Since his debut in 1981 as Black Flag's fourth, last and best lead singer, Henry Rollins has been the emissary of intelligent hardcore punk rock and its accompanying ideals. Through his five-year history with the band, from the LPs Damaged to In My Head, he brought an animalistic, poetic spirit to the band. He began his tenure with the band as a bald, lithe, Iggy Pop-style frontman and ended it in 1986 as a long-haired tattooed road warrior in small black workout shorts and a world-weary mind. After Black Flag broke up, Rollins began his own rebirth in earnest as an author and public speaker, and started a new band of his own in Rollins Band. His increasing beefy physique was a far cry from the skinny hardcore kid he was a decade before. He even appeared on MTV Sports talking about fitness. Coming from the man who sang "Slip It In," it was a tad jarring. Musically, apart from Flag, he is best known for the Rollins Band singles "Low Self Opinion," "Disconnect" and "Liar," which is arguably his modern-day calling card. The video's inclusion on Beavis and Butt-Head probably helped bring Rollins a whole new reverent audience in the '90s. Untold amounts of kids more than likely got into hardcore just through one showing of a Rollins Band video on MTV back then.
He also began a long film and television career with 1990's Kiss Napoleon Goodbye, and would include 1994's The Chase, Michael Mann's police drama Heat, David Lynch's Lost Highway and both Jackass films. He had his own IFC show for 21 episodes, The Henry Rollins Show, featuring interviews with various musicians and film folks and always ending with a killer musical performance in-studio. Last season on FX's biker drama Sons Of Anarchy, he played the muscle for a rival white-supremacist gang.
Apart from music and acting, Rollins' speaking and writing career has been his main outlet. He travels the globe relentlessly, encountering all forms of injustice and political strife and relating his experiences back to audiences in halls and theaters across the map. He has written ten books and released countless live spoken-word albums, including the Black Flag tour document Get In The Van.
Tonight Rollins brings his "Frequent Flyer Tour" to Houston, for a night of his own brand of political commentary and railing on anything else that rubs him the wrong way. Rocks Off talked with him recently about the Obama administration, Fox News' Glenn Beck, and we geeked out over noise tapes, Bad Brains, and the upcoming Stooges Raw Power reissue he has been helping organize.
Rocks Off: What do you think about Obama's first year in office?
Henry Rollins: He walked into a room that looked like three tornados hit it. You have a war in two places; you have a broken economy, and a health-care system that needs...something. That's what he inherited. A deregulated out of control banking system, an impending mortgage crisis that was not his doing. And one of the biggest deficits the world has seen. That's what landed on his desk, day one. If a year and a month in the place still looks a little messy, I don't wonder why.
Obama seeks to get bipartisanship with people who hate his guts on every level. They will never come over, ever. Even when they vote "no" to the stimulus package, they still take the money and take credit for helping their state. Then they turn around and call him a socialist. I wish Obama had more backbone, and the same goes for most Democrats. I will be the last person surprised if Barack Obama is a four-year president. It's a pretty simple argument: you either support the people or you support business. But business needs to be regulated.
I think I am one of Obama's most faithful critics, and I voted for him. But I don't want to be in Iraq or Guatanamo anymore. I don't want to put 35,000 more troops in Afghanistan. If you are going to do this "overwhelm and suppress" thing, you go in with 300,000 and have every bad guy wake up with three Marines going "Hey man! What's happening?"
35,000 more troops just means more target practice for bad guys, and the country is full of bad guys. If you look at their history, they get rid of invaders and occupiers from 330 B.C. to now. And why America thinks it will different for us than it was for Alexander, Ghenghis Khan, the British, the Russians...
RO: What do you think will be the legacy of this new Tea Party movement?
HR: I can understand the anger. The anger is real, and the original version of it is righteous. I may not agree with every talking point but the anger is not acting. I think it got hijacked by special interest groups. Now you see these guys barking for big pharma and big insurance. But on the other hand, look at Barack Obama and big pharma...
I always err to what is the most humanitarian. I want my countrymen to have health care. I don't want a guy to lose his house because his wife gets cancer, even if he is in the Ku Klux Klan. When you wanna help people, you get called a socialist.
There is going to come a time, not too soon, when I am just going to go "Alright then, you have fun with that." I'll start acting like a conservative and say "I got mine. It sucks to be you." But my responsibility as an American is to try and help other people have it good.
RO: Then you have the Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh guys goading it on...
HR: Glenn Beck is so barking mad! It's kind of trippy listening to his show. I was driving through rural Virginia months ago. I just listened to his show on the drive. It was crazy. I didn't know it was that kind of barking mad. It was really something. He was blowing my mind. I would like to know out of what he says he believes, and what he just says as the tonic for the troops.
I know someone, a liberal, who did a segment with Sean Hannity. They barked at each other for seven minutes with the insults and Hannity did his thing. Afterwards Hannity comes up to him and says "Hey that was great TV! Let's do it again sometime." So that was just like, pro-wrestling time?
You wonder how much of this is for the seven figures a year. But it's still detrimental. I have been talking onstage a lot about the weight of words. With the First Amendment, you are given a lot of latitude. I don't think everyone uses it responsibly.
When Rush Limbaugh calls Barack Obama a "Halfrican-American", its protected speech but its like, "What are you doing, man? What are you, eight? You get beat up by the quarterback?" Then he says things like the Obama administration sought to help out Haiti so Obama could burnish his image with non-whites or that we already helped Haiti by paying income tax.
