s not really on my radar screen. So I don’t have to suffer how mediocre music can get.