New Musical Express March 29/97 Interview...
It's a busy world that Henry Rollins inhabits. Not only is he the head
honcho of the Rollins Band but he's also a writer, publisher, one-man
spoken-word industry and an advertising icon. Oh, and he's hard. Real
hard. Fearless Stephen Dalton has the gall to question the originality
of his music, the state of his sexuality and the size of his, erm,
manhood. And come out alive. Suits you sir: Steve Gullick
The Terminator locks you in his viewfinder, exchanges curt greetings and
snaps straight into interview mode.
Yesterday he was in his LA headquarters. Three hours from now he'll be
on a plane to Holland. In the gruelling schedule of Rollins World, there
is no room for idle chit chat. Frivolity will not be tolerated. Jokes
are for wimps. Time-wasters will have their heads crushed like grapes
and mounted on the battlements of Henry's pent up rage. Oh, and he's
missing his pet cat like mad.
True to form, the Human Stealth Bomber begins by verbally blitzing the
"eunuch boys" of Britpop.
"It's a laughing stock to me, a soap opera. 'What's Liam doing now?'
He's probably taking a dump, leave him alone! I mean, if you came on my
front lawn and did all that, I'd f--king bitch slap you into the street.
The poor guy, he probably just wants to be in a band. But on the other
hand, he kisses up to it too, he gets on major billboards with Patsy
Kensit. They're just sucking media dick. So what you end up with is a
music scene with no music. I find it hilarious. LIke, are these bands
ever gonna go out and do 150 shows a year? It's just pathetic, if you
play real music for a living."
Henry, of course, plays 'real music'-when he's not puttng out 'real'
spoken word albums, acting in 'real' movies and publishing 'real' books
full of alienated fury and black humour.
And appearing in 'real' adverts for The Gap, of course. But Hank's heard all
the 'sell-out' allegations a zillion times-and squished them with his
tattooed, bicep bulging logic every time. Don't forget he fronted
uber-hardcore nutters Black Flag for six years before forming the
Rollins Band a decade ago. These days, he states blankly, adverts and
film roles finance his book and record labels. End of story.
"I've been hearing 'sell-out' every year since I was 20! Punk rockers
are just like so many little yapping dogs at my feet. I'm like,
'Shhhhh-go get pierced.'"
Hank believes in arm wrestling the mainstream into submission. This combat
strategy even encompasses winning a Grammy for the last Rollins Band
album 'Weight,' and his new deal with Dreamworks, the mega-label set up
by media moguls David Geffen, Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenburg.
"I HATE the idea of the underground! F--k that! The underground to me
is a bunch of people outside the big house eating scraps and going, 'Boy
these scraps are good! I don't want the steak, man, I stay true to the
game-I only eat the gristle.' My idea is you go into the big house and
say, 'Get the f--k outtta my way, give me that steak!' I'm into takeover."
The first Rollins Band album for Dreamworks is called 'Come In And
Burn.' It is a heavy, intense, flipping angry item. Boy, is it miffed.
But much as we love Hank's extreme credibility and no-bullshit attitude,
it's still a gruelling endurance test of a record. Once again, the warm
humor and touching humanity of his diaries and spoken word gigs have been
pummelled into paste by sheer sonic attack. Ouch.
"That's on purpose," nods the Bionic Liberal. "That's why I do the other
stuff. I don't wanna do that with music."
It's pretty limited, though, very much one favor.
"Well, when you you're in the mood for vanilla, come on over," quips Hank
grimly. "I use the music as a tool. I don't write lyrics when I'm
happy, I write them to ease pain. When I'm depressed, lonely,
stressed-that's when I reach for the lyric book. For me the music has
always been where I go for that explosive catharsis. So yes, it is kind
of limited in scope. But one the other hand, I don't ask a can of
peaches to be a zebra either."
No, but you can bet that if drill sergeant Rollins gave the order, those
peaches would get stripy in an instant. So are audiences supposed to
enjoy (in italics, Hans) Henry's music or just, like, feel its pain?
