Instead of manning-up and actually going the emotionally hard route of being outrightly rejected by publishers, I’m rejecting them first and allowing you to give my entire book a preview, let you read the whole thing or, if you like, download the whole damn thing at no cost. Download and read my first book “Thank You, Goodnight” for FREE.
The first time I ever came across Henry Rollins was when I approached a co-worker who was listening to a cassette tape of Black Flag’s. I can’t remember the name of the album, the song or the rhythm or anything having to do with the band but I clearly remember being afraid, actually, of the aggression coming out of his headphones. The music was driving in a way that separated itself from the usual thrash metal I was accustomed to associating with punk. This was before I understood the intracity of lineages, styles and nuances of certain groups but one of the most appealing part of listening to Black Flag, as I would come to understand them, was that it gave rise to my interest in music that came from a visceral place. The message and thrust of the music was visceral.
And now, with his notable appearance in the recently released WRONG TURN 2: DEAD END where he plays, well, himself and does it extraordinarily well, to his program in IFC aptly enough titled THE HENRY ROLLINS SHOW, to his current spoken word tour which you can check out right here Henry is all about keeping things varied. Of all the criticisms that could be leveled at a man who would take constant aim at politicians and their dishonest politicking Henry knows how to stay true to what makes him tick; he gets involved with what makes him feel comfortable. There’s no rhyme or reason to what he chooses but it’s all Henry. To be able and pick and choose and not feel like there is a need to be in this or that seems like a liberating position to be in and, right now, Rollins is in control of his own manifest destiny. Consider me jealous.
Our conversation ranges from the political to the mundane but here’s the hook with any talk with Rollins: he has something to say. Too many times you can find yourself with someone who has nothing more than to chit-chat about irrelevancies. Henry has things on his mind and is not shy about taking them out of his wheelhouse to show you what he makes of them. He’s an absolute sharp fellow, one of the most well versed people I’ve ever had 20 minutes with, and he’s helped me understand my own ignorance about things with regard to the world around me.
CS: First let me say it is really an honor to be able to talk to you.
ROLLINS: Hey, thanks man.
CS: I’ve loved the show since season one. Frankly, it’s one of the freshest film and entertainment programs out there. At its most basic it’s at least an elevation from Jay Leno or Letterman.
ROLLINS: And I’ve been on Jay Leno before. Nice guy. But that’s not a pattern that interests me because it seems so contrived and so static. And, hopefully with our show, we are able to break out of that. We’re not sensitive and it’s a more laid back atmosphere. There’s no live audience so at least the guest can concentrate and so can I. And in a live audience you are always looking for the joke I guess and I’m so glad I’m not in that position. But, I wouldn’t do well in that environment.
CS: Well, I really want to get to the core because I know I only have 20 minutes and I want to hit it hard.
CS: Myself – let me give you a little background is I’m a salesman by day for a newspaper and by night I write. I don’t get anytime to do as much reading as you do. It’s hard to keep up with things and but when I’m able to catch up with what you are thinking I’m actually blown away so I’m absolutely intrigued to find out what your thoughts are on the latest with what’s been happening in the last couple weeks - with Alberto Gonzalez, Ted Haggard and of course the Larry Craig thing.
ROLLINS: It’s really interesting. But I think all that stuff it’s crazy. All these headlines coming across the papers, like, “Wow, this is an interesting week, tell me all about it.” But it’s not always the best news.
Larry Craig to me is a peripheral issue that speaks of a bigger issue in that here’s an adult man caught in a restroom, maybe or maybe not soliciting another man for a sexual encounter. I wasn’t there…I don’t know, but let’s just pretend he’s a homosexual looking to meet somebody in a bathroom. And it could be that that’s the case and he comes from that older school in the 50’s homosexual where it had to be in the park – this clandestine rendezvous. It just goes to show you, that this type of suppression is not good for people. They need to sneak around. And like I said, if he is gay, look at the lie he is living. Even if he’s not gay, there are many men in America watching who do exactly what he’s accused to doing. They are married, they are straight on the outside but on the inside they are something else and they have been living a lie since whenever it is they knew they were gay. And it’s too bad in this land of the free that someone would have to kind of eat that hand grenade and not be who they are because I’m sure you are how you are and you don’t hide it. I’m a heterosexual. I’m on the big team, you know. And ads are geared towards me. Look at all the women showing cleavage. Look at Sports Illustrated. That’s been made for me. That’s for a guy who loves women. And I went all the way through school and I remember a couple of guys saying, “Maybe he’s gay.” He can hide it but she can’t hide it as well. It was interesting watching students and teachers react. Some were cool and some weren’t so cool.
