Movieline Magazine Jan/Feb '95...
by Michael Kaplan
Transcribed by Colin Cushing
Iron-pumping rocker/poet/publisher/actor Henry Rollins takes us on a tour
of his home (where only uderbabes and employees may normally enter) and
refuses to discuss the acting talent of Keanu Reeves.
Right now, if he felt like it, Henry Rollins could beat the crap out of
me. Possessing the strength and rage to pummel a stranger at will, Rollins
emotes jockish brio that sucks all attention toward him as he greets me
in the shallow foyer of his Hollywood home. His black hair bristles at
military-style attention, his chest is as big as a supermarket and his
biceps bulge as if they've been stuffed with peach cans. Serious tattoos
emerge from the edges of his black gym shorts and matching T-shirt, and
occupy the larger part of the available surface skin.
As we enter what I assume will be the living room, an advance cassette of Helmet's noisy new CD is blasting with the sonic force of twin 747s revving on a runway. Rollins, best known as the incendiary leader of the thrashing Rollins Band, though perofrming on-screen as well - currently in a meaty role opposite Keanu Reeves in Johnny Mnemonic - kills the sound and slips into a story about a careless reporter from Melody Maker.
"This asshole wrote that I am a recovering heroin addict," he says. "And that's a lie. I ran into him at the Paramount theater a couple of weeks ago and confronted him. I said, 'Man, I should fuck you up.' He was definitely scared. He thought he was about to get hurt. He asked me if he should leave the country. But I controlled myself. I know full well that if I punched out a midget like him, he'd sue me."
I try to decided whether I think Rollins actually would hit a reporter. Hollywood is a town full of phony tough guys. "When you're pissed off, you can probably be a pretty intimidating guy," I say to him.
"Worse that intimidating," Rollins tells me, locking his gaze into mine.
"How much worse?"
"People go to hospitals," he says, slowly spacing each syllable to be sure I understand. "It has happened. The last time I got into a fight was two years ago in Germany. I knocked a guy's tooth out, broke his nose, put eight stitches in his eye and got arrested by the German cops. I just meant to back him up, but I busted him up."
I have to admit, Rollins definitely knows how to break the ice with a journalist.
Obsessed with work and working out, Henry Rollins lives in a house that is a hive of productivity. The room I'm in, where a bona fide living room ought to be, is his office. It's a big open room with a wooden desk, lots of computer equipment and a professional quality sound system. The rest of the floor (where someone else might have a dining room or den) is given over to desk space for the mployees of Rollins' video/publishing/record companies. Under the 2.13.61 imprimatur (the numbers are his birth date), Rollins has published around 16 books, including eight of his own.
Given that Rollins spends most of the year not here dealing with the business that passes for his "home life", but out touring with his band, I can't help wondering why on earth he decided to bum-rush the movie business. "For the money," he replies with the kind of bluntness that you won't hear from the industry's biggest whores. "But instead of using the paychecks to buy a Ferrari, I buy software and publish books. It's like taking Satan's dollars and turning them into little angles. It's punk rock. It's totally subversive."
In order to give an idea of where his head is at, Rollins tosses me a title that his company has published for Alan Vega, the long forgotten vocalist of the proto-punk band Suicide. As I thumb through the lavishly produced tome of drawings and song lyrics, Rollins explains, "Alan's an artist that I respect, so I gotta treat him like a million dollars. How many of these books will we sell? We'll be sitting on them forever. But you think his book will not get published? Fuck you. That's why I am after the dough. To me, this book is a blow to the empire. It's about kicking against the pricks."
