Getting older is a real bitch, and it’s something that most of us don’t think about until you start noticing that hangovers really can last all day, falling off your skateboard hurts now, and coffee truly is the source of all productivity. We also don’t think about our seemingly indestructible heroes and icons getting older as well, and if there is one person who epitomizes the image of indestructible, it’s Henry Rollins.
If you’re reading this I’m assuming you know who Henry Rollins is, but for arguments sake lets say you don’t and I’ll give you a brief introduction. Henry Rollins was born in the year 1961 in the Glover Park area of Washington, DC. After discovering punk rock with his long time friend Ian MacKaye, he spent most of his time being stabbed by various items, spit on, and fighting his own audience as he sang for Black Flag. Maybe he didn’t fight every audience, but this was known to happen from time to time; as I said, indestructible. There was a very interesting and unexpected turn of events that led to him being asked to sing for Black Flag, but we have an interview to get to so look it up on your own time. Seriously, look it up, it’s a great story! Henry Rollins, then Henry Garfield, found himself moving to LA after joining Black Flag in 1981 which is where he has been ever since. LA has afforded many opportunities for a punk from DC like a recent role on Sons of Anarchy in addition to his other accomplishments, which are many. After Black Flag he had a successful career as front man of The Rollins Band, acted in numerous movies, started his own production company (2.13.61), has been an author, currently has a radio show, and a new partnership with National Geographic. It’s not just LA that has afforded these opportunities though, Henry himself has a presence about him, a sense of strength and discipline that I believe to be evident whether you have met him or not. He gives off an aura of indestructible power, control, and focus.
Well, as I stated before, our icons and heroes, much like ourselves, are getting older and Henry Rollins is no exception. This year he is turning 50 years of age and thought that the best way to celebrate would be by getting out on the road and doing a birthday tour simply titled, “50”. Henry has never been short of opinions or things to say and at 50 years old it’s time to get back out there and tell the world what he has seen throughout his life and travels. His tour started on Feb 7th in NYC for 6 nights and on his actual birthday, Feb 13th he was in his home city of Washington, DC, followed by the last stop, LA where he performed 4 shows. We had the opportunity to chat with Henry Rollins about getting older and his, at the time of this interview, upcoming tour. We hope you enjoy!
OOPM: How long have you been in LA now?
Henry: Since 1981
OOPM: How did you end up there being that you are from DC?
Henry: To join a band called Black Flag
OOPM: You have always seemed like a very real person, how do you deal with being in LA, a notoriously fake place, and do you agree that it is?
Henry: It depends on who you hang out with and where you go, certainly there is those people, with the plastic faces and the inserts and you know, “love you babe” and all of that, it’s also a very dirty city that is extremely violent with some very hard working people making way too little per hour. So there is an underside to LA that hits your right in the teeth as soon as you get off the airplane. If you’ve ever driven from LAX to Hollywood, you have to drive through LA, which is mildly terrifying, a good bit of it. It’s like kind of a stucco wasteland with bullet holes in the apartment buildings. It’s different than where I come from, Washington DC and the east coast, there’s perhaps more readers and more disingenuous trees but there are parts of LA where the people are quite nice. It’s not all starlets and rock stars. There’s real people who go to the market and all of that. But it can be a very strange place, but you know, it’s where people come from other places to be strange.
OOPM: So you wouldn’t agree with the accusation that it’s all fake?
Henry: Well, no place is all real either, and these “fake” people, they’re real, they just got plastic parts. I think you have a lot of people out here chasing that dream of fame and all that. If your life is basically looking for a leprechaun then it’s going to lead you to some potentially willey stupid conclusions like, “I know, I’ll cut my face up and stretch it, I’ll sew hair into my head”, or “I’ll sleep with this toad to get into this movie.” People will come out here in desperation going after something that they think is real, but it’s really good PR and photoshop a good deal of the time, so you’ll run into some pretty interesting characters out here. Me myself, I work, I’m not really in that world in that, I work for a living and a good part of the year I’m not here. It’s kind of rare for me to be here for weeks or months at a time. In 2009 I was here for at least half of the year because I did a TV show. Last year I was here about two and a half months, the rest of the time I was everywhere from North Korea to Africa to Spain to wherever else where the tour and the travel takes me. So luckily I get to escape the LA thing and also like I said I work. I don’t really hang out with people here I don’t make a scene really, I don’t have a lot of friends.
