HIS COMPASS IS TRUE Henry Rollins

As he tours the
country this election year, the punk legend and pundit par excellence stays the
course.

 

BY RANDY HARWARD

 

When you have at least six jobs and one is trying to change
the world, do you sleep? “At least five hours,” says Henry Rollins. “That’s
kind of what you get during the work week. But if you keep the nutrition up,
you can get by on that.”

 

Oh, and he has time to eat right? It’s no big deal, on top of being a publisher, writing
books/blogs/articles, doing spoken-word tours, acting, hosting a radio show,
and fighting for civil rights. And that list once included hosting his own IFC
talk show and fronting Black Flag and The Rollins Band. He’s a machine.

 

“I’d rather sleep longer.” But he likes working late;
creativity hits between midnight
and four. And when he’s off the road his office opens at 8:45. “There are a lot of obligations.”

 

It’s almost the average grind; he works for the weekend.
“Friday is my big night to howl… But I’m an incredibly boring person. I go
out and get coffee and write in my notebook, then I listen to records at home.
It’s not a bad way to spend the night.”

 

Boring? Riiiight.
Ripped, with hair shorn tight and penetrating drill sergeant’s gaze, Rollins is
an intense presence. The well-read auto-didact commands respect, speaking with
a deep-seated conviction he’s honed since grade school in Washington, D.C.

 

Born in D.C. in 1961, by the late 1960s he was neck-deep in
racial turmoil on his grade-school playground, where he was routinely shoved
around for being white. “I was fairly terrified; it doesn’t take much for a
seven-year-old kid to cry. When you don’t understand racism, you don’t
understand what you’ve done to deserve that.”

            “It never
made me want to be racist; it made me want to push against it. What politicized
me was seeing the disparity between classes of people up close.”

 

Rollins’ current spoken-word tour “CAPITALISM” confronts
similar inequities. “Capitalism is out of control. It’s unregulated. People
won’t play on a level playing field. They hire lobbyists to go in and regulate
and screw people. Like the Koch brothers; that’s the kind of capitalism that
gets people killed.

 

“Capitalism is rope;
you can build a bridge with it or you can hang yourself. I live in a capitalist
society, a consumer-driven economy. People buy my books, and I can pay my
bills. So I don’t have a problem with capitalism until these sons of bitches
come in and rip people’s heads off with it.

            “There’s something to be said for
moral rectitude, having a civic and a moral compass.”

 

Morality is Rollins’ M.O. When his call-waiting beep announces
his next interview, he has to go. Now. No final question; he has an obligation.
He’s already given a meaty interview, so it’s totally cool. But 30 minutes later,
his manager emails. “Henry just shot me an email asking me to let you know that
he’d be happy to answer a few questions if you had more.”

 

His compass is true.

 

***

 

BLURT: Sometimes it
feels like we’ll always be under the two party system and corporate influence,
and suffering from a malignant apathy. What keeps you fighting?

ROLLINS: Because I think that the good overshadows the bad
and that change is possible. Look at who your president is. When I was in high
school, I don’t think it would have been possible in America to elect someone like Mr.
Obama. So, in my lifetime, substantial change has happened. Perhaps before I am
gone another Amendment will be added to the Constitution. I can’t afford the
luxury of apathy.

 

Once in a while, you
get a win, like with the West Memphis
3. Are you still in touch with them?

I am somewhat in touch with Damien. I just read his book and
did a thing for the back cover. Hell of a story. I am glad they are out of
course but have a problem with the conditions by which they were released.
Since I believe in their innocence, that means I still think the killer or
killers are at large. What Arkansas
wants to do about that, I don’t know. I am not sure what Jessie and Jason are
up to. Damien, I think, is having quite an interesting time of things at
present. 

 

You’ve said you may
have said all you had to say musically. But doesn’t an inner folkie lurk within
you? The idea of acoustic Rollins music isn’t so far-fetched; you have plenty
to say, and it’d be an entirely new context.

Thanks for the interest. If only I thought lyrically. I don’t
any more. The song is no longer a form that I have anything for. If you asked
me to write a song right now, I would be unable, unless I did it mechanically –
that is to say, make words rhyme when they should, if they should, et cetera.
But is there anything on my mind I want to put into a song? No. I just don’t
think in that way any more. That’s why I stopped doing music. I didn’t want to
fake it and I didn’t want to be onstage singing ancient music. That, to me, is
almost cheating. It is resting on your laurels artistically. I can’t do that. I
would rather go forward and fail than live in the past and rely on what I did
many years ago. That’s not facing the facts enough for me. 

 

 

Fight the power:
Rollins tour dates are at his official website.

 

 

[Photo Credit: Heidi May]

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