Henry Rollins is a household name. He has an unbreakable stream of creative output and the guy just doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon. When I was a fresh-faced 20-year-old, I had the opportunity to interview him for my fanzine ‘Zineophobia’ at the very height of my Rollins obsession.
I still love him today, I mean, who doesn’t? but as young pissed off punk rock and hardcore fan, he was the pinnacle for me at that time.
I produced the fanzine with an ex-boyfriend and we basically found an email address for Henry and gave it our best shot. I don’t think either of us thought he would get back in touch, yet he did. He told me to send over the questions and when I saw that email in my inbox, my gut did backflips for about an hour. This was before social media when ‘celebrities’ weren’t as accessible and we didn’t know what they were up to every hour of the day.
Here was this legend, who was always extremely fucking busy giving an interview to a couple of young punk rock fans in Wales. What a guy!
His written words comforted me, so much so I got the title of one of his poems tattooed on my wrist. It’s barely legible 12 years later, but I don’t regret it. The poem in question was from his iconic book ‘Black Coffee Blues’ and it’s simply called ‘I Know You’ which is also a spoken word music track.
I’m listening to it now as I write this and it brings back so many hurtful but empowered memories. Henry helped me find my confidence. There wasn’t much of it there, but a little was enough.
Here’s one of my favourite parts;
Well, maybe they do know
But if they do, they sure do a good job of hiding it
It astounds you how they can be so smooth
How they seem to pass through life as if life itself was some divine gift
And it infuriates you to watch yourself with your apparent skill at finding every way possible to screw it up
For you life is a long trip
Terrifying and wonderful
Birds sing to you at night
The rain and the sun the changing seasons are true friends
Solitude is a hard won ally, faithful and patient
Yeah, I think I know you”
Many people will know Henry Rollins as one of the front men of the legendary pioneers of hardcore, Black Flag. He was my favourite vocalist because his intensity lifted me out of my slumber and inspired me to face the world head-on. For me, he was the stand out member of that band, which I’m sure many purists would argue against.
I always wanted a Black Flag tattoo, and at 19 I almost had one on my neck but I eventually chickened out. Looking back, I’m kind of glad about that. However, a few years ago I decided to just bite the bullet. Yes, I love Black Flag but the tattoo means more to me than a simple dedication to a band. It was a reminder during a period of time when I felt I was losing myself working in a shitty corporate job and finding it hard to get up in the mornings. The girl who wrote fanzines and listened to Black Flag wouldn’t have settled for it, and in the end, I didn’t.
My Black Flag tattoo is also pretty shit. There’s not enough space in between the bars, so I’m sure as I get older it will end up as some messy block. I would usually go to my friend Jordan Teear who works in Frith Street Tattoo, but I literally woke up on a Saturday and just wanted it straight away. When I’m depressed, I’m pretty rash, impatient and impulsive, and I was definitely depressed during this time.
Henry Rollins inspired me to write. This man has a way with words and writes with such clarity and conviction that I could only dream of. He’s the reason I filled up endless amounts of notebooks with lyric ideas, poems and general musings about life.
As I grew older, I began to prefer Rollins Band to Black Flag. I feel like Black Flag is a great introduction to a young, hungry Henry Rollins but Rollins Band really captures his unique voice and wordsmithery. Plus, the musicianship is on another level, as is the songwriting.
In particular, I love ‘Low Self Opinion’ on ‘The End of Silence’ album and ‘Disconnect’ on ‘Weight’. Henry Rollins is a walking juxtaposition of societal stereotypes. A seemingly pumped up, angry guy writing introspective and motivational words of wisdom.
If you’re ever faced with the opportunity to go see Henry Rollins spoken word live, you need to go. Its a couple of hours of non-stop storytelling, adventures and humorous yet poignant anecdotal perspectives. He stands in one position, tense, sweating and giving his all. I’ve seen him a few times and I’ve never been disappointed.
Enough of my talk. Here’s the interview, conducted via Hotmail in 2005 for Zineophobia, a welsh based punk-rock fanzine. If I had the chance to interview him again, the questions would probably be very different. Maybe I’ll send him another e-mail and hope for the best.
The Henry Rollins Interview
Is the Rollins Band defunct, or just taking a long break while you do other things? Also, do you think you’ll keep playing in a band until you just physically can’t or do you think there will come a time when you just don’t want to anymore?
As it is now, I have no band. I will be attempting some songwriting next month in NYC with an old constituent. We’ll see how that goes. I still want to make some songs. As far as being to do the work, I can do it. Unfortunately, there is a time when no one really cares and you have to deal with that. I don’t know how well a tour would go in the present climate. It’s not like I am young and shiny. Rarely is anyone who makes music done with it before it doesn’t with them.
How did you land your ‘Henry’s Corner’ film review show? Did you think it up and approach people with it, or was it the other way around?
I was approached by the production company Swift River. I can’t think I was the first person they had in mind but they eventually came to me and it seemed interesting. About a year later, the show came to be.
