Melody Maker (March 29/97)...
'I HAVE ZERO SEX APPEAL'
So says Henry Rollins, the tattooed, muscled Ubermensch of serious
But beneath the super-confident tough guy, there's a vulnerable, regular
bloke who's always losing his girl, and who can't understand why women
"Intense white guy:" tattooed, athletic, "average looks;"
thirtysomething, single, GSOH. Publisher, raconteur, film actor, punk
icon, "one-twentieth" of touring cultural ambassadors Rollins Band.
Likes: hard work, Mac powerbooks, Suicide (the band), caffeine, James
Brown, John Coltrane, "every doo-wop record ever made." Dislikes:
Smith, Morrissey, cigarettes, alcohol, whiners, time wasters,
men who hit women, porn, strip clubs. WLTM similar-sorry-compatible (in
italics, Hans) woman, for compilation tape exchange and possibly bubble
baths and true love. Reply to HR, BOX 2.13.61.
Interviews can be like blind dates. You've had the sell job, you're
interested, and then-success!-your matchmaker confirms he'll meet you on
Sunday. You rehearse small talk and you vow to be a good listener.
Above all you hope to hell-particularly in the case of a man like Henry
Rollins, for whom the phrase "not suffering fools gladly" may well have
been invented-that you don't say anything stupid. By the time you're
wondering why the hell you agreed to it, it's too late to back out. So,
you get your tape recorder and go.
It might even be fun. Hell, there aren't that many jobs where you get
spend 90 minutes or so alone in a posh hotel room with the undivided
attention-well, hopefully-of an attractive man. C'mon, the door's
"Come In And Burn."
Oh, there's my opening line. And the name of Rollins Band's jazzy,
supple, muscular, and of course, loud new album. And here's Henry-black
shirt, black trousers, legs propped up on the coffee table. Funny; nice
line in animated speaking voices; boyishly handsome; big long
And he's smiling.
So, uh, did you plan the sound of this new record in advance?
"Nah. I'm so untalented in music-which is not to say I'm talented in
anything else-but I don't play an instrument, I can't sing on key, I
don't know what a key is. Though on this album we figured out what key
sing in. I ask these really naive questions of the guys in the band.
'How come I can sing that song "Rejection" and the whole thing fits me
don't have to stretch? And they said, 'Well, what key is it in? What
you sing in?' 'Heck, I dunno.' They said, 'OK, well, hold that note.
Henry looks pleased. "Cool! I'm very musically unsure of myself. So
default is RUHH RUHH RUH!!" He does an approximation of that famously
stentorian, hoarse-throated bellow, the one that stuns small animals and
sends the moshpit heaving. "It's a default mechanism, really."
Hey, you're actually singing on this record.
Henry laughs. "Weeeell, that was a very painful process of
he jokes. "Namely, me going aarghh eeergh in rehearsal and expecting
bursts of laughter. Never once. The band said, 'Henry, what you're
doing is so cool. Yes, I know it sounds a little strange now, but
is hard; stay with it.' They supported me like a pair of...iron
underwear. So, I threw out all the apprehension. You know, it's not
like a night and day difference from what I'd done before, but there's a
few songs here where you'd thing, 'Damn, Hank, all right!"
All right indeed. You could say kinda sexy, even.
"Yeah, we tried really, really hard. This record is way more grooving.
In the past, we would attack in a linear fashion. If our older records
were a battle plan, we'd get defeated by any sharp army. We'd just come
down like the British, in a line: stand up, fire, sit down, and the
rebels'd be up in the trees-ha ha ha bang! This time we'll be in the
treeline, harder to find. So, yeah, it's a very sexy record.
know," he dimples. (Henry definitely has dimples.)
"Oooh yeah, there's some men making this record! You know. It ain't
Weezer," he says, leering at me endearingly.
"But for me," he continues, "the real hard thing with this album was
lyrically. There's a lot of areas where I don't go to; feeling I have
and know very well. I can articulate them but I don't know if I really
have the courage to go wear them on my sleeve every night."