"I hope they're getting off as hard as I'm getting off. I don't know,
every year the crowds get bigger. I've never seen anyone held at
gunpoint to go to our gigs so I think it's pretty voluntary attendance.
Obviously our music doesn't do it for you, so it's typical of NME to
bring you in to talk to me, ha ha!"
Not really, it's just that Rollins albums ignore so much of pop's
"Well, that's why they have lots of records in stores and not just mine!
What a miserable state we'd be in if there was JUST ME! Ha ha! Cut your
wrists right now! Thank GOD for Bananarama!"
Rollins World lacks the feminine touch, which might help explain his
emotionally stunted outlook. The young Henry Garfield grew up in the
shadow of ultra-macho father who regularly beat him and his drunken
mother. Now, 36, he has few qualms about severing almost all links with
his divorced parents.
"You can't miss what you never had," Henry grunts matter-of-factly.
He went directly from an all-male school into another testosterone
charged environment, Black Flag, at 19. Even now, though his manager and
most of his business associates are women, the opposite sex still baffles
Hank. His punishing schedule, he claims, makes him a "lame date" with
little time for serious relationships. So is he courting at the moment?
"Not really. Nothing I can't walk away from in two minutes."
As Robert De Niro said in Heat, this film in which Henry was punched
through a window by Al Pacino...
"Absolutely!" he barks. "Totally correct reference sir! No, the
relationships I have usually last between two nights to two months. I
was not really raised with girls, and I'd only had sex with one girl
before I joined Black Flag. Then these chicks I was meeting were like,
'Can I f--k you?' and I'm like, 'WHAT?!? EXCUSE ME?!?' I feel fine
around women, I just would never lie and say I understand them. That's
probably the reason they don't stick around."
There could be other factors. Are you a careful, considerate lover or a
heat-seeking missle between the sheets?
"Errr...I only get those two choices?" blushes Henry. "No, I'm very
Henry prefers a gym full of muscular male buddies to female company. Did
it never occur to him that he might be gay (in italics, Hans)?
"No. I never experimented. Everyone thinks about it but no, I never
You must admit there's something very homoerotic about your ultra-male,
physique obesessed lifestyle?
"Yea, there is. I see that more as camaraderie, I don't get the sex
vibe from it. And I quite enjoy the male thing, it's fun."
Didn't you flirt with sexual ambivalence in Black Flag?
"HA!" bellows Henry. "Are you KIDDING? We were SO in search of women.
There was no sunshine in that band-no money, never a good hotel, the only
nice thing in your life was a woman. We were so crass. We'd be like,
'What are you doing tonight? Can I go with you?'."
Impressive seduction technique, if a trifle short on subtlety.
"Well, cities screwed all this up. Cities bring morality and
unnatural circumstances. In the jungle, the more you can ooga-booga,
you're gonna get more pussy. I'm not being sexist saying that, that's
just the way it is. When the warriors come home covered in blood, the
women go, 'Oh yeah! THAT dude's f--king ME tonight, not the poet.' But
here in society you have the leafy green salad eater getting the
supermodel muff while the guy who can break a Buick with his teeth jerks
Presumably you jerk off a lot then?
"Shit, man, the last four weeks it's been horrible. One to two times a
day. I see beautiful women every day and I'm like ROOAARGH!!"
Surely all this excess sexual energy goes against Hank's total efficiency
ethic. Wouldn't he get more done by channelling it elsewhere?
"No, the sex urge is what makes a lot of this possible. Without the
women, there would be no excuse for me to even do music."
So you're ruled by your dick?
"I am a sexual creature. I'm alice, I'm aware of all my senses. I'm not
ruled by my dick. A guy who's ruled by his dick watches porno, does
anything he can to get laid, but I think sex is healthy. I don't watch
porno, I've never been with a prostitute, I never go to strip clubs."
Did you rebuild your puny childhood body to compensate for having, ahem,
a tiny dick?