How does he feel, then, about kow-towing to the pricks in the movie industry? Surely, for one who operates as iconoclastically as Rollins does, meeting the typical Tinseltown suit must be considerably less enjoyable than, say, cold-cocking Germans. He points out that it is the industry's insincerity-as-a-bloodsport that bugs him the most. "I can see why actors get very bitter," he says, prowling the room. "This is a mean business. You watch how casually these people will tell you how they're into you and dying to work with you and love you. Then, the next day:
Harry! It's Henry. Henry! How's the Dead Kennedys? I was in Black Flag. How's Black Flag? You guys on tour? Black Flag broke up in 1986. Now, this is the same guy who took me out to lunch the day before and said, 'I love the album. I've got the new single. I love it. I'm a liar, right? Heeey, only kidding.' You see that this guy is filling you with bullshit, but I take that into consideration and only believe what they tell me when I'm actually on the set."
The most recent set for Rollins was Johnny Mnemonic, a project based on a story by cyberpunk novelist WIlliam Gibson and directed by visual artist Robert Longo. The film centers around the title character, played by Keanu Reeves, whose brain is embedded with a computer chip that is being aggressively sought by several cartels. Rollins portrays a doctor - albeit, one named Spider - who must download fresh instructions into Johnny's mind.
Cast without an audition, Rollins arrived at the Toronto location with one requirement for himself. To dramatize this requirement for me, he gulps a weightlifter's intake of oxygen and slowly exhales, intoning, "Must. Pull. My. Weight."
"I did not want to the drag of the production, the rock'n'roll guy who can't remember his lines," Rollins continues. "I went on the set with my shit together, and I had tons of dialogue. Paragraphs." Probably fearing that he'll come off as taking the thespian thing too seriously, Rollins nonchalantly adds, "Look, I'm not at Anthony Hopkins' level or anything, but it's not like I'm playing the doorman in Porky's II either."
Rollins has nothing positive to say about the acting of co-stars Dolph Lundgren or Keanu Reeves. When I tell him I heard he walked off the set one afternoon muttering, "Somebody should teach that fucking [Reeves] to act," he shrugs inscrutably and says only that I would operating on assumption if I chose to use that tidbit. Rollins is willing to express his opinion of director Longo. "I love that guy," he tells me. "On his movie set he's supposed to be polite to everyone, so he can't let it rip. But pretty soon he and I were fucking with each toher, anyways. He would come up to me and say, 'Are you ready to shoot some fucking film?' I'd be like, 'Fuck you.' Everybody's jaw dropped open and from there it began escalating. He and I were laughing at each other, calling one another motherfuckers. He would walk on and say, "You mean you wanna fuck me?' I'd reply, 'I want to fuck you at lunch, punk!'
By the end of the shoot we were calling each other fucko and dickface. We had a blast. After wrapping, Robert gave me a piece of art. It's a big litho of a hand holding a gun. He also gave me all of these art books and signed them, You blowhard. Fuck you. Robert Longo. He's just great."
Perhaps because an inordinate number of twentysomething directors (like Adam Rifkin, who directed The Chase, in which Rollins appeared) are his fans, Rollins has become something of a hot ticket among casting agents. He takes meetings with brand-name players. "I spent a moment hanging out with Steven Seagal," he says, leading me out to a backyard that is lush with bougainvillea and giant potted plants. Squinting disdainfully into the sun, he continues, "The guy was beyond belief. I think I would rather drink latex paint than be in a movie with him. However, he does know his shit about aikido; I would not want to mess with him. He started asking me what I was doing in his office, why I wanted to meet him. And that was really strange because I didn't even want to be there. He called me. I only went beause my agent asked me to go.
Then Seagal wanted to know how much experience I had with [real] guns. When I told him I had none, he looked at me as if I had better move out of town. That's when I walked out of there and saw all these people in his front office, nervously clutching scripts. Apparently, he was casting On Deadly Ground. That clown is a guy who definitely lives in his fucking scene. And there is danger there."
Back inside, Rollins and I sit on swiveling desk chairs in the living room/office, where one wall is dominated by shelves of cassette tapes chronicling live performances of Rollins' favorite bands - including generations of intense personalities from Miles Davis to the Sex Pistols to the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The other wall is taken up by a shelving system that holds what he estimates to be 2,300 compact discs, all cataloged in the computer at the center of his desk.