And it was too bad for the gay student when they weren’t so cool because you just had a bunch of guys staring at him calling him names. It must have been a really rotten way to go through school. The Larry Craig thing. No one seems to talk about the bigger problem: that we have a problem with homophobia in this country. But that was interesting.
Gonzalez – he was so carrying the letter for this administration that he was laughing through his testimony:”I can’t remember”, “I gotta say this”, “They got my kid in the trunk ready to drive her down to the river if I don’t do this right.” It’s just interesting to watch on that level in front of C-span cameras. The way he was using English: “Who called you? You don’t remember? The call came from the White House. Who called you? Wow, you are not answering very simple, very direct questions which is pretty obvious. ”
If you ever watch your girlfriend or whatever – everyone knows when you are lying. And then the fact that the country is watching and weren’t outraged on either side of he aisle. If it was some Democrat up there I’d be saying, “You bastard, tell the truth, man.”
CS: There actually was a news program that actually talked about the fact that every news organization used every other word but “liar”.
ROLLINS: Yeah, “You are not being truthful. You are not being clear.”
CS: Do you think that the word is a value judgment, as some reporters have said, or do you think it is OK to flat out call a spade a spade without it being perceived as a childish, cheap…..
ROLLINS: I think there is probably a great desire by the big news guys to not be so black and white to give themselves some wiggle room and to not offend these people they want to put on the Situation Room some day in the future. I also think the Bush administration is very cowed and intimidated by the US media. Because if you ever watch news or listen to news from other countries, like the BBC World News, they are just way more abrupt. They just go, look that, it looked like a lie to me. They just don’t have time to kiss ass like we do.
CS: Maybe this has always been a problem, maybe it’s me just getting older, but why don’t people care? Why doesn’t anybody care?
ROLLINS: Well, some people care. And I’ve been asked that before.
Here’s my answer: I think a lot of people who would be accused of not caring – they don’t have the time or the luxury of learning the information so they can be angry about it. And if you wanted to get into a conversation with someone who has three kids, not enough money and who works a shift and a half everyday trying to bring home the proverbial bacon. You say if you read this book or check out that book, the guy looks at you bleary eyed and says, “I got three kids and a wife, this is my crap car I don’t own, I don’t have time to read. I haven’t read a book for 5 years.”
“What do you think about the news? What do you think about what Seymour Hersh said in the Times…” and he says, “Pal, I look at the USA Today in the lunchroom and read the Sports section. ” If they get the news maybe on the radio while they are going through traffic if they listen to it…so they don’t have the time.
In this country, Americans are hard working people. And a lot of times, knowing a thing or two is almost coming from a vantage point of luxury. Like me, I guess I’m doing pretty good. I have the time to read those big books and chew through them the best I can. I study history and read this and that and download that article and I read it but I don’t have any kids or a dog and I will take the weekend and I’ll spend it reading this stuff because I can afford to. A lot of people can’t. So I think a lot of people – it’s not always apathy it’s like, “OK, nothing’s on fire, nothing’s blowing up, the President says the economy is strong and maybe that means me. And if I don’t want to do my job right now, I mean my kids crying and I think that’s the problem in America. ”
There is not enough time to know this stuff. That’s why people seem to be angry about gas prices than the things that’s chewing up their countrymen, that would be Iraq. And gas prices went up fifteen cents. When I see gas prices go up I think about what it means globally and what it means for America in the world a year from now. I don’t think today I just spent $4 more at the gas pump. Like it’s not an immediate concern. I look at the bigger picture because I’m privileged to have the vantage point. And to me, at this point, it is just a privilege. Which sucks. It should be if only the salt of the earth, the backbone of America people, you know, Wal-Mart enthusiasts, could be more conversant in global warming and water shortages in other countries then they could have a genuine concern about it because I don’t think any American wants any other person to suffer – themselves or strangers or anyone else – that’s not how America is wired, I don’t think.
I think people are absolutely altruistic if you give them the chance. But I think that’s what really plagues this country and I think some people have really jumped upon it and use it as an opportunity – to propagandize.