OOPM: Are you excited to be coming home on your birthday for a show in DC?
Henry: Yeah! The good part will be in front of those people that night and being on stage when I’m 50. The best part of the day before the show, which is always great, I’ll be hanging out with my best friend Ian MacKaye and he and I spoke for quite a bit yesterday and I’ll be getting into town in the morning and I said for my 50th birthday present I just want to walk around the old neighborhood with you and he said, “done!” So I’ll walk around the streets with my best friend of 38 years and that’ll be great!
OOPM: What are we going to hear about on the “50” tour, is it going to be older and wiser?
Henry: Well, I’m definitely older (laughs). I’ll be talking about some recent travel stories. It’s not going to be a long show, it’s not going to be the usual gauntlet I make people run through where it’s two and a half hours, it’s going to be more on the hour and a half time frame. It’s going to be new stories and new things that have happened and just a few things that I’ve picked up over the years and how my life has changed and at the 50 mark, kind of where I’m at. Because you know, 50 is one of those marks that we have institutionalized ourselves into thinking, “well that’s something”. I think the next one is 80, so I gotta hang out 30 more years before I can say, “ah hah!”, for a lot of people it’s 65, I guess retirement age, for now. But 50 is apparently a land mark. 40 is like you lose traction, and then 50 is some kind of an achievement and so I’m going to basically say what I think is right and wrong. There are a few conclusions I’ve come to as an older person that never would have occurred to me as a “twenty something” and perhaps would have never occurred to me had I not spent the last 30 years being recognized, signing autographs and being someone who lives to a certain degree, publicly.
OOPM: Is music still a big part of your life?
Henry: Well yeah, in a different way than it used to be. I have a radio show which I put a lot of attention and work into because if people are gonna listen I want to give them good stuff, so I work very hard on that, but I’m not doing any music, I don’t see the point of writing songs and touring with a band, I think I’ve kind of been there and done that to a degree where I don’t know what more I can bring to it besides repetition and caricature, and I don’t want to do that.
OOPM: So now you focus on bringing good music to people in other ways?
Henry: Oh yeah! Having a radio show, the best part of it is, you know people listen and they dig it and it’s good to find that out, but it’s great to be able to champion small bands, like some band out of nowhere, you put them on the radio and the best thing I get as far as a shot in the arm is every once in a while a band will write me and say, “hey, we’re this band and kids are coming to our show saying I heard you on Henry’s show, thank you.” That is the best! That we helped, the radio show got someone to this cool band, that is, to me what it’s all about! Or just like when a kid writes you, some youth will write in saying, “you turned me onto John Coltrane I’ve got three Coltrane records now, thanks for turning me onto jazz.” It’s like, oohhh man, I did that? To be able to turn someone on like that and perhaps lay something on them; you can’t take any credit for it, you’re basically saying, “I’m John Coltrane”, but to be able to give someone the nod so they can get into something that they will hopefully be into for the rest of their life, that’s using that access you have, like radio, or notoriety in a really good way and I really love the idea of the radio anyway. I listened to the radio all the time, I grew up on it and to be part of it, I really love what I’m doing with music, as just a guy bringing it to listeners.
OOPM: What are you listening to these days, anything that stands out?
Henry: Yeah! There’s so much good music out there these days you’re spoiled for choice, Zach Hill, a great drummer, he’s on a bunch of people’s records, his new record is called Face Tat, that’s a really good record! Marnie Stern, who Zach plays on her record, Marnie has three albums out her new one just came out the other day, I recommend you get all three at once and just play them all the time. There’s lots of good young bands happening, and lots of great crazy noise music coming out of the mid west, like Ohio and Michigan, and it’s just really, clear the room just avant-interesting stuff happening out there. The new Deer Hoof record is really cool, it comes out at the end of the month, we premiered it on my show a couple of days ago. Jandek is touring, we saw Jandek last Saturday, Mike Watt was playing with them, it was an interesting night. So I mean, music is good, lots of good things to play, lots of good reissues happening out of Africa, like their finding all kinds of old 70’s and 80’s recordings that are coming to light now and being re-released, lots of interesting music coming out of Southeast Asia, so yeah there’s no shortage of killer stuff out there, you just have to be open minded to it, you can’t be dismissive. If you’re open minded then you’re fairly flooded with some really good; and local bands, there’s all kinds of great small bands that are local that if you’re lucky enough to get their cd then you’re astonished at how good these bands are. They’re not getting much, so, I put em on my show.