"So, this time around, if there's one concept, it's change. Don't do
same damn thing you always do. You're now thirtysomething, you know
about music, so take your music somewhere."
Where he's taken it, of course, is right to the heart of the matter.
heart. In among the iron-underwear declarations of "Starve," the
punishing physical intensity of "On My Way To The Cage," and the
dystopian edginess of "During A City," there are also the fearless
revelations of "Shame," the simple prayer for humility of "Thursday
Afternoon" and the unashamed vulnerability of "All I Want," "Rejection,"
and "Saying Goodbye Again."
Some of it even sound like it's about, you know, lurve.
"That's why a song like "All I Want" came about," says Henry, as I look
up. "Where it's way more vulnerable. Usually when I write a love-type
song, there's a sting at the end. It's like 'Awwww' and then, smack!"
His fist wallops his palm. "Ha! You didn't get me! But that song is
like, 'I love you, but you left me, and now I'm...'"
"Saying, 'You can destroy me. You can and please don't . You've got
look at me, you can do it so easily by just ignoring me.' And she did,
and it did." Henry laughs once, those famously powerful shoulders going
up and down.
Suddenly I do something potentially dangerous. I get up from my chair,
safely opposite the coffee table, and sit down squarely on Henry's
Next to him. On a real date, this would probably be the
Are you afraid of girls, Henry?"
"Afraid of 'em?" He looks up, spots me bearing down on him. "Aaack!" he
giggles, pretending to climb over the arm of the sofa. Whew. Joke
"Naah, I'm afraid of...what happens when..." He pauses. "I'm afraid of
how much it hurts me when it doesn't work. I'm afraid because...say I
get into a girl. It happens, like, every three years. The rest of them
just...I mean, I have spent time with a lot of women and it's usually
mutual adult shuffle thing. Two nights, two weeks, six nights in three
months, 'See you when I see ya, next time I'm in LA, your futon or
mine.' Believe me, the women of whom I speak aren't pining away. But
if I do meet a woman I'm really interested in, it is just her. Gladly.
Monogamy, zero problem. And when I get that into somebody, I really
absolutely no defences. I just take any guard I have and, like, throw it
And they stomp all over you?
Henry frowns, considering.
"Well, I ask women I know, 'How did I f*** that up? What did I do?' I
don't ever hit women, I'm not 'Where were you last night?' So I always
go, 'God, what did I do?' One friend told me, like, 'You try too harm,
man. Henry, you blow these women away. You don't make them five 90
minute Coltrane tapes!"
Oooh, no. You don't do the "High Fidelity" compilation tape thing,
Henry, do you?
"Oh, yeah," he says earnestly. "You know, you gotta see me
Disappointingly, I think this is a figure of speech. "It's nothing but
music. Walls of it. Closets full of master tapes, DATs, LPs...music is
my thing. I go, 'Here, I just checked out this great record. I made
a copy of it, check it out.' I'm, like, trying to say, 'Here I am, here
it is, this is good.' You know.
I not knowingly, then make a doomed rummage in my handbag for Dead Jazz
Greats pass notes. Unfortunately, all I find is a lint-furred lipstick
and half a pack of Silk Cut.
What do your female friends think of your girlfriends?
Henry shakes his head. "They never like 'em. I dunno. Two women have
songs written about them on this album. 'Rejection' is about one I was
seeing who called me over to her place one night and said, 'You know,
you're a really nice guy.' Gee, thanks.
"And I knew: 'Oh, wow, here it comes...aaaaahhh! Oh, God, just kill me
now!' She said, 'We're breaking up, OK? Trust me, I'm doing you a
favour.' You are? I dunno, I feel like I'm gonna throw up! 'Here's 40
dead snails-believe me, this is going to be good for you!'
"But then I realised she was right, and the song says, 'Thank you'
to her. She'll never hear it, I'm sure.
"I don't have a whole lot of time for a whole lot of human stuff. I'm a
boring date. And year after year I withdraw more. I prefer my own
company. I'm romantic, but it's in my head. I love the idea of it
people get in the way. Until you wake up next to this stranger and
go...'Who is this person in my bed?'"
