Henry Rollins, who appears at the NorVa on October 20 as part of his spoken word tour, has done just about everything.
Born Henry Garfield, Rollins grew up in Washington, D.C. He briefly sang for the DC hardcore band State of Alert before moving to Los Angeles in 1981 to be the frontman for seminal punk band Black Flag. After Black Flag disbanded, Rollins achieved superstardom as the singer for the Rollins Band, which toured in various lineups from 1987 until 2006. He also established the record label and publishing company 2.13.61 (his birthdate), which he used to publish his books and spoken word albums.
Since then, Rollins has been an actor, appearing in numerous films, and has hosted television shows such as MTV’s 120 minutes, Jackass, as well as the Henry Rollins Show. He also had a recurring role on TV shows such as Sons of Anarchy. He has hosted his own radio show, and even hosted an educational history show called Ten Things You Don’t Know About on the History Channel’s H2.
Over the years, Rollins has also become known for his activism. The causes he has been active in include LGBT rights; freeing the “West Memphis Three,” who are three young men from Arkansas believed to be wrongly convicted of murder (and since freed); and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, a group which helped veterans returning from war reestablish themselves in their communities.
Over the past decade, Rollins has given up musical performance, and has focused on spoken word. His stop at the NorVa is part of a three month long U.S. tour that focuses on his life, travels, and social commentary. I was able to catch up with him while he was on the road.
AltDaily: You’ve worn many hats in your life. You’ve been a musician, writer, spoken word performer, actor, and radio /talk show host, among other things. What do you hope to one day be most remembered for, and why?
Henry Rollins: I give no thought to how I might be remembered. None. I just do stuff and will stop when I am dead. What anyone makes of it later, I can’t control, so I don’t think about. I don’t want a grave or any kind of marker. Burn the body and dump the ashes in the dumpster behind the place. People are so weird about dead bodies, death, legacy, what it will all mean after they are gone, etc. I never got that.
You were once the frontman of Black Flag, a band known, among other things, for its anti-police oppression song, Police Story. What are your thoughts on the recent fatal shootings of citizens by police, and the protest movements that have emerged in response, such as Black Lives Matter?
I think that this kind of thing has been happening in USA for decades. Now you get to see it. I think the BLM is incredibly polite. I think their restraint is amazing. In one year, try doing to white citizens what gets done to black citizens. You really don’t want to see what a White Lives Matter movement would be like. You want to see body count? Piss white people off. Culturally, historically, they have no concept on how to handle blatant racism on a regular basis. Some white people might be put down because they are poor but their ethnicity has never and will never be under attack in USA. Whatever the white power movements and lower half of USA politicians intimate about white Christians under attack in USA by the scary brown people and liberals is pathetic. The truth is they have no idea what oppression is like. None.
You’ve played many roles as an actor over the years, ranging from police officers, to white supremacists, to yourself. What has been your favorite role that you have played, and why?
I liked being Jack in He Never Died. He can’t die. He is post everything. He is bored and depressed. Eternity is not a good fit for him.
In recent years, your performance career has focused more on spoken word rather than music, as you have said you don’t believe in singing old songs over and over again. Do you ever see yourself getting back on stage in a musical capacity with new songs?
No. I did it to death, as it were. There is nothing more for me to do with music. I was never much good at it, I just did it really hard. I can’t do it that hard any more, so there is nothing for me in it.
The early years of your musical career were spent in Washington, D.C., and then you joined Black Flag, which was based out of Los Angeles. What type of influence do you believe each of these scenes had on your music?
In Washington, I learned to be honest. In Los Angeles, I learned how to be streetwise and how to deal with liars and fakes. Both scenes inspired me to protect my music and never compromise anything I do.
Earlier this year, you stated that you didn’t believe Donald Trump really wanted to be elected President of the United States. Do you still believe this?
Yes. Now more than ever. I think he wants out. USA has deserved every president it has ever elected. So, if Trump wins, that’s what USA wanted and they can wear it for four or eight years and see how they like it. If you’re poor, you will have a tough time with him in office. If you’re rich, life will go on smoothly.
You were a supporter of Bernie Sanders’ bid for the White House. What were your thoughts on his endorsement of Hillary Clinton? Do you have any hopes for the movement created by Sanders?
I think his support of Clinton speaks more to his disgust for Trump. I think that Sanders perhaps inspired young voters to understand the importance of steering your country and having the guts to call out the bad and try to make it better. I don’t think Clinton has any of that but think she would be a far better president than Trump on every possible level.
You have traveled all over the world over the years. What is your favorite country you’ve visited, and why? Your least favorite?
Favorite? That would be hard. Perhaps Afghanistan. They have been invaded by so many forces, who eventually leave. Alexander, the Mongols, the British, the Soviets, and one day the Taliban and USA will leave as well.
Can you give us a short version of what to expect from your spoken word show at the Norva?
I will be talking about travel I have done over the last few years, film and television stuff I have worked on recently, people I have met, some of them now dead, several ideas I have been rolling out here and there over the last 77 shows / 19 countries so far this year.
For more info or tickets, click here.