From his early days as the muscled, masochistic frontman of Black Flag to his acting, writing, spoken-word, Vanity Fair blog and Independent Film Channel hosting duties, Henry Rollins has always been, as they say, opinionated.
The madman’s fire seems to have found an intense focus in foreign relations and US politics, and nothing stops Rollins from saying exactly what’s on his mind.
It’s been a while since you’ve done anything with a band.
I haven’t pursued any music for quite some time; I just don’t see anything new I can do with it. When I see people of my age going out and singing some 20-year-old song, it just looks a little sad to me. They can’t move on, or they don’t have the courage to do something else. It’s one thing when you’re in the moment doing it, and it’s another when you’re doing material that’s very old and you become some ancient jukebox playing for the next generation. Life is really short and I’m not really interested in repeats, so I go with what remains very, very current and always changing, and that’s why the [spoken word] shows correspond more closely to how I live now – I can go out into the field, see something, experience something, and go right back to the stage and report about it.
Is it ever possible for artists to evolve?
Sure. A lot of people in jazz – John Coltrane, Miles Davis – they just kept going. I think you can stay with one craft, but you don’t necessarily have to keep falling back on it. Mark E. Smith of the band The Fall – there’s a new Fall album out like every nine months, and if you look at the set lists, he doesn’t go back and play the hits, he just plays new and unreleased material cause he’s written even more stuff. That is interesting to me.
Still, there is some talk of a Black Flag reunion.
Not with me. I’ve not heard of anything.
What do you think you brought from the D.C. punk scene to L.A. when you joined the band?
I didn’t bring anything. I just, you know, sang in the band. Black Flag already had its own momentum and its own thing. I was just the next guy – the fourth of four singers who came in to sing the words. A lot of the songs were already written by the time I got there; all the songs on the Damaged album had been written by the time I joined the band – had even been de- moed several times. So I was, in a way, in the karaoke version. It was a gig and I took it.
What about the D.I.Y. thing people always talk about from that era?
There was no one else to go to. A lot of the punk rock thing was basically inserting yourself into the society, and if you’re gonna sell records – all of a sudden, you’re a commercial ar- tist and you are trying to extract money. So, if you were gonna make a dent in that, there was no one else to do it. And so the smart people, they learned their business – like Dischord Records. Who else was going to put out Ian MacKaye’s records but Ian? That was the same story with the SST label: that was Greg Ginn and Chuck Dukowski, and they put out Black Flag and the Minutemen and on and on. But they kind of forced the issue, because otherwise there just would have been Fleetwood Mac albums. So you had to do it yourself. There was no one else to do it for you.
And you’ve been publishing your own writing for decades. But I’ve heard that you don’t consider yourself a good writer?
I don’t consider myself a writer at all. I’m a fan of it. I do write, but I think if you’re gonna call yourself a writer, you have to be very careful with that title. Cormac McCarthy can call himself a writer. Naomi Klein – she’s a writer. I’m not.
But you’ve been at it for years…
Yeah, I’ve been jacking off and eating for years too, but I don’t know if I’m getting any better at it. Words are very difficult for me – to make sentences not leak or limp. I admire those who obviously have a gift at it, and some people do. They can really take what they’re thinking and use a fairly clumsy language – English – and make it really sing. I admire it; I don’t necessarily have it.
Then what’s the focus of your spoken word show going to be?
It will be talking about where I’ve just been and what I just saw, and a lot of that will be informed by the trip I am leaving for in a few days. America has a new president and there’ve been a lot of interesting things happening since he took office. That’s basically what informs what I do on stage – current events and events in my life.
How much do you get to interact with the audience?
I hope they shut up.