2001 Playboy Interview
Don't let the
thick neck, buzz cut and muscled frame fool you -- Henry Rollins is no
dimwitted gym rat. He's punk rock's first Renaissance man. For the past 20
years, Hammerin' Hank, who turns 40 today, has been a full-bore media machine,
laying his throat-splitting scream across power chords with Black Flag and the
Rollins Band, writing and publishing his own books, acting in films such as Heat and Johnny Mnemonic and performing spoken-word shows and releasing
spoken-word albums. When critics thought Rollins would lose steam he redoubled
his efforts and elbow-greased his way past them with longer tours, more books,
MTV appearances, a Grammy nomination and even a Gap ad.
Born Henry Garfield in Washington, DC, Rollins was a shy kid
at an all-boys school when punk rock crash-landed in the late Seventies. He
formed his first band (SOA) and, with the help of friend Ian MacKaye (of Minor
Threat and Fugazi fame), released a single. Then in 1981 when Rollins' favorite
band Black Flag played in nearby New York City, an impromptu guest vocal spot
landed him the gig as frontman for the Flag, one of punk's most popular and
powerful acts. Henry Garfield, manager of a DC Häagen-Dazs, relocated to Los
Angeles to become Henry Rollins, badass singer for Black Flag.
It was during his tenure in the drill-camp conditions of
Black Flag that Rollins solidified his extreme work ethic. The band was
notorious for its constant touring (sometimes close to 200 shows a year),
13-hour practices and an absurdly prolific recording schedule (including the
release of three albums in 1984 alone). With what little time he scavenged
outside of the band, Rollins founded the publishing company 2.13.61 (his
birthday) and put out books of his poetry and tour diaries. He also hit the
coffeehouses and clubs to perform spoken-word shows consisting of abstract
poems and tales of on-the-road bravado.
In 1986, after eight albums, Black Flag founder and
guitarist Greg Ginn disbanded the group. Rollins quickly formed the Henry
Rollins Band (later shortened to the Rollins Band) and released a string of
intense albums loaded with barbarically self-depreciating lyrics such as Hot Animal Machine, Lifetime and Hard Volume.
The band's blend of blistering rage (Burned
Beyond Recognition) and violently depressive lyrics (Gun in Mouth Blues) earned them a spot on the inaugural
Lollapalooza tour. Rollins' 1994 single Liar
even earned a Grammy nomination. Most recently, Rollins parted ways with his
longtime backing band and enlisted LA's Mother Superior for his 2000 effort, Get Some Go Again.
This month Rollins turns 40, a rare thing for someone
spawned in the die-young aesthetic of early punk rock. Middle age and two
decades on the road certainly haven't slowed him down. He has a new Rollins
Band album (Get Some Go Again), a
spoken-word album (A Rollins in the Wry),
a Fox TV show (Night Visions) and
appearances in three upcoming movies. Rollins talked to Playboy.com about
turning 40, the Internet and why he won't watch Seinfeld reruns.
anyone ever told you you'd make a great commentator for the XFL?
Quite honestly I don't know how interested I'd be in watching a bunch of guys
grab each others' butts and chase after a ball all night.
PB: So, it might
not be your thing?
HR: No, I never cared
much about sports.
PB: Does it feel
different turning 40?
HR: No, I'm too
busy. I've definitely had some reflections on being more adult and being...not
22, but that's been happening to me since I was 37. Like a lot of guys, you
rate yourself on how you rate with women. It's a very Darwinian, natural thing.
I know I do.
Let me put it this way: I check out Vanity Fair, and they always have the flat-chested, pouting model
that everyone desires. To me, she looks like somebody's kid sister. She's cute.
I don't care about cute. I like beautiful. Girls cannot be beautiful. Girls can
be cute, but women are beautiful. It's just a different thing, so it makes me
wonder about guys my age who go to the titty bar and hit on the 23-year-old
stripper. What are you thinking? What's interesting? I'm not saying they are
boring people, but I don't have anything to say to a girl that age past
answering a question about a book I wrote or something. I wish them well, but I
don't want to wake up next to one of them.