Haven't you ever been pleased when you woke up?
"Yeah. Sure." Henry looks the faintest bit shy. "But they never
stick. Something happens. Sure, there's a few people," he adds,
grinning his little-boy grin. "Two or three women I've woken up next to
and said, 'This is it, this is great. This is one of the reasons why
shouldn't blow your brains out.'
"There's a few other reasons, of course," he adds. "a) You've just
watch Reagan die. b) You won't be able to play records any more, and c)
is waking up in bed next to this wonderful woman."
Well, they are certainly out there, you know.
"And what asylum are they living in?" he retorts, sweetly.
Could you think of yourself as a sexy guy?
"Naaah," Henry wriggles, abashed. "In my opinion, I have zero sex
"I don't know if you've ever been in the situation-and obviously I
have-where you get to a point where you're super-lonely, and desperate
just...get across to someone. Usually it's when I've been on tour for,
like, 900 weeks, with no real human contact."
"And then a nice waitress-pretty, a little dishevelled-says, 'Is your
food OK?' And I'm like, 'Yes, yes!'" Henry mimics a strangled sob of
gratitude. "'Yes, yes, it is, thank you, thank you so much!' When
really, she's just trying to get an extra 85 cents on that tip"
"I think I have an incredibly accurate self image," he insists. "One of
the greatest beliefs of my life is I don't ever ever think I'm
So you only date girls with eyesight problems?
"I dunno. I mean, I have had women say, 'Yeah, my friend really want to
f*** you.' And I'm like [boggling] 'Oh, yeah?' And they say, 'Yeah,
says she'd love you to just f***ing pound her.' And I'm like, 'Whoah,
that's pretty, uhh, f***ing intense that you said that!'" he giggles
So, no one's ever said, 'Hey, how about a bubble bath?'
"Nooooo. But the kind of woman who's gonna get backstage-well, I've met
a lot of strippers, women aggressively doing, ' I think you're f***ing
hot.' I'm like-'Eek! Ack!' That shit really takes me aback."
"And I'm saying, 'So, erm...you uh...live around here? Shouldn't you be
at the Nine Inch Nails show? Oh, looks, Marilyn Manson's right over
there, dear!' You know, David Lee Roth said it perfectly. 'Dave, do
you get all the women you want?' 'No, I get all the women who want
"See, I can never understand fully why any woman would be attracted to
me. What's the come on line? 'I've read every book you've ever
written.' Ner ner ner ner! Run away! 'Hi, I've read your
Eeeep! Run away!"
I've managed to save up my best compliment for last. Maybe it's because
you have long eyelashes, Henry.
"That's been said to me before," he retorts. "In fact, it got me
out when I was seven years old; this kid came up to me saying, 'Heyyy,
long lashes...' BANG! And I was out cold; never forget it as long as I
live. So, when I'm shaving and look in the mirror and go, 'Yup, I've
got some long eyelashes.' I always remember...'Heyyy, long lashes...'
(this is stuff from the sidebars)
Henry's Big Ugly Mouth
"Everything I do onstage is funny at some point or another," Rollins
recently quipped. It's certainly true of his hilarious,
spoken-word performances-which aren't, incidentally, a recent career
addition. Long before his pitilessly honest account of life on the road
with Black Flag, "Get In The Van," emerged as both book and Grammy award
winning double CD, Rollins was redefining the art of holding a mirror
a sizeable bicep up to the world. "Big Ugly Mouth" (Quarterstick, 1990
and 1992), "Human Butt" (Quarterstick, 1992), "The Boxed Life" (Imago,
1993) and "Get In The Van" (Warner Audio, 1994).
Loud And Clear: Henry Rollins in poetry and prose:
"I think they opened with 'I've Heard It Before' and the place
All the songs were abrupt and crushing. Short bursts of unbelievable
intensity. I had never seen anyone play like that before. It was like
they were trying to break themselves into pieces with the music. It was
one of the most powerful things I've ever seen. Made me wonder what
planet they came from. I wanted to move there immediately."