All about are pieces of art from various friends, including Mark Mothersbaugh (former member of Devo), who gave Rollins a knowingly kitschy sketch of two kids playing ringtoss on a sleeping hillbilly's erect penis; D. Boon, who donated a self-portrait ("D. Boon is dead now," Rollins says of his friend who had fronted a local punk band called the Minutemen - so named, by the way, because few of their songs exceeded 60 seconds. "So if I lost that, it would really suck."); and Raymond Pettibon, who is represented by a print of his own pencil sketch. Strangest of all is a spiraling, abstract drawing signed by Charles Manson with a message that thanks Rollins for his music and concludes, I've really been tripping out on you guys lately.
"He sent me this years ago," Rollins says, shruggin off a rumor that he and Manson actually maintained a lively correspondence. "He saw me on MTV."
I suggest to Rollins that we take a tour through the rest of his digs. "This isn't really a home," he says in a tone that sounds more matter-of-fact than apologetic. "People are walking in and out of the place all the time. And I'm never here. I am usually on the road." Rollins then explains that the house is soundproofed ("I like to really let loose with the stereo system") and wired like a bank safe against break-ins. The latter, he says, is to satisfy an insurance company, though I imagine that his security consciousness stems from an incident that took place in 1991 and seems to have left Rollins with his bottomless pool of rage. Back then he was sharing a place in Venice with his best friend, the documentary film director Joe Cole. They were returning from a run to the video store, where they had picked up a Sylvester Stallone flick.
I interrupt the story I'm hearing to ask if Rollins is a Sly Stallone fan. "In the jungle I'd be wearing Stallone's finger bones in my nose and his women would be wearing my colors," he says. "In Hollywood, though, the son of a bitch will always get work."
In any case, when they got home, Cole and Rollins had the misfortune of walking in on a robbery in progress. Guns were pressed to their heads and the two of them were told to lay flat with their faces against the floor. While Rollins followed orders, his buddy got into an altercation with one of the robbers and wound up with two bullets in his head. "For $40 they killed Joe and basically ruined my life," says Rollins, who keeps a jar of Cole's blood and the dirt on which it spilled inside a closet. "I'm a completely different person now than I was then. Try cleaning your best friend's brains off the sidewalk so his mother won't see them. It would have an effect on you, too."
I make the mistake of asking Rollins if he has ever used the emotions from that incident to inform a character in a movie. He stares at me, then flatly says, "Put it this way. If they ever need a guy to be horribly sad, it will not be a stretch for me."
After a few minutes of small talk, Rollins reluctantly agrees to take me upstairs. On the second floor, past a shin-high rack of videocassettes, arranged alphabetically from the punk band Birthday Party to the radical documentary Weathermen '69, Rollins hangs a left and stops in front of an open door. "This is my room," he says, ushering me into a tidy, dark space that is probably smaller than Stallone's utility closet. On the floor is un unmade futon. Behind it, where a bed's headboard would ordinarily go, rests a blue plastic milk crate. papers and a few files are stacked inside and its top supports a mini boom box. Fish-patterned fabriv hangs over the window. The whole setup reminds me of how I lived during an especially lean semester at a New Jersey state college in 1981.
"This is a spartan existence," I comment.
"What else do you need?" Rollins snaps back.
Then he leads me into the next room, where there is a 27-inch television/VCR/kaser disc combo propped across from the IKEA-looking couch and a pair of chest-high book cases. "This is where I've thrown all my books and files and documentation. There's a lot of Henry Miller, a lot of signed first editions, a lot of Celine, Knut Hamsun." He stops to check out a wooden box that is about as big as a crab trap and stuffed end to end with compact discs. "Those are all the CDs I've either played on or released. I'm kinda proud of that, though I look at them and say, 'All right, I did it. Now I gotta go.' I'm a workaholic, man. I'd like to spend more time here, see some videos and stuff, sit out on the balcony and read. But I'm usually too high-strung to stay put and watch something for more than 20 minutes.
