Kerrang! March 29/97 Artical...
A few things you can do to HENRY ROLLINS which are guaranteed to make him
punch you: stalk him, tell lies about him, attempt to make small talk
with him. Paul Brannigan's mission-to find out how mad the hardest guy
in rock will be when you ask him is he's gay...
The last time I saw Henry Rollins, he was crying. Really. The hardest
man in rock was onstage in Dublin doing a spoken word piece at the 10th
anniversary tribute for the late Phil Lynott, Thin Lizzy's legendary
frontman, and the emotion of the night overcame him. On the video screens
either side of the stage, Henry's tears were the size of footballs. The
sight was as touching as it was unexpected.
I remind Henry about this as I give him a copy of the new Phil Lynott
biography, 'The Ballad Of The Thin Man.' Henry laughs and talks about
how he's always regretted missing seeing the Irish band as a teenager in
Washington DC, turning down his mate (Fugazi frontman) Ian MacKaye's offer
of a ticket because he had homework to finish. And oddly, seeing Henry
Rollins laugh is just as surprising as seeing him cry.
You probably think you know Henry Rollins: the alternative nation's
premiere shouty bloke, the noble savage who spills his guys onstage with
the Rollins Band in the most compelling manner. Mr Workaholic, Mr
Discipline, Mr No Fun Straight-Edger. Or so the theory goes.
But then there's Henry Rollins the dryly humorous spoken word performer,
who reckons "we don't know the whole deal on Mr Cobain's exit," and who
describes Rage Against the Machine's Zack De La Rocha as "an angry
gerbil." This Henry is hugely entertaining and amusing company. What's
Today Henry is in London to promote the new Rollins Band album, 'Come In
And Burn.' We meet up with him at the GLR radio studios, where's he's
appearing on Robert Elms' show. Henry is wearing black army trousers, a
black t-shirt and black combat boots, and carrying a lat-top computer in
a small backpack which he's had for the past 12 years. First impressions
are: 'I am austere and functional-don't f**k with me.'
Henry's appearance on the radio has been delayed, so he's sitting in the
goyer with time on his hands. Henry hates wasting time. The show's
producer Suzanne decides to make small talk with the big guy. Henry
hates small talk. Suzanne will come to regret her decision.
"You were here three years ago," she smiles. "I remember because it was
the day after I slept with the man who is now my husband."
There is total silence. Henry stares at Suzanne. "Thank you for sharing
that," he drawls. Minutes later, Suzanne will admit that Henry scares her.
By contrast, Henry has a fine time with Elms, a broadcaster who obviously
knows his subject. The pair have a trainspotter-esque chat about jazz
legends John Coltrane and Miles Davis, before Robert namechecks Kerrang!
and starts chatting about Henry's career. Henry admits that he loves
his "pirate" lifestyle, suggests that "there are no real geniuses in rock
music" and reveals that his personal motto is "Don't say I'll get around
to doing things one day-make that one day now."
Robert calls Henry "an artist," and the 'artist' reads out two powerful
unpublished spoken word pieces ("I hate the word 'poetry'", he sighs)
from his laptop. One is entitled 'Not Disabled, Unable,' while the
other-"a weird little story about a guy who gets caught up in a drive by
shooting"-has the snappy title 'Drums Made Of Human Skin Stretched Over
Lips Beaten With Severed Arms Playing All Night Paying Homage To Love's
Annihilating All Consuming Hunger. The Dancers Scream As The Flesh Melts
From Their Bones, They Rush Foward Begging For Extinction.'
"That sounded like a love poem to me," Mr Elms says softly when the piece
has reached its thought provoking conclusion.
"It's all about love with me," Henry smiles. "I am Mr Love."
The DJ picks up on a line in 'Not Disable, Unable' about needing
discontent to feel alive. "What would you do," he ponders, "if you woke
up one morning without the rage and passion that drives you?"
"I'd feel like a man without a job," Henry states simply.
Ten minutes later, Henry's job is to sit in the back of a car answering
Kerrang!'s questions. Every couple of minutes he emits a sigh as he eyes
up gorgeous secretaries strolling around on their lunch break. I inquire
about his plans for the week ahead.
"On Tuesday morning I'm going to be in a suit and tie getting
interrogated by lawyers," he barks with obvious distaste. "Getting
reamed by some f**king guy who I could take into the parking lot and snap
the neck off. We both know that in the jungle I'd be f**king his woman
and eating soup using his cranium as the bowl."
Age isn't mellowing this particular 36 year old, then...
"I'm actually having trouble controlling my temper more now than a few
years ago," he admits. "It annoys me that people can be so mediocre in
what they aspire to, in what they think is cool, in what they want to
be. The vast majority of people are like that."
It's time for lunch. Henry orders black coffee, a glass of mineral
water and a steak sandwich with fries, before recommending the penne
pasta to yours truly. When the food arrives he eschews the knife and
fork in favour of a hands on approach.
That Henry's childhood was bitterly unhappy is well documented. An only
child, his Mum was a drunk while his Dad, a strict disciplinarian, beat
the shit out of him. A school psychologist decided young Henry Garfield
had low self esteem and the boy was given his own mentor, Mr Pepperman, a
Vietnam veteran who put his 'pupil' on strict weight training
programs. This made Henry stronger, mentally as well as physically.
Rock music helped too, Henry finding empowerment in bands like Led
Zepplin, Black Sabbath and AC/DC, bands he'd go to see in Washington DC
with Ian MacKaye. It wasn't all misery, though.
"I miss the simplicity of life then," he smiles. "My happiest days ever
were spent in DC around 1980, when the hardcore scene was thoroughly
amazing, with the Teen Idles and Bad Brains playing all the time. Punk
rockers were intellectuals and you'd meet really cool, interesting
people. I had wonderful times then, but when I joined Black Flag, things
became a lot more turbulent."
