“Sinking. Wanting. Thinking. Sinking all the while. It hurts to be alone. When it hurts to be alone. When it’s cold outside. When it’s cold inside. When it hurts to be alone. It hurts to be alone” These are just some of the lyrics that meant so much to an introverted, confused teenager who had trouble fitting in with the “normal” people during the mid 80’s, letting him know that he was not alone in his struggles.
Although Black Flag had split up prior to me actually finding their music, they still made a huge impact on my life. On a regular trip to a record store, I had decided I wanted something new to listen to, but wasn’t quite sure what I wanted. While browsing through some music, a clerk at the store had suggested that I check out Black Flag’s live album that was recorded in our hometown of Portland, Oregon. I was up for a new experience and had heard “My War”, “Nervous Breakdown”, and “TV Party” prior to that, so I said sure and he handed me “Who’s Got the 10 1/2?” My life was changed forever at that point. While the album did not have most of the songs that I knew previously on it, It was so powerful, so intense that it just blew me away. The anger, the rage, the power in the music and the vocals…those vocals!
The vocals on that album were from Henry Rollins. Even though he was not their first vocalist, he is the one that I always associate with the band as their vocalist. As time has gone on, and without really trying, I have followed his career since then. It always seems like every time I think I haven’t seen him doing something for awhile he appears in a movie, TV show, magazine, or something. Since Black Flag broke up in the mid 80’s Henry has gone on to form the Rollins Band, done numerous spoken word tours and albums. put out countless books, put together the “Rise Above” album and tour to benefit the West Memphis Three defense, acted, produced, hosted, and so much more that it would take forever to go through his credits. Needless to say, he is a very busy man and likes to stay that way. He is in the middle of a tour that is, at what has been announced at this point, going into next year. He also recently starred in The Last Heist, which was released on June 17th along with a role in the Alan Tudyk series, Con Man. Not to mention that he has a long running radio show on KCRW where he plays a huge variety of music that spans time as well as styles. Like I said he is a very busy man.
So when I finally got the notion to try and see if he would grant me a short interview, I was astonished to get a reply back very quickly agreeing to answer some questions for Don’t Let the Music Stop. I jumped at the chance to be able to do an interview with someone who I felt had made a difference in my life. Here is what he had to say to me:
Staring in August you will be touring in Europe, and then heading to Australia, a short stop in South Africa, then back home to the US and Canada. Which, in total, will pretty much take up five months plus with only a few days off throughout the entire tour. Does you manager hate you? No seriously, that is a pretty crazy schedule you have coming up. What sparked the idea to travel the world in about 160 days?
The tour started Jan 4 2016. It’s about 15 countries in so far. It’s only coming in at around 150 shows this year. Last tour 190. It’s what I do, so it’s not a lot, it’s just constant. You book the dates, get them done and then go do something else.
What can those of us that have already purchased, or are thinking about purchasing tickets, expect from this particular tour?
I will be talking about travel I have done since the last tour, TV shows and films I was in, the state of things, my interesting country, and so forth.
Along with your non-stop touring, you also have a long running radio show that you do for KCRW, write for the LA Weekly, not to mention movie projects, books, other radio shows, and god knows what else, while taking the time to do interviews and everything else. What do you feel drives you to be on the move constantly and without a visible end in sight?
No tolerance for boredom or inactivity. I would rather be out in the world doing things, being committed to things, obligated or otherwise forced to deliver. I’m not skilled to do anything, really, so I just try a lot of things. It’s not about money or fame, it’s about activity and achievement.
Is there a time that you think you might just decide that it is time to settle down a bit and relax?
That has not crossed my mind although I do see a time when I would just work and not be responsive to letters and interviews but just get things done instead. That might happen sooner than later.
Stepping back a bit in time, “Get in the Van” is one of those rare instances where, in my opinion, the audio book was actually better than the book itself. I felt this was because when you read it you can hear the difference in your voice as your journey went from being a naive kid given an amazing opportunity to front a band that you loved to a veteran of the punk scene who had been put through the ringer by the business. Your tone and how you read the passages, really showed how difficult things were at times, and especially toward the end of your tenure in Black Flag. My question is how difficult was it for you to put together the book and to do the audio version given that you were having to relive a time in your life that was both amazing and yet so exasperating?
