TIM G talks to the intense, intelligent, deeply determined Henry Rollins, ahead of two Spoken Word performances in April.

*   *   *

A little bit of sugar makes the napalm go down a little better.

TRUE TO FORM, Henry Rollins conjures up images of the grinning assassin when he drawls down the phone, which brought to mind the hilarity of his Big Day Out performance in 2006. Rollins is the tattooed hulk with a black stony stare and an overstated staunchness. He was serious, very serious. He’s a serious guy but he really did mix the sugar in with the napalm to make it sweet, yet explosive. Each point he made was calculated and articulate. Here was an insight into a man who lives for what he does; his intensity is no gimmick, he is a deeply determined man.

Anyone who witnessed Rollins at the Big Day in 2006 will recall eclectic subject matter that ranged from politics, to personal stories and recounts of tour antics, all fired at the crowd at rapid pace, with underlying messages that make you contemplate, yet laugh aloud. Slotted in amongst a gigantic line up, Rollins stamped one of the more poignant impressions on me of any of the acts that year. He was energized and aggressive in true Rollins style yet had an insatiable hilarity and knack to captivate the crowd.

Whilst his show almost borders on stand up, Rollins plans his shows and strategises the finer points of every moment. “I do have a lot of focus up there, I’m not improvising up there. You’re trying to put the ocean through a drinking straw, I’m very front loaded, I’m armed and ready to go.”

Whilst renowned for muscle bound bravado, Rollins admits that spoken word is a naked medium, “you don’t have a snare drum keeping you going or a song to hide it, there you are, here it is and here you go!” He admits that he always gravitated towards spoken word, and has been doing that since 1983. “Talking shows are me wanting to report back to you… here’s what I did, here’s what I saw and here’s what I thought about it.”

Rollins is an intelligent and insightful character, so I wasn’t sure how deeply to probe the questions of his music for this interview, but as his thoughts unravelled I was impressed at his honesty. Rollins was brought up on a diet of classical music and jazz. He recognises the early blues pioneers as the pillars of rock and roll, “Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, Little Richard. I’ve met a lot of musicians and a lot of these guys say that if it wasn’t for these pioneers’ balls to let it rip. Jimi Hendrix is another and even the Velvet Underground.”

This prompted me to ask Rollins about the impact of Black Flag and how he perceives it now as well as its on going popularity as a seminal hardcore band. “What makes Black Flag stick around is nothing I have anything to do with. I was a fan and I joined. It was a combination of Greg Ginn’s amazing guitar playing and lyrics so I can take no credit for it.”

“I thought, why not go to Islamabad? How insane does that sound... I get interested, and it becomes an obsession, then there is not another place I can go... as soon as the President says ‘ooohhh these people are bad’ that’s when I book my tickets.”


Rollins was being humble, but I asked him why they have such longevity, why kids can identify with Black Flag 27 years after they formed. “It was a combination of time and place. When Black Flag started there was nothing like them... these things happened in the absence of similarities around it, the Velvet Underground. I mean people still talk about them, where’d they get that from? It’s like they’ve just pulled it out of the ether.”

He paints himself of more of a music fan than musician. He spoke of his love for not only hardcore bands such as Minor Threat and Bad Brains, but stadium rock bands such as Ted Nugent and Led Zeppelin. “It was a great time to be young... it was time when you had to keep reassessing your record collection, like does this mean anything to me?”

Discussions about the D.C hardcore scene prompted honest and reminiscing responses from Rollins. “At the first Minor Threat gig I thought this is going to turn into something, and I was right about that.” He still hangs out with Ian MacKaye and considers him not only his best friend but “possible the biggest influence of any one person on my life, for the better.” He also describes seeing Bad Brains for the first time when they opened for the Damned, “after it I was like ‘let me assess my mind here, no it’s officially blown.”

Henry Rollins is a man whose belly still glows with fire, he’s driven and he is obsessed. He’s impassioned and he wants the world to know about it. “What I see, the older I get, the more I get out there the more I have to say. I see a lot of stuff that just pisses me off.” The fire burns bright in the belly of Rollins; he is not a man who does anything or indeed feels anything half heartedly. “It’s a hell of a time to be an American at the moment, its enough to make you holler, you can become very angry. When you see what’s being done under American foreign policy at the moment you think, ‘No man! That’s not me!’ That’s enough to get me out of bed.”

Speaking of his recent “Christmas vacation” to Pakistan and recent visits to Syria and Iran, Rollins and his excitement on visiting war zones: “I thought, why not go to Islamabad? How insane does that sound... I get interested, and it becomes an obsession, then there is not another place I can go... as soon as the President says ‘ooohhh these people are bad’ that’s when I book my tickets.”

The tattooed hulk of a man is iconic in so many ways that surpass any particular art form that he’s dabbled in, yet he doesn’t think of himself as overly iconic or as any kid of celebrity. “I’m a busy man... it’s like tattoos you forget you have them, I’m not that dude who’s like ‘Man I’m fuckin’ famous, I come from punk rock’. I don’t want to be that dude.”

His way of keeping it real is by tirelessly working on projects. Rollins is unrelenting. “I’m never satisfied; I’m never comfortable and I never stop.” He had been so frank and honest, I decided that I would push a little deeper with Rollins emotionally. He is staunch and tough, but I asked him, what scares him? Emphatically he responded “Stopping. I’m scared of all this going away.”

Like a man running, Rollins fears not pushing boundaries and reporting to the world what’s pissing him off. Yet he differentiates between being scared and having fears, “I’m not scared of being shot, or dying, I’m not a tough guy, I’m not particularly brave, I’m just worried about this all coming to an end and what I’m going to do with my self.”

It is this fear that keeps him driven. Anyone who witnesses his live show will see the deep intensity of an intelligent and calculated man.