To read about Henry's 'turbulent' Black Flag years (1981-1986) buy his
book, 'Get In The Van.' It's suitably intense and frequently hilarious
account of life on the road with America's most influential punk
band-complete with pitched battles with promoters, venue owners, cops and
punk rock idiots.
Henry Rollins is still punk rock, despite what holier-than-thou US punk
bibles like 'Maximum Rock N' Roll' would have you believe. He does
Hollywood movies like 'Heat' and 'Johnny Mnemonic,' and adverts for The
Gap and Microsoft, then takes the money to nurture his "babies"-his
publishing company 2.13.61 (his birth date US style) and his record
company Infinite Zero (co-founded with American Recordings supremo Rick
It's surely punk rock to get The Man to finance your own subversive
activities. Whatever. Who gives a shit?
Henry is Mr Organised. He maps out his life hour by hour, a month at a
time. This ruthlessly efficient time management gives him more space to
communicate his ideas and tell interested parties about what makes Henry
Henry. Not everyone plays fair, though. "One guy wrote that I was a
reformed heroin addict," he seethes. "I mean, puh-lease (in italics,
Hans). I met the journalist at a Pearl Jam gig and I was winding him up
big time. I said, 'I could kill you and it wouldn't bother me. I like
violence, I'm good at hurting people. Knowing all that, why would you
want to make up shit about me? Now that I know what you look like, I'm
going to go home and reread the article to check that I haven't got my
facts wrong because my mind might be slipping with old age. And if you
did write that, then the next time I see you I'm going to f**k you up.'
I thought the guy was going to piss himself."
Maybe now isn't the right time to ask you about the rumour that you're gay...
"That rumour went about in summer '95. I was supposed to be coming out
to VJ Kennedy on MTV's 'Alternative Nation.' It's just not true. I've
never been gay, I've never been bi. I've been strictly, vigorously
heterosexual all my life."
Rollins likes being a man and loves the whole testosterone trip. He
describes himself as "very male." So when was the last time you
administered a good thumping?
"I smacked a guy on my front porch a few months back," he smiles. "He
was a stalker who kept coming to my place and I begged him to stop. He
said that I had a tattoo on my back which spoke to him. I said, 'That's
cool but you've gotta split, because I swear to God if you come here
again I'm going to crack you.' He mumbled some weird religious crap and
I had to crack him."
Do you think people are scared of you?
"They shouldn't be. I'm a nice guy. I don't kill or rape people, I
wouldn't push a child in front of a moving car. I'm a moral guy like that."
You're a single guy too, and the suggestion is you throw yourself into
this frenzied work load to compensate for the lack of a real stabilising
and satisfying love affair. Discuss.
"I like the idea of having a real relationship and total monogamy, but
I'd have to work hard at it," Henry admits. "I haven't had steady
girlfriend since 1988, although I've been through a lot of women in that
Are you a romantic person?
"Conceptually, yes," he answers slowly. "But in my life I can be
amazingly cold. With the responsibilities I have now, life is easier if
I'm cold. I can't get too close to one person-I've got a lot of work to do."
On the evidence of 'Come In And Burn,' Henry's work is as focused and
gut-wrenching as ever. He doesn't find much new music has the intensity
he craves. The Prodigy are "amusing, but it's just a punk rocker
fronting a mediocre techno band," although "the Daffy Duck guy (Keith
Flint) is cool."
"I'm 36, so the Spice Girls or Oasis don't do anything for me," he says.
"The emphasis for bands used to be 'We're going to be really good,' Now
it's 'We're going to be really big,' which isn't the same at all. You've
gotta have soul to move me."
It's time for us to move, since the photographer awaiting Henry upstairs
is getting impatient. One last questions: will Henry Rollins still have
this incredible drive, passion and rage at 60?
"I certainly hope so. The people I admire do-like Iggy Pop, who's 50 and
still bouncing off the walls. I think that'll be the ultimate test for me.
"Every year I try to be stronger than I was the year before, and for the
last five years I've been stronger than the preceding year. My brain
gets bigger each year, too. This year, I want to reach new heights
again. There's never a reason to burn out."
(from the sidebar)
Keanu & Me: Henry Rollins on Mr Reeves and his other movie star mates...
KEANU REEVES (starred with Henry in 'Johnny Mnemonic'-Henry says: "Good
old Keanu. Hmm...He's a nice guy, but he's kinda boring to act with.
When he says lines you don't really believe him, so it's hard to act
against that. It's like acting with a guy from porno films."
AL PACINO (starred with Henry in 'Heat')-Henry says: "His double threw my
double through a window. Having grown up digging the guy so much it was
a real thrill to work with him and have that captured forever on film.
He was really cool to me, really friendly and really funny. He was a
nice guy to everyone on the set, from the script girl to the lighting
guys, and had no attitude. Just a dead cool guy."
CHARLIE SHEEN (starred with Henry in 'The Chase')-Henry says: "Charlie is
very cool. He can be off his face until 6 am, and then show up at the
shoot at eight and hit his lines perfectly every time. He parties hard
but he's always nice. A pro."
PATRICIA ARQUETTE (starred with Henry in 'Lost Highway')-Henry says: "A
super nice lady. She's really beautiful. I mean, just dangerous (in
italics, Hans) good looks. I know her husband, Nic Cage; he's a fan of the
band and a cool guy."
DOLPH LUNDGREN (starred with Henry in 'Johnny Mnemonic')-Henry says: "The
Teutonic dream, the Aryan fantasy. He didn't talk very much and didn't
seem that friendly. He kinda snorted when I introduced myself, and that
was about as much communication as we had. I thought maybe he was mad,
because this was the 40th film in which he had to wear an animal pelt and
hold a blunt weapon."