"I don't have anything else but work," Rollins continues. "I have no hobbies, no wife, no children, no drug habit to maintain. Nothng is in my way. I'm very simple." He gestures expansively with his arms, as if trying to bear hug the oxygen around him. "I'm used to living in a backpack for months out of the year. All my life, ever since I was a kid living with my mother in apartments, I never had a room this big. Right now, for me, this is wild. I've never had my books on shelves. They've always been in boxes because I never had any dough or anything."
For some reason, Rollins' lack of domesticity leads me to wonder about his sexuality. Is he into women or men or what? "I get hit on by so many guys," he says. "But that's been going on since I was 14, so it's no big deal. In fact, I see it as a compliment. If I was a gay guy, and I saw someone who was muscular, tattooed, intense, in a band - well, I'd be all over it."
"Henry, do you have a girlfriend?"
"Nah," he says, shaking his head. "Besides lacking the guts to talk to women, I'm too picky. Too many things turn me off. If they drink, I'm bored; if they smoke, I'm bored; if they're boring, I'm bored. If you're a little unambitious, if you don't work out, I'm outta there." He slips into an imitation of a whiny woman: "'I'm slightly overweight. I'm thinking of working out.' Don't tell me that shit! Don't admit it! As a result of my pickiness, I end up with these really intense uderbabes."
Is that good? Rollins makes a face that reads not so good. "I just do the single guy thing. I spend most of my time alone. The gratuitous sex thing, I got over that by the time I was 25. It was cool in my early 20s, when I was in Black Flag and being offered everything and everybody you can imagine, but if you're 33 and doing that, well, you should really get a life."
The tour of Rollins' crib ends downstairs, in the best room of the house. It is dominated by a massive weight-lifting cage and racks of weights. Regular workouts here - he began lifting at the age of 14, at the behest of a teacher - provide Rollins with the bulk that makes him famous. "My best bench press is 285, 290," he says, surveying the equipment with obvious pride. "Usually I got at it very hard, very studiously. But I haven't had time to do the workouts I want, so it leaves me handicapped. And when I'm not given the chance to work out the way I like to, I feel really...furious."
Gazing at the machine the way other men might look upon a loved one's bed, Rollins tells me that lifting weights means more to him than simply keeping fit. "It is a total metaphor for life. If you hit it hard, it gives back to you. You give it 100 percent and you're built like a brick shithouse; you cheat and you break your back. Three hundred pounds does not care if it crushes your head or if you put it back on the hooks. I don't think you get a better deal in life. Women leave you, money gets stolen, 300 pounds just sits on that bar, saying, 'Lift me or don't.'"
Checking his watch, Rollins announces that he has a plane to catch in a couple of hours. He'll be heading to New York to shoot a video and he wants to know if I would if he sorted some freshly laundered clothing to take on the trip. We make our way through the kitchen to a washer and dryer from which he extracts a tangle of black-and-white workout togs. Telling me that this is all he ever wears, he spreads the stuff out on the floor of his office, and folds and packs it with a meticulous sense of order.
I ask Rollins about the legacy he wants to leave behind. Is the movie work Rollins' attempt to find a kind of immortality that does not come from balls-to-the-wall rock'n'roll? "Nah," he says resolutely. "There'll be no legacy. No funeral, no casket. Cremate the body and sweep it into the refuse. When I'm dying I'll start giving everything away. My personal copy of my first album will go to a fan. I'll give my publishing royalties to my manager's kids as a college fund. I'll give my computers away to students - after erasing all the disks so that there's not some disgusting collector's thing posthumously published. That'd be great, to just leave the earth with nothing."
The sentiment sounds surprisingly cleansing as Rollins loads the last of his T-shirts into the duffle bag and zips the bag shut. He smiles for the first time all day and dreamily concludes, "Lying on my death bed in an otherwise empty house would the ultimate coup."