flypaper: Henry Rollins Interview...
Henry Rollins interview, Part Two
by cellarist and moxie
Q: The last track, "Shine" on your last album, that was a real uplifting song in a way. It was a pep talk...
HR: It was a protest song. It's protest music. It's a blow to that which wants to oppress. And I get a lot of shit because I put "I" in the lyrics all the time. The "I" is always for someone else. Whenever I write lyrics, in the back of my mind I always see a guy driving to work, driving to a really bad job, one of those horrible institutions like TRW, or one of those low squat buildings near LAX, in Los Angeles. I write with that person in my mind and when I say "I," it's so that when that person is singing along with the song, it empowers them. And for a song like "Shine," that song is the same--don't let them grind you down. Stand up.
And I wrote that to myself to remind myself that it's hard to keep your backbone straight in contemporary America. It's easy to turn into that which you hate, and to get smashed. I read that thing the other night about having clarity, and focus, and priority and not forgetting what you are and not doing anything uneccessary. That's basic bushido, the code of the samarai. That's just a reminder to myself. I continually remind myself to live by a code. It's very important to me. I've got a bad temper; people throw peanuts at my cage regularly. I have to constantly be on guard--to say 'no' and walk on. All the time people..
Q: People at shows or on the street?
HR: On the street. I'm a recognizable person and some people feel the need for some reason to take me to task. You're really messing with the wrong person on that one.
Q: Do you think that by having the more aggressive persona that almost invites people to say, "I'm going to see if I can get away with fucking with him..."
HR: You know, I don't try to be angry to prove something. I wouldn't try to intimidate you for any reason unless you were trying to intimidate me, and then I would show you that you can't do that to me. I'd defend myself. But I don't go around shoving people around; that's not me at all--hey that's for a cop. I'm not into that type of behavior at all.
I was raised in Washington, DC, very violent place. I grew up with violence. My introduction to music was violent. The years I've spent on tours, some of that was extremely violent. My whole access into culture was violent. Violence is something I understand. Don't like it, don't condone it, but I sure understand where it comes from. I see it in myself; I've done some pretty violent things in my lifetime and I've been around some pretty severe violence all the way up to homicide. Now I'm not trying to say I'm a big tough guy... I'm a typical American--waist deep in this violent culture. I don't go hitting people. But I know where that feeling comes from and I've done it a lot and I don't wonder why people get hacked into four or five pieces and left in bags on the side of the 405 [freeway]. I don't wonder about that at all.
Q: There's a piece on one of the spoken word albums, "Adventures of an Asshole"--about being tempted and giving in and getting somebody from the stage...
HR: Oh, when I wound up in the hospital for a week and a half with that scar across my knuckle? Yeah, I still got that guy's teeth at home. We were in a matchbox of a closet. Yup. I shouln't have done that.
Q: Was that the last time anything like that has ever happened?
HR: No. I got arrested a while later in Germany...what'd I do to that guy? Let's see. I broke his nose, put eight stitches in his eye and knocked out one of his teeth. I got arrested, taken to jail in...Dusseldorf? The cop says, "Why'd you do that?" And I told them why and they said, "Oh." They got a few people from the gig as witnesses and asked if that guy did that to this singer guy and they said, "Yeah, he did," and they said, "Oh, well, OK, you can go." I was trying to defend myself, so...
Q: Now that your audiences tend to be pretty much with you, I mean, I saw you once with Black Flag and you cleared the room....It must make a difference now that the people are going to be pulling for you?
HR: It's cool. I don't really think about the audience much. I think of myself. Let me dig myself out of that one (laughs). If I think of the audience too much, then I'm going to start catering to them...and it turns into entertainment. And I've got time for entertainment; I'm just not at all that interested in doing it myself. I'd rather go for some pretty raw expression. Like when you see Pharoah Sanders or Ahmad Jamal, it's just coming out of them. But, to be more concise, I like it better now that people aren't throwing stuff at my face and trying to fight me on stage. Like in the '80s, it was just aggravating all the time. You know, like Skinheads "sieg heiling" you and people spitting on you, lighting lighters on you--I have scars from cigars and cigarettes on me, Bic pens, burns from cigarette lighters, all that--I prefer it now to that.
Q: On TV, the Woodstock thing two summers ago, I thought one of the stranger moments of it all was when you were on and you said, "This next song is about not fitting in," and two hundred fifty thousand people went,"Yeah!" Did that strike you as funny or ironic?
HR: There's some irony there, but on the other hand, it's like David Lee Roth always says, "Everybody's doing as best as they can." And just because everybody's assembling over on one field, doesn't mean that they don't have that idea of not wanting to fit in. I think all those people went to see all those bands and be part of this cool event, and get outside, meet chicks, and meet guys, and roll around in the mud, and get out of their hometowns. I think that was a lot of the spirit, from having looked at the audience. And as to where they go home to, they might not fit in. Who knows? From a lot of places those kids might've come from, there might not be the cool, cosmopolitan setting we have here where a guy can be walking down the street wearing a wig and a dress and no one will punch him out or chase him or make comments; no one'll even notice it. Where if you do that in Dearborn, Michigan, that's a gesture and you're going to get someone trying to hurt you. So there is a bit of irony in something like that, but on the other hand, you got to get past the group mentality and get right down to the individual and see why that person does what he or she does.
Q: What's the next band album going to sound like?
HR: It sounds like the last record, but...better. I think Melvin is more integrated into the band; he's been in the band three years now and when we did the Weight album, he'd been in the band for about one minute. We literally just hired him; he's the one who made the audition. He's actually the only band member we've ever had to audition. That was the Weight album--us getting to know Melvin and Melvin getting to know us and not retreading any old methods and materials.
Q: The last album was more concise in terms of songs. Is the sort of blues-jam side of the band coming back?
HR: Well, there's no real eight minute epic song on this one, sorry to say. But maybe not so sorry. It was kind of neat to have these new songs, not like the Weight stuff, where the songs are clocking in at about three and five minutes. With the old lineup, we just got into these... I don't know how our audiences survived us. We would do a two hour set and it would be only twelve songs. There's one song that was so turgid and long, we've never released it. We were never able to fit it onto one reel of tape. The only complete versions we have of it are live and we do have a multi-track version from a Westwood One radio gig we did in Trenton that came out as a live album in Japan called Electro-Convulsive Therapy, Shock Treatment. And we left [the song] off having mercy for the audience because it's twenty-eight minutes--it's one song. And by the end of the tune, the people in the crowd are like, "What are they doing? Fuck you!" I was all involved in these howling solos and when I listen to The End of Silence stuff every once in a while, it's eight minutes, nine minutes... My God! What were we thinking?