OOPM: What was your experience like working with National Geographic on “Born to Rage”?
Henry: Oh, it was great! It’s part of an ongoing thing I have going with Nat Geo, I am a host on National Geographic, so we’re doing more stuff this year. We’ve already done the second documentary that comes out in April. That will be for Nat Geo Wild and it’s about snakes it’s called “The Snake Underworld”. We went and met a whole bunch of people who keep everything from King Cobras to 20′ Pythons to Crocadillions and interviewed them, so the Nat Geo thing was about 3 years in the making, as far as the deal. It just took a while for schedules to kind of meet up. I’ve been in negotiation with Nat Geo for literally years. It was just the right time, they came to me and said, we really like you for this channel, and I said, hurry, lets do it! It just took a while for things to find themselves, but there I am, it’s amazing, my kind of place, my kind of people.
OOPM: For the people who haven’t seen it yet, does Henry Rolllins indeed have the Warrior Gene?
Henry: Well if they haven’t seen it yet don’t ruin it for them. Make them go see it.
OOPM: Does 2.13.61 take up most of your time these days?
Henry: Yeah, we just outputted a photo book that will be coming out in November, now we’re in the argument stage where we start fighting over words and images and white balance. It’s a photo essay book that will come out in November, and later today in about 3 or 4 hours we will start day one of editing the next book after that one which will be a journal and travel book from 09 and 2010, and that will be well over 100,000 words and we start editing chapter one, literally today me and my assistant will start editing, we work shoulder to shoulder basically arguing over every sentence and this will take us well into June or July, it’s going to be a very long project. I’m going to be gone for part of it, so she and I are going to work very hard on it until early February when I leave for the road.
OOPM: Did you think you would make it to 50 years old?
Henry: Yeah sure! I mean, I didn’t think I was one of those live fast die young types. I’ve nearly been killed a couple of times, but I’m still here. I never really thought of that that much. Basically what I have is a disregard, I don’t have a great deal of concern about when I go. I’m not like running in front of cars or tying myself to railroad tracks or anything or playing Russian roulette, but I’m not staying home because I’m afraid of the night, I boldly go. I travel all over the world by myself, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, wherever, I just leave. I get my backpack and my cameras and I split for sometimes months at a time, and I’m not trying to impress you because the truth is, I’m not brave, nor am I a tough guy, nor am I looking for a fight, but I can’t live checking my swing and if you go somewhere and that’s it, well, now you know.
OOPM: How have your travels all over the world changed your views?
Henry: Well, I’ve learned that the world is a very hungry place. A lot of people outside of the west struggle daily. Their whole lives are a struggle where they know nothing else, to the point where they don’t know they’re struggling. The only perspective they get is tourism, where they see fat children. They see well fed well nourished travelers from abroad come through their town in Senegal, or Sudan or parts of India that are pretty hard hit. They get some perspective and go, “oh”, they might see a magazine, but their lives are the lives of, never enough, way too much work, ceaseless manual labor for everything from work to just gathering the water is labor. Like, they’re going to carry it four miles back home. I just came back from Uganda and Sudan, and if I had a dollar for every woman I saw with, I don’t know, like 25 or 30 pounds of water, and when I found out they are walking off in hours one day and hours back and that’s all they get done that day, they got the water, because their is no water near them. I was out in these parts of Africa with an organization called, “Drop in the Bucket”, who I raise funds for, and they drill water wells in remote parts of Sudan and Uganda and they do amazing work, and I’m a huge fan of theirs so I went last year with them for three weeks and watched them do their work.
OOPM: You’ve been a musician, actor, writer, and that’s just scratching the surface, but what’s next?
Henry: Well, just more of it. I want to do a lot more with National Geographic, I’ve got some documentary plans this year that I want to shoot with my own production company on my dime. I’ve already been starting to spec that out. I traveled to Vietnam to do research on it, it’s going to be about Vietnam and America. I’ve got these two book projects that are going to be quite a bit of effort to get them over the wall. I want to do more talking shows, more travel, there are a lot more countries I want to go to, a lot more things I want to learn. A lot of travel, hopefully if I can stay around there is a lot more travel to be done.