The book was a lot of work as I had to haul a Macintosh SE computer all over the world with me and type in all the words from notebooks. I would do this in dressing rooms, hotel rooms, wherever. It took a long time. I had never typed before really. It was a tough period, what the book speaks to. As to the sessions to make the audio book. I don’t remember any problems. I think it was done very quickly.
There was an article that I read in the early 90’s where, I believe, Maynard from Tool was talking with you. During this article you had introduced to him some unreleased songs. When asked if they were ever going to be released, you commented that “No one would listen to them because they are not as fucked up as we are.” As crazy as it is, this one quote is something that has always stuck with me. It was one of those epiphany moments that give you a realization that you should have already known. For me it gave me the realization I wasn’t alone in my strangeness, or the fact that I consider myself pretty screwed up, and that I was okay being different because someone I idolized said he was screwed up also. I am curious as to what your thoughts are on how music or other art forms can give those who feel like they don’t fit in a “community” or a place that they feel like they actually belong.
I think music has always given fringe element people a place to be. Certainly is that for me. Music and art allow you as a practitioner or fan to find yourself in different ways. That’s why some bands have such intense fans. They know they are being understood. It is no small thing.
photo credit: unknown
Along that line, music that deals with heavy content, has always been looked down upon by the casual listener either due to the nature of the topics covered or the music itself. But to the fan it can give them the tools and the inspiration to get through difficult times. How do you feel that heavy music, whether it is rock, metal, punk, blues, jazz etc can help those who are dealing with difficulties in their lives?
It is a perfect salve for the wounds inflicted by life. All kinds of music works. It doesn’t have to be heavy, it just has to make you feel better than you were before you put it on. That’s why you have to leave people’s musical tastes alone. If they like something that you find awful, well, it’s working for them, what’s it to you?
Is there a particular album, artist or genre that has helped you personally?
The most transformative music for me was Punk Rock. Bands like the Bad Brains and the Stooges were big inspirations to me. Iggy, Ian MacKaye have been greatly inspiring to me.
Photo from Rolling Stone article. photo credit: Frank Mullen/WireImage
You have always called yourself an angry person and have also admitted to dealing with depression. Being a fan I know that both of these have always been a part your music, writing, spoken word, and so on. Do you feel that having all of these outlets to get you frustrations out, express your anger, and talk about your depression has helped you work through the bullshit you have dealt with in your life?
Absolutely. I think it’s a good idea to let these things out. Hopefully, you find a way to do this without anyone getting hurt. Release has been the thing that has kept me going.
What do you feel is your favorite outlet, or what is the most therapeutic outlet for you when you need to express yourself?
Writing. It’s one on one and it’s up to you to see how honest you can be.
What would you like those who are going through difficult times to know or understand?
That there are moves you can make. Sitting still in a bad situation is one way to deal with it. Not a great way and like I said, there are options. You have to want to go though. You really have to want things to be better, to take chances, to move. Easy to say, not easy to do but sometimes, that’s the only choice. I have always benefited when I just made a big move to get out of a routine that was not good for me.
photo credit: unknown
Finally we have a playlist that is hand picked by those we interview of songs that have inspired them or they like to go to when they need a “pick me up”. Is there a chance you can give me a couple of songs that need to be added to our playlist?
Let’s Kill These Motherfuckers – Lair of the Minotaur
I would like to thank Henry for taking some time out of his very busy schedule to answer these questions for me. Make sure you check him out on his tour in a city near you, and to keep up on everything he is involved in, follow him on your favorite social media site.
If you are a musician, no matter your fan base, and would like to share your story or be interviewed by us, please use the contact form at the top of the page. We would love to hear from you. And if you are someone who has been helped by music in your life, we would love to hear from you also. We can help you share your story, publicly or anonymously. Your story could be the reason someone makes it through another day.
Never give up, never give in. You are needed, you are important.