-watching Black Flag for the first time, from "Get In The Van"
"I don't want to make a fool out of myself again. I'd rather sit in my
room alone for the rest of my life than make a fool out of myself by
getting laughed at by a girl who doesn't want me around...Now I feel
sick. What am I going to say to her? I wish I never called her...I
shouldn't have done it and now I'm going to get everything I deserve."
-an unnamed voice in "Eye Scream"
"Getting rid of you is a good thing, that's
why I don't write you back
I'm vomiting every memory from my system
You make me remember
When I felt more alive than I do now
Everything we say now is a lie
We could only talk about a time that
No one could have had it that good"
-from "See A Grown Man Cry"
"I think I know you
You spent a lot of time full of hate
A hate that was as pure as sunshine
A hate that saw for miles
A hate that kept you up at night
A hate that filled your every waking moment
A hate that carried you for a long time
Yes, I think I know you"
-"I Know You" from "Black Coffee Blues"
Singer/songwriter, poet, raconteur; publisher and record label boss;
powerlifter and sometime T-shirt model for the Gap clothing store.
(Garfield) Rollins, one-man punk franchise.
BLACK FLAG (1979-1986)
A pal of Fugazi's Ian MacKaye, Rollins got the job as frontman for LA
hardcore icons, Black Flag, after jumping onstage during one of their
full throttle performances. Releases featuring Rollins, all on SST,
include, "Damaged" (1981), "My War" (1983), "Slip It In" (1984), "In My
Head" (1984), "Loose Nut" (1985), "Who's Got the 10 1/2?" (1985), and
posthumous "Wasted Again" (1988).
ROLLINS BAND (1987-present)
Rollins says he's only "one twentieth" of his band. "I'm not The Man,
just the frontman." Along with guitarist Chris Haskett, drummer Sim
Cain, bassist Melvin Gibbs (replacing Andrew Weiss in 1993) and soundman
Theo Van Rock, Rollins looks at the eye of a stormy, chaotic,
polyrhythmic maelstrom that slams right through both metal and punk.
with "Hot Animal Machine" (Texas Hotel/1986) and "Drive By Shooting"
(Texas Hotel/1987), both issued under the name Henry Rollins. Then came
"Life Time" and "Do It" (both Texas Hotel/1988), "Hard Volume" (Texas
Hotel/1989), "Turned On (2.13.61./1990, breakthrough major-label debut
"The End of Silence" (Imago/1992), the EP "Electro Convulsive Therapy"
(Imago/1993), "Weight" (Imago/1994) and this year's "Come In And Burn"
BOOK HIM: 2.13.61.
Named after Rollins' own birthday, perhaps deliberately leaving himself
no room to follow rock'n'roll convention and "update" his age. His
publishing imprint offers up an impressive list of titles, from Nick
Cave, Exene Servenka, Michael Gira, Iggy Pop, Rollins' late friend Joe
Cole, Hubert Selby Jr., Alan Vega and "The Photographer's Led Zepplin."
Strangest and most hilarious of the lot is RK Overton's "Letters to
Rollins," which isn't quite what it seems. Straight-facedly pretending
to be a collection of real fan mail, it's an hysterically funny work of
fiction, starring one H Rollins as a failed children's entertainer whose
career hits a nosedive after he punches Oscar The Grouch while
guest-hosting "Sesame Street."
2.13.61. also brings you the written poetry and prose of the man
himself. Titles include "High Adventure in the Great Outdoors" (1992),
"Art to Choke Hearts/Pissing in the Gene Pool" (1989), "Bang!" (1992),
"One From None" (1990), "Black Coffee Blues" (1991), "See A Grown Man
Cry" (1992) and its companion volume "Now Watch Him Die" (1993), and
"Get In The Van" (1994). Latest new work is the excellent "Eye Scream"
(1996), a chorus of interwoven, disparate and desperate characters, all
(or possibly none) of whom echo Rollins' thoughts.