RO: Your point of view is more in line with most rational citizens in the country. Do you ever see yourself running for office?
HR: No, those people (politicians) take a lot of meetings and talk out of two sides of their mouth and are always in need of fundraising. I'm a high-school graduate and I enjoy my life as a private citizen. If you put me on the platform with anybody in opposition, I would probably get my head handed to me. If I get into a thing with Ann Coulter, she would hand me my head. She lives for that bloodsport and I don't have it.
You couldn't put me on a segment on Fox News. I would get talked into a corner and it would end with Bill O'Reilly asking me why I hate America. I'm not quick on my feet like politicians seem to be. I just like my country. And now I am almost quoting Glenn Beck.
I think there are saner ways to do things. I think Eisenhower was right when he warned us about the military-industrial complex. To add one more scoop on that cone, there is the prison-industrial complex. Why else do we have more incarcerated men and women than any other country in the world, including countries with a higher population? It's because it makes money.
RO: What parallels do you see in the music scene from 1980 to 2010?
HR: A little, in some surprising places. In the early days of Dischord, Ian MacKaye's label, things were very wide open. The Bad Brains used my little VW to drive up to New York to get the pressing of their single back to D.C. My little car got "Pay To Cum" back to D.C., so the car was good for something. I was there when the first Teen Idles record was released as Dischord 001. My record was Dischord 002.
I remember seeing the Bad Brains with 100 people, seeing the Cramps with 150 people. Getting sweated on by Dee Dee Ramone. All of that stuff is very fondly remembered by me.
I am seeing parallels to those days now with a lot of small labels who only do cassettes and CD-Rs with handmade art. There is a great label in the Midwest called American Tapes out of Michigan. They make noise music and it's spearheaded by this one guy, John Olson. He's got like five different bands. Wolf Eyes, Dead Machine, this thing and that thing. Every record he puts out for the most part, he gets cereal boxes and spray-paints them up, puts in two flyers, two cassettes and a CD. All spray-painted with a limited edition of 20 or 12.
He has about 850 releases on his label and I have probably about 500 of them. I am such a big fan of the noise movement. I am big fan of labels like Fag Tapes, Gods Of Tundra, Hanson Records, all that stuff is relevant to me. These guys kind of gasp that I actively seek out their stuff. Every now and these guys will write me "Dude! You just ordered something from my site!" Yeah man, I am into it. I have tubs of this stuff and I listen to it.
I wrote Olson last year and I told him that they are what punk rock should have done. Just like when Johnny Lydon went to Public Image Ltd., you guys are taking it somewhere. It's not commercial, they don't want you to like them, and they aren't going to go on MTV. You want to get the record, you have to go to the show or bleed out the mouth on eBay. These noise labels are like that. You better be there first in line because it's over in five minutes.
RO: And people still say that music sucks now...
HR: Well then they suck! Those people are the problem. Music is fine. What, music is boring now? No, you are boring now. And now you are making me boring. You have to get away from these people who are so dismissive. Check out what Mike Patton is doing with Ipecac or what Ian still does with Dischord. Look at all the noise bands all over the world with so many cassette labels, so many bedroom bands, garage band, bands that only tour basements. The underground is happening.
I have gray hair and I will go to some youth show and they look at me like,"Oh, look at the NARC." Its fine, they can make fun of me. When I buy the records they are like "Are you sure, dude? You may break your hip."
RO: What is it like being recognized out and about now?
HR: People will make a big deal out of ignoring me. I got it, you don't care. I think it's cool. I'm the old guard now. I'm the fuzz. They don't have to put too many calories into it. It's not hard to meet me since I wait by the bus until everybody leaves. Everyone gets to meet me. It's funny to see people make the recognition and then walk by like they didn't see me. They will figure it out later and go "Man, I shouldn't have been such a turd."
RO: What's your involvement with the Stooges' Raw Power reissue coming in April?
HR: The box set is coming out soon, and I did some of the liner notes. I just filmed an interview for the documentary as well. They are remastering the David Bowie mix and someone from Creem magazine told me that it will blow your mind. You will see more what Bowie was going for.
RO: The Bowie mix is insane...
There are two mixes: The Iggy mix from 1997 that I am sort of partially responsible for and that Bowie mix. Having heard Iggy's bootlegs mixes from the years before, I know there are more guitars, backing vocals and handclaps that Bowie left off for whatever reason.
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They found three real outtakes for the box set that I had never heard, but heard rumor of in England many years ago. There are so many bootlegs out there that are basically the same, and Ron Asheton taped all the rehearsals. Some of them are really good-sounding. He released them in different ways on little labels, with copyright law being looser in Europe. I buy them all because the sound quality may be better on some and there is one song I have maybe never heard before.
Years ago when I was younger I would bug the Stooges and MC5 guys like "Where are the tapes, man?" and they would say they were too high and didn't record anything. I actually asked Iggy once where the stash was and he said, "Well, there is one multi-track live thing in my closet."
I think it's from this New York show at the Kennedy Center where he is out of it and he sings the lyrics to "Rich Bitch" on the song "Head On." It was a bad show, the band was falling over and Iggy was kind of unconscious. Sony rolled multi-track tape that night.
7 p.m. at House of Blues, 1204 Caroline, 888-402-5837 or www.hob.com/houston.