EXCLUSIVE HENRY ROLLINS INTERVIEW

By: Mike Heck


One of the most interesting tours to grace the U.S. this year, would have to be the LOLLAPALOOZA FESTIVAL. This historic event, brainstormed by Perry Farrell of Jane's Addiction, proved to be a very conscious-raising event. Not only did bands perform for a 10-hour long extravaganza, but artists also showcased with huge tents set up displaying various people's work. Political awareness was a main focus of the festival with activists and liberal groups, who set-up stands to distribute their material, to get people involved, making the festival educational as well as entertaining. Among the groups set up included: P.E.T.A., Greenpeace, The League of Women Voters, Refuse & Resist, Rock The Vote, and in Ohio, Rock Out Censorship.

The diverse range of bands performing for this alternative fest were: Jane's Addiction, Siouxsie & The Banshees, Henry Rollins Band, Living Colour, Nine Inch Nails, Ice-T and Butthole Surfers.

Opening this historic show was Henry Rollins and his band. An appropriate choice without whom the whole American new wave movement might never have happened. Henry & his band's performances are intense studies in power and proved it with almost all new material this day, smacking the crowd with raw power and paving the way for the nine hours of music to follow. My interview with Henry proved to be an outspoken, up front and very intense talk from a man who sees the real world told with an honest view. THIS IS HENRY ROLLINS.

Henry Rollins: Let's do it.

Mike Heck: I'll start off pretty basic. I'm sure everyone has asked you this...

HR: Wait! How did we get on the Lollapalooza tour? Right!

MH: Close, close. How has the Lollapalooza Tour gone so far?

HR: Oh well, we're havin' a good time. We get to play everyday, people are nice to us, we eat. That's about as good as it gets for us. It's good, no complaints.

MH: Do you think this package tour will bring more well deserved recognition to you guys?

HR: Well to answer that I'll rephrase your question. Well deserved, I don't know what we deserve. Definitely more people will see us than would have if we were in these towns by ourselves. What they think of us, I don't know. But we do get in front of more humans than if we were on our own. Who knows, they could all just hate us except for the 35 up front. We are definitely around a lot of people and that's good. It's great for any band. And who knows, maybe some of these kids will walk away going like, 'I never knew what that band was like but those guys are alright. I didn't hate them, they were cool! Maybe we might make some new friends out there. That's always good. A band should always be looking to break through to new people, new listeners. That's what it's all about, well one of the things that it's all about.

MH: Personally I thought you guys were the hardest band on this tour. It's great there's such a variety of bands but I can't think of anyone who packs as much wallop as you do.

HR: Well we don't play pop music I'll tell you that.

MH: Everytime I've seen you play it's intense. How would you compare the Rollins Band to your former band Black Flag?

HR: I like this band better in that we share the music. It's not like with Black Flag. I had no problems with it but it was well understood that it was Greg Ginn's band. And that's OK. Greg would write a log of the songs and the lyrics. He would come in and go, 'all right here's how you sing it, let's go.' And you would do it. With this band I didn't want that. I didn't want like ok fellas to do this. I mean I wanted to be in a band. When we write music it usually comes out of jams where all of us are contributing and it's really organic. All of our songs come from the ground up. And that's good and hopefully the playing is more intense because we don't have these line-up changes like Black Flag had. It's Tuesday, bring in the new drummer. We've had the same line-up since day one. The first real sound man we ever had was Kayo and that was it. So it's pretty much been the same gang for almost 4-1/2 to 5 years. That has got to help the music. The fact that we can play off each other and exchange a lot of musical ideas and not have some kind of weirdness about it.

MH: Black Flag was such a legendary and controversial hard-core band. Did you have any censorship problems?

HR: We got censored a lot. We had problems with the cops in Canada, we had a lot of harassment by the cops in L.A., sometimes at gun point. Phone taps, undercover cops posing as bums outside of our place. One cop posing as a bum came in and tried to tear the tape out of the machine while we were recording DAMAGED. I mean you'd see a bum living on the street drinking Lite Beer. I mean, come on! He's got on his Rayban sunglasses and we go, Good morning officer and he goes, hey I'm no cop man, I'm like you. Like get the fuck out! They used to do shit like open up our van. We'd come in the morning and our van would have all the doors open and all the windows down. All of our shit would be gone. In the evenings we used to watch this silver, what are those cars, anyway these cops would get out and fuck with our van or look through the windows of our place with binoculars. We used to look back at them. All of this was happening when I was like 21 and 22. It was really wild. I joined this band and all of a sudden cops are calling me faggot, following me to the laundromat, threatening me when I'm out with a girl. They would follow me into a restaurant and keep riding me so I would have to leave. It was pretty weird because the cops are scary. I'm not like this big guy who can go beat up cops, so it's like shit. So yea we had some real problems with censorship. We don't have any kind of problems like that now with the Rollins Band so far. I haven't encountered any of that with my reading gigs either or my books. So for right now everything is cool.