That's the kind of thing I'm finding in all the different
areas in which I conduct myself. From the way I treat people, to the way I
relate to people to the way I think I'm being perceived. It has all changed
since I've gotten older. Simple things like when people call me
"sir," not because they recognize me but because I have a lot of gray
hair. In the last few years I've learned a lot. If you open yourself up to the
lesson, there's a lot you can learn.
PB: What was the
best age for you?
HR: There are
years that stick out, but it's not really my age that made them great, it's
just what was happening. I really liked 1980, because I was living in my
hometown and there were all these guys like Ian MacKaye making really great
music. The punk scene wasn't that big yet, and you knew everybody at every gig.
There was a real kindred spirit vibe. It was just a great time to be in music.
It's still great but in a different way, so I look back on those days very
fondly. I look at all those old photos of all of us jumping up and down being a
bunch of jackasses. It was all so new that you knew you were breaking ground
and you were on to something. Now, everything's cool, but I've done everything
a million times. It's like, "I'm in the studio again." Everything's "again."
Nothing's new anymore.
PB: Your new
spoken-word record A Rollins in the Wry
contains the first two nights of the nine weeks you did last year in LA's Luna
Park. You must have a lot of leftover tape.
HR: Yeah. There
were about 18 hours.
PB: Do you have
any plans to release the rest of that material?
HR: No. I
actually have another talking record that's Internet-only at the pressing plant
right now. Whereas the shows at Luna Park were the first two shows of that
year, this release is from the second-to-last show of that year. It's a double
CD, full concert, two hours. It's called Henry
Rollins Live at the Westbeth Theater, New York City.
We also have a new Rollins Band record in the can that we're
going to put online soon. It's all the outtakes from Get Some Go Again, and it's called Yellow Blues. It's 65 minutes of mastered and fully mixed music.
We're going to do a healthy bunch of Internet-only releases this year.
PB: It sounds
like you've fully embraced the Internet.
website-only releases gives a guy like me an opportunity to put out a lot of
stuff without people thinking you're just gouging them for money. It bothers me
when I see the No Doubt five-song single from one record and then the three-CD
box with the two singles and the remixes on the shelf at Tower Records. To me
that says, "I am preying upon 14-year-old kids who 'gotta gotta' have it,
and that's an extra houseboat for me." I can't do that, but on the
Internet you can put out, like, 30 live records so that they are there if you
really want them, but they aren't in your face at Tower Records. You have to go
to our site to get them. It's great because the fans who have to have
everything know where to go instead of being this thing that is crassly put in
front of you as a new product. I wish all my favorite bands did that kind of
PB: What are you
listening to lately?
HR: Lately I've
been listening to a lot of vinyl. I'm getting through the Miles Davis/John
Coltrane box set on vinyl and the Bitches
Brew sessions on vinyl and a lot of punk rock vinyl such as Ramones, and
also Zeppelin and the Beatles. I just got a mono copy of Sgt. Pepper's and I played that. It sounds just fucking awesome. I
also picked up a mono copy of Chelsea
Girls by Nico. It cost me an arm and a leg, but it sounds great. I'm kind
of an audiophile nerd. I have five different playback systems stretched across
PB: So, you're a
total stereo geek into speakers and stuff?
HR: Yeah. I have
four normal systems and one 5.1 home theater system. I'm a total gear guy. I
have two DVD setups. For the big epic films I do the home theater scene and I
have a whole room for it. For the HBO specials and documentaries I just do it
in my bedroom. I just watched the entire first season of The Sopranos in one weekend. The DVD box set was a Christmas
present from my manager.
PB: Are you a fan
of that show?