CS: Is that why a fifth of Americans can’t locate America on a map?
ROLLINS: Yeah, stuff like that. I love pulling out a map and finding countries. But you can catch me on a whole lot of stuff – I’m not any genius. But I work at it. I try to learn stuff everyday.
CS: You brought up a point about the people who are on the front line of this war. How did it affect you when you did the USO Tour when you go to these places and see these troops?
ROLLINS: The most emotionally affecting stuff of the USO Tour is the hospital visits at Walter Reed Medical Hospital in Bethesda. Those are the hardest visits I make. When we’re out amongst troops at a base, everything is moving , and “Hey man, couldn’t wait to see you” and all that but when you go to the hospital, it’s room after quiet room and you make these visits and this guy is missing two legs, this guy is missing an arm, this guy is missing an arm and a leg. It’s like very rare you meet someone who is completely intact who has a back injury. And you meet those people and it’s, “Yeah, I threw my back out I’m here recuperating.” Well, OK. Then in the next room the guy’s forehead has been replaced because it was blown off and those are the hardest visits because you see these people half your age. I’m 46. They are 20 something and sometimes the whole family is crammed into that room. Why can’t they stay in a hotel? They are trying to make it work – to be with their boy and keep the job and keep the home and you see what this is doing to their lives and how these people had to make these incredible adjustments to how they do their thing to live their lives because their son, their husband, their dad, is missing limbs or brutally mangled.
You see how amazing the cutting edge of technology is as far as what a surgeon can do re-constructively. These guys get the most amazing care and they deserve it, of course. But it’s hard to take. Do that for 5 to 6 hours and get back to me. And I’ve been to those hospitals many times and hopefully I’ll be there in early October. Whenever I’m in DC, where I come from, I’ll let the USO know a week in advance. “I can give you half the day here or here.” But if you need me, put me in coach, I’m ready to play. And sometimes they can arrange it sometimes they don’t need me. So it’s like a wait and see and they let me know a week before. So it’s made the military, all those voices, a very personal thing to me because now I get their letters. I meet them at shows. Like some guy will write me, “Hey, I met you in Iraq a few years ago and you are coming to my town” – hey, give me your name and I’ll put you on the guest list. I always put them on the guest list. But that military – of the fifty shows coming up I have military coming to at least 15 so far. And more will write as the tour goes on I’m sure. “Hey you hooked up my buddy man, can you hook me up? ” Yeah, sure. And I’ve been doing that for years now.
CS: This new tour for the fall – we can at least talk about that for a moment. Is there any sort of core – molten core - around which you are building this tour?
ROLLINS: I usually have one or two centerpiece stories but I have meat on the plate and I have the potato and the vegetable. So a lot of my big centerpiece stories are usually travel stories. Fly from this country to that country to that country and that was my big journey. Last tour the big centerpiece story was the Trans Siberian Express train ride I took from Moscow to Vladivostok. Again, it’s travel stories as it is usually. I get out there in the world, see a thing or two, learn a thing or two and this year it’s when I went to Iran earlier this year and recently I just returned from Syria and Lebanon. And those were interesting places to go.
At least one of them is on the Axis of Evil and when I came back from Syria and Lebanon the customs people at the San Francisco International Airport marched me into a room and asked me a whole lot of questions as to why I went to Damascus and Syria. “Why? I’m just curious. And if you notice, there is a legal visa in my passport and I’ve done nothing wrong.” And, after a while, I was asking them more questions than they were asking me. Basically, “What’s your problem?” “Why are you asking me these dopey questions?” And then, they were like, “OK, you can leave.” I said, “What’s with you guys?”
CS: What was the country like?
ROLLINS: Well, it’s a pretty hot country. You could melt butter on your head it’s so hot. Their government – is there a government. Want to get into that topic with me? No? Good, cause I’ll sit here ’til my next flight and talk about it. Don’t tell me we aren’t any better than some of these places. So it was just an interesting bit of language. “Here’s my suitcase, here’s my hard drive, search me…” So, they said, “You can go. ” I guess they researched me and said I’m no threat. Which I’m not. But the people I met in those countries were fantastic. Friendly. I’d ask, “What do you think of America? Syrinese and Lebanese are “Like America…like you guys.” Oh yeah. I walked all over Beirut and Damascus and no one said get out of here. No one looked at me twice. In Beirut I was invited by the cab driver to come over and meet his wife and join us for some coffee and we’ll hang out. That’s why I came here to meet someone like you. Just people. The whole family.