MH: Can you tell us why Black Flag split up?

HR: Because we didn't get along anymore.

MH: Is that all you're gonna say about it?

HR: That's it! Why did you get divorced from your wife? Because you don't get along anymore, right? Me and Ginn got divorced. People break up, it happens.

MH: You have your own book publishing firm named after your birthday. How did that happen?

HR: I just started it. I wanted to do my own books and do books of other people, so I started a company. And there it is.

MH: Who are some of the other artists you have?

HR: Right now we're working with, besides me, Jeffery L. Pierce, of the Gun Club, Alan Vega from Suicide, we're working with a certain legendary singer from Ann Arbor who used to front a legendary band from that town. His name I can't really say it on tape yet because we haven't signed the contracts.

MH: His real first name wouldn't be James would it?

HR: Sorry I can't say anything until its press release time.

MH: Any censorship problems for the artists you publish?

HR: No. We put out Nick Cave's lyric book in America. That was fun. I don't have any good censorship stories to tell you.

MH: How do you feel about censorship personally?

HR: I think it's great! Ha Ha. I don't want to see it you know. I think it would be really fun to do some creative censorship. Like not to allow Warrant to release a record again ever. Make them apologize and make them cry until they piss their pants and promise to never do it again. I'd like it if Edie Brickell was never given an opportunity to record again. I'd like to send her to Siberia actually until she pees in her pants and promises to never do it again. I mean everyone should have the right to go off and do their music or do their books. The people who are in the position to censor they're really not down to reality where that certain artists are coming from. I debated Jack Thompson for two nights. He's the one who got 2 Live Crew into trouble. I spent a few days with him.

MH: How did the debates go?

HR: Personally I think I won. His thing is he wants to get rid of the weed by chopping off the top of the dandelion. He doesn't want to get the roots. So I put it to him like this. Do you think perhaps you wouldn't have someone like Luther Campbell if you had educated him, given him a good home and taught him how to read and write and offered him the same opportunity that you and I had? Maybe that's more interesting to write about than calling women bitches all the time. And don't you think maybe that Luther Campbell's pretty fucking amazing for coming out of a ghetto with very little education and winding up a multi-millionaire? I don't think you have done it and I don't think I've done it. So I put it to him and he didn't have an answer. All he's interested in doing is just turning lights out and saying he's solved the problem by taking 2 Live Crew records off the shelves. That won't stop rape and cruelty to children and women like he says it will. He tries to come off as this good guy who's doing you all these favors and he's not doing any favors. He's this white-bread chickenshit fucking Christian guy who's never been to a ghetto. He has no concept of a kid living in Compton who is either gonna blast his way out of there or die. He's not gonna get all smart and leave. His Dad is gone, been gone for years. His Mom is an alcoholic, his brother is in jail and someone hands him a gun and goes, "want some gold chains or do you fuckin want to look at this for the rest of your life"? Fuck it! I'd take the gun in a second. I'd be like Jesse James man, I'd go, 'fuck it or kill me. Let's go! Anything but Compton for the rest of my life." And I said, Jack, I don't think you'd get to that you know. I think it's through love and education and turning people on and giving people equality. Luther Campbell, no one would buy his records. Every one would go, ha it's stupid. It is so boring. It's just not a good record. The hardest part for me about the 2 Live Crew record was getting through it. And I mean for the same reasons I don't buy Poison either. I don't think it's good. I wasn't even offended by 2 Live Crew. I think there's like 15 year olds out there who can crack out more intense fuck stuff than that. It just isn't very challenging.

MH: Wow! That's a very intense answer Henry.

HR: Hey it's just what I see around me man. I live in a neighborhood where there is some pretty intense shit. I don't see bad people, I just see people who didn't get the same chance I did. When you come out of the womb, there you are, bonk! My Dad never hung me upside down in the closet and beat me. I always had three meals everyday. I just think that one of the hardest things in the world to be is a black male. I mean everyone hates your guts. White men are afraid of you. White women are afraid of you. The cops hate you. The government wants you dead. Your own people want to shoot you for what you got. You just can't get over it. And even if you are able to get over it you're forced to do it on the white guy's terms. You know, smile for the camera nigger!

MH: Here in the Midwest we seem to have that attitude. Here in Ohio we've met some people who are into Metal as opposed to Alternative music. Some are even in bands and they're like hillbillies and are all caught up in the whole racist scene. I'm not saying everyone, but we have run across a few.