HR: Huge. I don't
have cable, so I never get to see it. I'd see it in hotel rooms for 20 minutes
at a time, so I took in the whole first season and loved it. I met Lorraine
Bracco who plays the analyst lady on the TV show a few months ago. She's an
extremely classy lady who's really gorgeous and cool. It made me like the show
even better. Not to mention that those people can act their asses off.
PB: Don't tell me
you're watching Sex in the City, too.
HR: No. Like I
said, I don't have cable. I have two TV sets and neither is hooked up with any
channels. I just use them to watch videos and movies. On the road, in a hotel,
I'll watch TV, so I've seen a few of those shows. The only way I'd get cable is
to watch the History Channel, the Biography Channel and any of those animal
shows. I love that stuff. I'm not going to watch Seinfeld. As good as it may be, it's not how I want to invest an
hour. I'd rather have my nose in a book or sit in front of good monitors and
listen to music. TV was always super de-emphasized in the house I grew up in
with my mom. We'd watch TV on this index card-size screen. She tried to make it
as unappetizing as possible. I would turn it on and she'd automatically give me
shit. By the time I was 15, TV didn't mean much except for watching Saturday Night Live. Past that I grew up
with my mom's records -- Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Bob Dylan -- the good
stuff. So, I live like I was raised, with walls of books and tons of music. I
felt like I was slumming it with The
Sopranos. I really felt dirty afterward like, "I just sat on my ass
for 12 hours." It was fun, but I kind of wanted to get through quickly and
just be done with it. It was like eating three extra slices of cake. I knew I
should have been reading.
PB: What were the
first DVDs you ran out and bought when you got a DVD player?
HR: Apocalypse Now, Caddyshack, Stripes, Animal House, A Streetcar Named Desire, Sling
Blade, some Hitchcock, Raging Bull....
I bought like a dozen at once. It was all just the sort of primary colors you
have to have, you know, the staples. I bought all of the Criterion Collections
that I had laser discs of, such as Kurasawa. I think the actual first DVD I
bought was Dr. Strangelove. I can
watch that at least every other week -- no problem. When the Godfather movies come out on DVD I will
be customer number one.
PB: You have
small roles in three movies coming out soon. What's the first one to be
HR: I don't know.
I don't know and I don't care. I did my work and I did really good, but when I
walk off the set, it's not an industry that I'm all that interested in. I do it
for fun and I'm getting some parts so that means someone's interested. I enjoy
the work, but I don't care when it comes out because I'm not going to go to the
premiere and I'm not going to go see it. The most I'm going to do is buy the
DVD of it, never watch it and put it on the shelf next to the rest of my meager
PB: You also have
a new Fox television show called Night
Visions. What's that all about?
HR: I don't know
when it premieres, but I'm the host. It's kind of a Twilight Zone-thing and I'm the Rod Serling. It's awesome. I got
the job last year, and I'm working on it now and again up in Vancouver. I'm
going to fly up there and do some more work on it in the next few weeks.
Looking forward to it. Really nice people. Really good material. That's the
best part of it, really. If it's bad material it doesn't matter how much money
they're throwing at you, it's not worth it.
PB: When does the
Rollins Band go back on the road again?
HR: The talking
tour starts in late February and goes until May when it ends in Australia. By
the time I come home, our new album we're finishing now will be ready, so I'll
basically go right into three weeks of Marine-drill band practice to get
everyone into shape, myself included, being the oldest one of the bunch. Then
we'll go right back onto the road and hit it until the fall. At that point I'll
let those guys out of the truck, and me and the road manager will go back out
and finish the talking tour until winter. So, I'm hoping for about 150 shows
this year. Last year was only about 100, which is pretty weak.
PB: What's your
HR: About 184.
PB: I'm shocked.
I thought it was more than 200.
HR: With the way
I perform I could have done 200 when I was about 23. I'm not like some
country-western singer who stands perfectly still and sings. He can do about
300 shows a year. I'm not like that. You do four months on the road in one of
my outfits and you come home 12 pounds lighter and you don't even remember your
area code. It's hard on the system.