CS: Do you think that kind of openness that kind of laissez faire – come as you go - still exists in America or is this a culture that is now based on fear?
ROLLINS: No, I think you have some areas that are very stressed. Some cities that are very wound tight. But there’s a lot of parts of America where they don’t lock their doors. Essentially America is filled with very good people – some very trying times there is no doubt about that but by and large Americans are very cool. It’s just that cities perpetuate their own myths in a way and that’s what we’re up against. That’s why the bad neighborhoods are still pretty bad because some of the inhabitants groove on the fact that that it’s a bad neighborhood. And it might be somewhat resistant if you went in with your school books and your laptops.
So America, in my opinion – I’ve gotten arguments about this. I think America, at least parts of it, likes to perpetuate our own myths. We sometimes take the legend of ourselves as much as we like the reality or sometimes we go for the myth of ourselves quicker than what it really is. We have a culture that grew up in the movie theater. I think you can come and go as you please for the most part in America. I think it’s probably a little different than it used to be post 9/11. I’ve noticed America in some places there’s been a shift in the last 6 years. And when the going gets rough, the average gets conservative. You know that. And so there is a lot of good people who are sincerely terrified of things and make them jump to some stupid conclusions. Like we better take that Mosque down, yes, that will solve it.
CS: It’s almost like an adolescence…A phase that we’re going thorough?
ROLLINS: I don’t think America is used to getting attacked. That’s for sure. Every other country in the world can tell you, yea, we got invaded. Alexander came here, Attila the Hun came here, the IRA did this thing here. Every other country has been blown up, shot, raised, invaded, pilfered but not America. Then 9/11 happened and all of a sudden everyone said we got to…it was a wake up call. For those who travel abroad and have a sense of history 9/11 may not have been as surprising as it was to some.
CS: I don’t think it was. To be frankly honest, I don’t think it was. Like you said, people who pay attention to things that are happening in the world, there are other countries that have it a lot worse.
ROLLINS: And more often in the last century. And they can look back over centuries – this is our history. It goes back to…whatever. In America, the paint is still drying here. We are very new. And for a new country we sure seem to be hell bent on telling other cultures how it is. Like the young energetic kid at the dinner table with the grown ups saying, “Here’s how it’s going to be. ” And it’s amazing how tolerant the elders have been.
CS: But how does someone like yourself, and again I’m going back to yourself and how you get your own news in a day…A: How do you keep up with the most accurate things that are going on with Fox obviously having it’s own slant, CNN having it’s own slant, etc…how do you keep up with that and B) At the end of the day can you at least formulate for me if President Bush is the worst President we’ve ever had?
ROLLINS: OK, well where I get my information is I love to read printed journalism I like to read stuff on the Internet. I like to listen to the radio and hear other people talk, different politicians. I try to find non agenda journalists. I have to read and read between the lines. I cross reference and think “What’s the motivation? Why does America go into this country and do that? What’s the motivation?” Just follow the money and you can save yourself a lot of aggravation and a lot of time. So, with that in mind, that’s how I read the news. I put it all through a business filter.
Now, as far as how history will judge George W. Bush, I think he has shifted more funds and moved more mountains in his 6 years or soon to be 7 years in office than any president in my recollection. It was very different landscape of America before he came to town and America is a very different place. Americans live differently, he’s taken an amazing amount of money out of the public coffers and shifted to private companies, like billions of dollars, and on our watch and in your face so he’s been very successful and I think he’s done a lot of damage.
And, as far as the worst President, yeah, maybe that will be George W. Bush considering how many generations it’s going to take to undo what he has done. We can rectify a lot of problems quickly if we withdrew from some places in the world. If we pull out they say, “OK, cool…that’s all we want was for you to back off.” The genius thing about this administration is the phrase that if we don’t fight them over there we are going to have to fight them over here. And that just keeps the thing going and I think it’s completely untrue. If you stop fighting them over there the thing just kind of ends and drops off.
CS: Thank you, Henry, for your time. I look forward to seeing you perform live.
ROLLINS: I love doing these shows. I really love it. Love being up there. It’s fun.
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