So you want to be in a rock band?: ‘Teeing Off’ with Henry Rollins
As an industry veteran notorious for his wild stage antics in both Black Flag and The Rollins Band, his hard hitting and unabashedly honest spoken word performances, his countless written works including several volumes of poetry, fiction, and prose, and most recently, his incredibly entertaining weekly talk show, The Rollins Show, hosted on IFC, it only seemed fitting to begin my new monthly featurette interview series, “Hear it from the Pros,” with the man himself. In conjunction with his latest worldwide spoken word tour, “Provoked”, I had the amazing opportunity to interview Mr. Rollins.
Growing up as a teenager in Washington, DC., Rollins’ musical awakening transpired when a friend of his first lent him a copy of a rare Ramones’ album. Finally finding an outlet for his pent-up animosity and aggression, Henry discovered punk, D.I.Y. ethics and never looked back. Fast forward several decades later to present day, and I’m sure it’ll come to no one’s surprise that, “do it yourself” remains his mantra. As depicted by the numerous accessories including iron-on patches and stickers worn by his kind: punk is for life, and it will never die.
When asked about his current outlook on the music industry and whether he felt the damage that ensued (and continues to unfold) from all of the illegal downloading could be repaired, Rollins indicated clearly his disconnection from that world. Though a seasoned performer and top-selling artist himself, he’s never been one for the big business side of things.
“Even if [the music industry] fell over tomorrow, most of the bands he checks out would be still be doing their thing. DIY keeps you from some of the dangers of the bigger parts of that mechanism,” Rollins said.
Undisputedly, a supporter of indie rockers, Henry feels that the biggest sin committed against musicians by the industry, was the disconnection between music and the people. In the heydays of the hippie era, prior to the commodification and commercialization of music as nothing more than a product for sale, music used to mean something to the people - it wasn’t merely a form of entertainment, but rather a voice for the generation. Like myself, Rollins wonders when art will be restored to this dying form of expression?
Sticking true to his unconventional nature, Rollins is a man who is very difficult to characterize. Perhaps he intentionally safeguards himself from others as a means of self-preservation, or more likely, he enjoys keeping people guessing. Not one to personally advocate the use of labels to describe himself or his friends, though Rollins, himself, purports a rocker identity, he is a striking example of why it is bad to make assumptions.
Contradictory to the sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll lifestyle promoted by all too many rockstars, commendably, Rollins is against substance abuse - just another reason as to why he’s such a great role model. In fact, amidst all of his ongoing endeavours, the only part that he finds truly fulfilling is interacting with his fans. His chronic workaholic nature is something that he chalks up to the fact that he doesn’t ever want to find himself submitting to “the man” and forgetting all that he has to be grateful for.
Though this may come as a surprise to some, as a music listener, Rollins doesn’t pigeonhole himself simply to punk. A devoted admirer of the late greats James Brown and Miles Davis, Rollins supports any artist so long as he/she is hard-working and his/her music has meaning (I hope you guys are taking notes here). In fact, an artist he advised me to check out was Dax Riggs, a dreary blues-rock musician from Louisiana, who seems to combine a more sophisticated version of Kurt Cobain’s emotional angst with Jimi Hendrix and the Experience’s solid blues backbeats infused with a modern take on the British garage band sound. Very strange, but cool - cool enough to reaffirm my belief that there is still good music out there.
Understandably, someone in his position is indefinitely bombarded with opportunities for exposure, and though this is the kind of lifestyle most of you crave, Rollins applies one fast and simple rule to dealing with these offers that I think all of us ought to embrace: not to consider something an opportunity, if it requires you to sacrifice who you are or what you believe in. He proudly admits that IFC has never instructed him to “tone it down,” and if they did, I can state with absolutely certainty that he’d have something to say about it (or better yet, someone’s ass to kick).
Though I know it can be difficult to reject an offer because it may just be “the one to make or break you,” I’ve got to side with Rollins’ view on this, because I truly don’t believe in “selling out” just to become the next flavour of the week. As both his and my hard work demonstrate, earning your accolades of success through your own dedication and merit is not only more rewarding, but as well, you will earn respect for “sticking to your guns” in the long haul, from both fans and industry professionals, alike. In his own words, if an opportunity requires you to change who you are, “then it’s not really an opportunity, now is it?” To this he adds that, regrets are not something he feels he can afford.
In the space of the three hours of his performance, Rollins compelled a packed house of a widely varying demographic to intense laughter, tears and serious contemplation. His performance came to its finale with the only possible conclusion: an obligatory standing ovation. If one man has this much of an impact, just think of what we all could actually do. A man of humble roots, but great ambition - someone I admire that I think all of you could learn from.
The most intriguing moments of his lengthy soliloquy revolved around re-telling of his own “starstruck” moments in which his defiant powerhouse persona crumbled when in the presence of the likes of Iggy Pop and numerous other childhood idols of his. Though his exterior is lined with layers of thick skin, I appreciated his willingness to expose his vulnerable side; something you rarely see from men, let alone rockstars. Additionally, appealing to my personal sentiments, Rollins offered a seal of approval “shout-out” to feminists and equal rights activists further affirming how much he truly is a man for all people.
To hopefully leave you on a comic note, taking a page from the man himself, if you asked me why I love Henry Rollins, my response would be quite simple: because he’s exactly the kind of asshole that this world needs. Oh yeah, and if he were elected president, aside from kicking Bush’s ass, he says that he’d basically undo everything that has occurred over the past eight years - something for which, he thinks he’d get shot.