HR: Sure, sure, there's a lot of it out there. In the Midwest there is a lot of it. The Midwest has strong factions of the Klan. In fact, the Klan is now taking over a lot of the responsibilities of the White Aryan Resistance out here. And hey, that's fucked! That's real scary! The Klan and the W.A.R. is like which two gates of hell do you want to walk into. Jesus Christ! You'd never believe that people would get into that kind of shit. It's just so sad. Young people must realize there is no reason to have to discriminate anyone or to feel the need to carry around all that fucking baggage.

MH: Yea, I try to tell some of these guys about this, because I'm about your age and I've been playing drums and guitar for 16 years. I try to tell some of these musicians who are racist that if it wasn't for people like Jimi Hendrix and the black blues guy, they wouldn't be playing the stuff they are today.

HR: If it wasn't for the black musicians there would be no music, ok. You can take any contemporary musician on the planet and I don't care who it is. I mean I challenge you as a concept to find me any musician on the planet that you can't break his or her music down to Robert Johnson, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Jimi Hendrix, guys behind bars singing spirituals, American Southern Gospel or James Brown. James Brown invented so much fucking music we'll be living of the meat on his ribs until your son is dead. He left so much, he left such a great set of blueprints. I mean like when he goes I invented disco, I invented rap, I invented soul. Rolling Stone said it best when they wrote, "if you believe James Brown, he'll tell you that he invented rap, soul, funk and disco, that he invented the groove." And the thing about James Brown is that he's right. There is no white musician who you can say that about. Beethoven and Wagner? Well that's nice, ok. But that music really doesn't matter to me. But you want to talk about genius its not Kenny G, and its not Eddie Van Halen. They're great, there is genius in what they do, but if you want to go backwards to the source it's the source material that will fuck your shit up. If you want to hear some fury listen to John Coltrain. That is like music on its purest level. So when some of these metalheads or these racist guys who are like, "fuck these niggers, what are they good for," it's like, well you wouldn't have all those dumb ass patches on your jacket if Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones hadn't been so in love with the blues and righteous soul music. Take it back Keith Richards and he'll tell you straight up. Robert Johnson and Chuck Berry. We got all of our shit from Chuck Berry. We used his material mercilessly. Keith Richards will tell you. He goes, yea man Chuck Berry. And listen to Bob Dylan. He grew up with gospel, spiritual and all that stuff along with a lot of Oakie music, like mountain music. But it all comes from black music. And it's America that has cornered the market on great music. We gave the world music. America, not Europe, America did. Over the past two hundred years, with very few exceptions, there has not been much amazing music that has happened outside of America.

MH: Maybe that's why England has so many of the weekly trends. They look to see what America does and it prompts them.

HR: I think that in England what you are dealing with is people who live with a lot of music coming out of London. It's basically one town will dictate the music for a whole country. It's like one DJ will be in power for like the whole summer and he'll make this new music. All the clone bands will set up. One band on the great idea and eight clone bands will set up. One band on the great idea and eight clone bands will follow. Everyone goes on tour and the press agents go, "this is it, this is Manchester, this is the new music." And you listen to it and you go, "like suck my dick man, get the fuck out of here." But you can thank England for not letting American blues die. Because in England you don't have that racism thing going. It's the English who kept the blues alive and a lot of contemporary blues guys in the '50's like Lightning Hopkins and Fred McDowell, they couldn't make it in America. They went to Europe and England and they had like Mick Jagger in the front row taking notes. People like Eric Clapton, he idolized them, he idolized these people. These little old funky black men playing acoustic guitars. One of the most devastating guitar players that has ever been is Fred McDowell. I've got every record he's ever done that I have been able to find. He's a monster! Every once in a while I get to drive through his hometown. I drive through Como, Mississippi on the way to Memphis. It's cool to pass through Como. You're like "fuckin-A man, this is Fred's town."

MH: It sounds like you have some really diverse influences.

HR: I wouldn't necessarily call them influences but a lot of diverse interest in music. Just what I've learned over the years. You should know why you like a band and know where the music came from. Unfortunately today young people are raised on Guns 'N Roses. But they should do their homework and go back to at least Led Zeppelin and when they get older and can swallow some of their ego maybe they can have enough stamina to go back to where they got it, and then they will really be rewarded. That's what I've been doing with jazz music. I found out about Thelonious Monk. If you want to hear some music get Miles Davis or Charlie Parker and that shit is just like pure sunshine. You can't fuck with it. Hendrix and all that, you can't touch it. A lot of these bands today, you can't sell me on a lot of these bands. I saw Zeppelin, I saw Hendrix, I saw Nugent, I saw Aerosmith on the Toys In The Attic tour. You can't fuck with me. I've seen hard rock. I grew up with the Bad Brains. I've seen some real shit go down. And these days you can't sell me on Anthrax. I'm sorry. Nice guys I'm sure, but sorry.

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