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Humor and malice and Henry 

Henry Rollins on war, music, and the end of the road

A 21st-century Renaissance man, Henry Rollins is a vehement voice for our slightly disenfranchised generation through his writings, ruminations, heavy music, and spoken-word performances. He seems to have all 10 fingers each in a different pie, yet still manages to maintain focus, asking hard questions and providing genuine answers with anecdotes and insight. Rollins pulls no punches. Rollins is real.

City: What do you think about the impending war in Iraq?

            Rollins: Well, it sounds like it's impending. It sounds like there's nothing we can do to get out of it.

            My bottom line is this: When you have a situation like this, the diplomatic way out of the war should be the needle in the haystack, where you rip every piece of hay out of that huge haystack, you exhaust every possible means of diplomatic solution before you go to war.

            War should be the failure. War should be, "OK, the needle eluded us. It was there, but we couldn't find it." And with our heads hung low, we realize we have failed. Because war is failure. If you see war as really screwing up, then to me, it makes the diplomatic solution that much more of an urgent thing to pursue.

            It just seems that our President seems to be going, "Yeah, yeah, diplomatic stuff is cool, but I really want to go to war."

            "Can't we let the inspectors finish?"

            "Yeah, yeah, yeah, but he already broke a rule, so let's go."

            We knew dealing with this guy was never going to be straight down the line, so let's just take a minute and do our work. They said these inspections were going to take months. They've been in there for weeks, and already it's "Lace 'em up, boys, safeties off, let's go."

            Do we really need to run at this? It's not like Iraq's going anywhere. We can bomb them tomorrow. Can't we walk to this? Why are we power-walking to this?

            If we're supposed to value human life over everything else, shouldn't we be dragging our feet toward the war? All you're going to get is casualties. And I don't care what side they're on --- any casualty sucks. You're blowing up some guy's mama, you're killing some woman's son. None of this is good.

            We're going to have people coming home in boxes, too, and we haven't had that happen since Vietnam. For two generations, no one has known the horror of that.

City: In some of your writings, you've referred to American youth as a "bunch of pussies."

            Rollins: I said this playfully. The way they're raised, the conveniences --- I'm talking about white culture.

            City: How about from the rock 'n' roll, Rollins Band perspective? It seems to me the most vital music today is being made by our generation.

            Rollins: Yeah, we're coming from, "Get your pop out of my rock 'n' roll. Get your peanut butter out of my chocolate."

            Pop has become so ensconced in rock 'n' roll, [but] there's a line. It's the whole Beatles/Stones thing. One's pop, the other's rock. I love them both, but there's a line.

            Now, in the hardest, drop-D, pierced-face thing, you're still gonna find the pop edge. Why? Because that's the key to MTV, radio play, and multi-platinum sales. And as hard as you want to go, that's the drag. They wimp out and have that multi-layered chorus.

            City: But you're doing what's right for you.

            Rollins: Thankfully, there's nothing I could do to be more commercially viable, so it's not a temptation, it's not an alternative for me. Lou Reed said it so well when he said, "I'm so obscure, I'm left alone to do what I want." That's always been my situation.

            Black Flag is more legendary than it is popular, but like Lemmy [of Motörhead] says, "I wish all the people that bought the T-shirt bought the record."

            Everyone goes, "Yeah, Black Flag!"

            "Yeah? Did you buy any of the records?"

            "Well, no."

            "Did you ever see the band?"

            "Well, too young."

            OK, it was a hundred years ago, and if you look at the Sound Scan on these records, they, to this day, don't do well, judging from my royalty statements. You could probably say the same thing about The Velvet Underground or The Stooges. They were legendary, where their record sales were not. And people are missing out. They should buy these records. They're magnificent.

            What you have now is the industry dictating the art, where the art used to dictate the industry. The Stooges were not going to relent. Nor the Velvet Underground.

            "Why don't you make this nicer?"

            "Why don't you go kiss my ass?" They wouldn't ever consider it. The A&R guy was doing drugs with the band. Now the A&R guy is getting the singer a boob job and getting them to fire the drummer. So now you have the emergence of true, uncut, corporate rock.

            To me, that's Creed and Nickelback. That's corporate music.

            City: Do you see it as kind of a sign that both Joey Ramone and Joe Strummer died before actually making it into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall Of Fame?

            Rollins: You can say that as long as you qualify getting into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall Of Fame as "making it." You're putting a premium on the Rock 'n' Roll Hall Of Fame.

            The last time I was there, they had a life-size cut-out of Britney Spears in the lobby. To me, that just says, "Let's get some rocks. This place is glass. Let's go!"

            I said to the audience that night in Cleveland, "If The Ramones don't get inducted someday, let's bomb this place with bricks." And a year later, they were inducted --- like I had anything to do with it. It's a statement on how culture catches up.

            Greg Ginn [of Black Flag] said years ago, "The revolution will be televised." That's such a huge concept, because it's true. It'll be Pay-Per-View. Sony will do the soundtrack. It'll be co-opted so quickly.

            Culture absorbs everything at such a rate, it's like an amoeba. It assimilates it, it uploads it, and you'll hear one of the cast of Friends say it in two weeks. Media is consumer-oriented, and anything "culture" gets uploaded quickly, because now it's for sale.