"No, my dick is average size, no-one's ever complained. The last comment
I heard about my dick was a girl who said, 'God was nice to you, honey.'"
Get real, Henry. She says that to EVERYONE. It's a ploy to sooth your
fragile male ego.
"Well, hey, she kept mine right where she wanted it! But, yeah, I think
men should be built like brick shithouses. I am in AWE of physical
strength! I CRAVE lifting weights! I would gladly be lifting in a gym
seven days a week if I could. I LOVE it. I love my hands bleeding, I
love when the capillaries in my eyes break open, I love the occasional
Bloody hell, you're a complete masochistic maniac.
"Naaah. I'm just into physical intensity. I'm not saying, like, clamp my
nipples and stick pins in my nuts. Because that's like some passive
please-hurt-me thing. Ask any Olympic athlete, they'll say, 'God it
hurts, but it's awesome.' It's the pain that comes when you try to
achieve (in italics, Hans)."
Rollins is certainly an achiever, a living monument to self-sufficiency.
A brutally screwed-up middle-class childhood in Washington DC convinced
the young Henry that Nietzschean self-belief was the only way. Now this
no-smoking, alcohol-free poet-warrior lives by a strict set of 'Iron
Reminders' (Don't Lose It, Don't Attach, etc) and rules his own
multi-media empire. And that's just in the six months when he's not
touring with his band.
In his spare time, Henry takes small roles in films such as Johnny
Mnemonic, Heat and David Lynch's forthcoming Lost Highway. He
corresponds with rape victims, handicapped fans and others who identify
with his emotionally damaged state. He also speaks out against racism in
America, alongside friends such as Ice-T, at colleges and conferences.
This is the Bionic Liberal's most serious mission, and a subject far more
likely to arouse his ire than enquires about dick size. Even the murder
of his former roadie and best friend, Joe Cole, by black hoodlums in
1991, hasn't dented Henry's zero-tolerance stance on racism.
"Not at all, you can't make me not see the bigger picture," he sighs.
"This guy who killed Joe was cold like a tob. That's what made it so
f--king scary: here's a guy who can take a life as easily as going to get
something to eat. What happens to a man so that he can take a life that
coldly? Is it because he's black? No, it's how he came up. He wasn't
born a killer, he's a manifestation of the problem. So you can't make me
hate black people, no matter what. But I hate that guy (in italics,
Hans), because he killed my friend."
Have you forgiven him?
"I don't know about forgiving him, but if you left me in a room with him
for five minutes he'd be totally unscathed. I don't have that revenge
thing-it's not gonna bring anybody back, it's not gonna solve anything."
Most of Henry's musical heroes are black. Duke Ellington, Miles Davis,
Charlie Parker, John Lee Hooker, James Brown...
"I met James Brown the other day," he beams. "He hugged me and I just
It is also intriguiing that many of Henry's friends and
collaborators-from Iggy Pop to Nick Cave to Courtney Love-have a history
of heroin use. Isn't the straight-edge Rollins ever tempted to dabble
for purely artistic reasons?
"No, because as Charles Bukowski said when his friend John Fnati was
dying of diabetes, 'Christ, I'm glad I'm not THAT good.' That's a price
I will not pay for my art."
Of course not. Because Hank's running a marathon, not a sprint. He aims
to be like Duke Ellington or James Brown, a bulletproof man-machine with
a long-haul career. Neither drugs, messy emotions, personal tragedies nor
the vagaries of fashion can penetrate his body armor. Nothing stops the
"I know the music I play is old school caveman shit," he admits. "But no
bad review is ever going to stop one of our shows or stop me making a
record. If you wanna stop me getting onstage, you're not gonna do it
with a pen. So you'd better get the sword and you'd better make it
sharp, because I'm coming."
Such are the vigorously defended borders of Rollins World. Nobody breaks
through those fortified walls but Henry himself-and you get the feeling
that's just the way he likes it.