Although you were only in Black Flag for five years and it’s been nineteen years since that band broke up, do you ever get the impression that some people still see you as ‘Black Flag guy’ despite all you’ve done since?
I guess some people would recognize me as the guy who was in Black Flag and it happens of course but not as often as someone making reference to what I do now. It doesn’t really affect me. I have my work and I do it.
In your books, you often write from a first-person perspective in the guise of a variety of characters, are these based on real people you know/knew, or are they just a creation of yours? Likewise, are the people whom your lyrics are often directed at based on real singular people, or just a collective attitude (for example, “You Didn’t Need” or “Wrong Man”)?
Often, when writing in the first person, I take an idea and see where it runs off to. It makes for an interesting ride. As far as lyrics, I write from all kinds of perspectives. You Didn’t Need was about a woman I went out with for a time who I was very taken with. She wasn’t as much with me, at least a song came from it. Wrong Man is from what I’ve heard a lot of women talk about, how they bring the last mans baggage to a new relationship and the new guy has to kind of pay for the other guy’s crimes as it were. I had been wanting to write that one for a long time.
In an interview online you said you no longer get tattoos. When did you stop and what made you stop?
I think it was about 22 years ago that I got the last one and I stopped because as fun as the whole ritual is, it became more meaningful to change, challenge and work on my mind. I became less concerned with the decals on the chassis.
What bands/musicians really interest you these days? Your current top five and your all-time top five?
I think Ian MacKaye’s new band The Evens is really good. I like a band called El Guapo, they just changed their name to Super System I believe. I like Wolf Eyes. I like the band Q and not U a lot. Mark Robinson and his label Teenbeat always put out cool stuff, like Flin Flon and his solo stuff. I look forward to the next thing J Mascis does, always. I don’t know what my top five favourite records would be but my favourite album of all time is Fun House by The Stooges. There’s a lot of great records that have been made. I listen to the Damned’s Black album a lot. I have a lot of records, about two houses worth actually so it’s hard to choose what the best ones would be.
How do you go about writing your books? Most of them seem to be about experiences you’ve had, so do you just think “time to write one”, or do you just wait until you’ve got enough material to form a book?
I am always working on a book. I am wrestling three at the moment and another I am working on for someone else. It’s a constant struggle. I think if I could stop writing, I would be a happier person. But I can’t.
Assuming you haven’t already done one, and if you have then we apologise. Have you ever considered writing a novel? Or something that is less a collection of thoughts and more of a single narrative?
I lack the skill and the insight for a novel. I am always amazed at someone who can write one. I’ll never get there.
You’ve commented on various different things, interview, books etc. that you find Britain generally depressing or quite bleak. What is it that gets you down about this country? Or have your opinions changed since coming back here time and time again?
I like England very much. There was a rough start but by the last 80’s, it had turned out to be a great time. Many of my favourite all time bands are from there and I have the British to be great, stand up people judging from the many I have met in my life.
You record collections are somewhere legendary for its size and the broad spectrum of styles. Do you go to many gigs these days? And when you do are they up and coming type bands or older more established artists?
Usually, I am the show so it’s not all that often I get to shows anymore. I will go see anything that I think I might find interesting. I saw The Evens play two weeks ago and that a great night.
Are you going to record any other songs with William Shatner? Would you consider doing a more collaborative record like The West Memphis Three Black Flag record, or Mike Watts first album? If so, who would like to work with?
The Shatner think just happened. It’s not like I am looking for a future with him. I am not all that interested in collaborations of that nature except now and then. I would rather work on my own stuff.
You’ve just been in the new Steve Coogan film Alibi – Have you got anymore acting jobs coming up soon? Are you searching for bigger roles with each film, or are you happy playing more sideline characters?
I did another film after that one called Feast. I don’t know when either of them comes out. I don’t really care about getting bigger parts in films unless there’s more money potential. Acting for me is just employment when there’s no tour or studio work to be done. I am not an actor at all but I get some work now and then.
When you changed your name from Garfield to Rollins as you joined Black Flag, did you officially change it, or was it just a stage name?
Just a stage name to get some distance from my parent’s name should the slings and arrows of fame and fortune compromise them and it was a good thing I did too because a great deal of slings, arrows, fame and fortune has come my way.
You’re not ashamed of your public hatred for the police, have your past confrontations with the law ever affected you late in life? Have you ever found you have some sort of black mark against your name or anything when it comes to dealing with the authorities?
My hatred is for police who break the law, are racist, abuse their authority etc. If they do their job like they promised to do, I don’t have a problem with them. Actually, I have had many cops come up to me to tell me basically “Henry, we’re not all bad” to which I tell them that I know and we’re cool.
What do you find most stimulating, acting/performing, singing in your band or writing? Has the order of preference changed at all over the years?
The funnest thing is to play live with a band. The hardest is writing/editing/proofreading. To me, it’s all the same though. You do your work; you move onto the next thing and keep getting it done.
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