City: Is there anything out there you're listening to that you like?

            Rollins: I listen to music I like everyday. I really like J Mascis' new record. He has a new band called The Fog, so he's not new, but he still makes really good-sounding records.

            I like the last Slayer record a lot. I like the last Dylan record. I've got time for that Audioslave record; I think it's pretty cool. But after about eight songs, I think the idea wears out before the enthusiasm does. They have the A riff, the B riff, the jam part, and it's kind of a formula, but I like all the players and I like that singer.

            There are two bands coming out on Dischord Records [run by Ian MacKaye of Fugazi] that I think are really worth checking out. One is a band called El Guapo. I just got the promo CD. It's stunning. Amazing.

            Another band is The Black Eyes. Their album comes out in April. Incredible. It's probably going to be my favorite record of this year. I've never heard anything like it. It's new. They're on fire. The singer's nuts. It's everything you want.

            My favorite record last year was a bootleg, Nugent '78 --- The Cow Jam. Finally! A Nugent bootleg that sounded like what I used to see him do.

            City: Both you and Ted Nugent are outspoken individuals who first entered the world through rock. Where do you differ?

            Rollins: We're both someone people listen to. I think we'll both tell you we're doing good things.

            I don't have any real inherent problem with anything Ted Nugent says. He's interviewed me. I've done the radio show. I've hung out with him a number of times. We've argued on things. I mean, I'm not against killing deer. It's not like he's killing it and throwing it away --- he's eating it. I eat a hamburger, somebody else just did it for me.

            I saw him play a couple of summers ago, opening for KISS. I didn't mind "I'm going to play so sexy tonight all the faggots are going to be eating pussy." Whatever. I'm sure no gay guy cares.

            But then he goes, "Speak English or get the fuck out of my country."

            Well, yes, if you do live here, please speak English. It takes 20 minutes to learn --- hard consonants, very simple.

            But "get out of my country?"

            Go back to Michigan. Go back to your little country in Jackson, Michigan, if that's the way you are. He and I've got a bone to pick there.

            He's interesting, and I don't think his way of thinking is dangerous. He's not stupid. It's just so gung-ho and intolerant of anyone getting a word in edge-wise. I mean, c'mon, is there no humor in this?

            City: Yes, but you once said humor without malice is like a Pat Boone record on 11.

            Rollins: That was me taking Nietzsche and turning it into Henny Youngman.

City: What's up with Rollins Band?

            Rollins: I've got six months of talking shows until May. I'll see those guys then. I'm very proud of the records we've been making the last couple of years. They're full-on rock records. We just finished the Rise Above record.

            City: That's to benefit The West Memphis Three. [Three teenagers, arrested in 1993 in connection with the brutal murders of three eight-year-old boys in West Memphis, Arkansas. Rumors surrounding the case supposed cult involvement, and the teens were convicted amidst witch-hunt-type hysteria. For more info, visit] How's it going?

            Rollins: Thankfully, there was DNA evidence that was never tested. Now, with the money we raised with the auction of the guitar used on the record, that money went straight to DNA testing, which, by law, means the case gets re-opened. The money we raised is going directly to DNA testing on fingernail scrapings found under one of the dead boys' nails. And even if the fingernail scrapings turn out to be the flesh of Damien Echols and it nails him --- which it won't...

            They're quite innocent. Of this I'm sure. I have some ideas as to whose flesh is under those nails. A lot of people do.

            City: Why did rock musicians get behind this case so fervently?

            Rollins: Because it has a rock element. What the prosecution was calling evidence in this case was stuff like black Pink Floyd T-shirts and a guy drawing pentagrams in his school notebook.

            Drawing swastikas, pentagrams, and the girl you're in love with hanging doesn't mean you're a murderer or a Satanist. It means you're emotionally fucked up, you're hormonally intense, and on your way to something else. You look back three years later and you go, "God, burn this thing. It's so embarrassing."

            It's not lethal.

            City: Unless the police see it.

            Rollins: Unless the police see it in Arkansas. They see it in Los Angeles and they go, "Yup, that's my boy."

            If you nail everyone with a Pink Floyd T-shirt and a Stephen King novel in this country, you wouldn't have enough shit to lethally inject into these motherfuckers to kill them all. That's why we got involved.

            "You call that evidence? Not on our watch, you don't. Not in our USA."

City: You now travel, telling stories of your travels, where you get more stories to tell. You're living the novel. How does it end?

            Rollins: Maybe the way Miller wanted it to end, where you live so much and you see so much, all of a sudden you just find yourself grinning ear to ear, sitting still, content like Buddha. It'd be cool if there were two or three hot chicks in cages next to me and a cooler full of cold ones.

            Right now, I'm lovin' the music, can't wait to do the talking show, got the movie thing cookin' [Bad Boys II, out this summer], hosting Full Metal Challenge, on the Learning Channel.

            So, when does it end? How does it end? I'll be there whether I like it or not. Hopefully it'll be with class and with some dignity.

            I think as I get older, if I go the more literary, speaking trail, I'll get better at it. Whereas, if I kept doing music with the physicality I do, I might sully my back catalogue, which is what I really want to avoid.

            City: So, someday you'll just step down from the music?

            Rollins: Yeah. At this point, I only want to do it a certain way. I don't want to disrespect what I've done.

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