The internet, travel, and the next President of the United States, with Henry Rollins.
Henry Rollins sums up the problem with interviewing him within seconds of picking up the phone. “Everything I’ve ever done is on Youtube.” Rollins is just about the most interesting person that you could have a conversation with, and I was tempted to just talk to him for half-an-hour, not record it, hang up, and bask in his wisdom learned through life on the road. What do you ask the man who talks about himself for a living? You’re not going to ask him about Black Flag or ‘punk’ now are you. Thankfully, the thing that becomes clear after speaking to Henry Rollins for a short while, is that he’s in the midst of one of the most interesting phases of his career. When you’re young, you don’t know shit. You might ‘feel’ shit, and there’s forever a place for youthful angst. But feeling and knowing are two separate things. Bold people like Rollins learn things the hard way, and in their latter years the vitality of their younger self, combined with the accrued wisdom of their experiences, makes them a valid source. In an age where people consider ‘liking’ something a form of protest, there’s no substitute for people who’ve been kicked in the teeth standing up for things that they believe are important.
Henry Rollins is about to embark on a tour of Australia that will be the 37th time that he’s visited the country. One thing that you can’t fault Rollins on is his work ethic. The man is, prolific. His live shows are mixture of comedy, storytelling, and, although I’m sure he’d hate to be associated with the stigma of the term ‘motivational speaker,’ he’s inspiring. “I derive my craft from a lot of preparation,” Rollins tells me, “I have rotating ideas that I can jam out on, but by the end of any tour I’m awash with material, because there’s always things happening in the world. When a country goes south in these turbulent times, chances are that I’ve been there, and therefore have something to say.” Far from the cushy path trodden by many TV personalities, Rollins likes to feel the dirt between his toes when he travels. “I like sunburn, callouses, blisters, and knowledge derived from being on streets all over the world,” he explains. “I’ve said it before, knowledge without mileage equals bullshit. A lot of people will watch a documentary and think that they know a thing. I watch a documentary and book a plane ticket. The documentary or the book for me is just an appetiser, I’m going to cook dinner.”
Rollins deals in hot topics, so asking him about the Presidential election is unavoidable. His response is calculated, but honest. “I don’t have a crystal ball,” he says, “but I’m willing to bet you a handshake, or a dollar, or a scoop of ice-cream, that it will probably be Hillary Clinton. Four-to-eight years of Donald Trump would set the Republican party back centuries.” Ever critical of political couch surfers, I ask Henry what he’d do if he held the Republican keys. “If I was a a high-minded Republican strategist, I would put Hilary in office and then immediately start beating up on her relentlessly for four years, and then kick her out of office. In the meantime I’d repair my wounded Republican party to make sure that no one as ridiculous as Donald Trump could ever be a candidate ever again. That to me would be winning the bigger war.” However, as a realist, Rollins acknowledges that the next President is likely to be universally unpopular. “Ah some people really hate Hillary Clinton’s guts. My country, as you know, we love to be racist, but we are exceptional misogynists. Our misogyny is just fantastic; we really hate women a lot. Hilary definitely has her detractors, and a lot of them are her fellow Democrats, who find her to be a corporate monster,” he says with a chuckle of hopeless inevitability.
Having exhausted American politics for the time being, our talk meanders into the inescapability of ageing. For Henry Rollins, one of the great challenges that he faces is staying relevant as he pushes 60. “The internet has been 90% helpful to me,” he explains. “I get that letter from the 19-year-old, ‘Hey my dad likes you man, and so I didn’t think that you’d be cool, but I just downloaded every album that you’ve ever made for free and I’m going to come to your show.’ My attitude is, ‘Hey, at least the kid’s showing up!’ ” Moving from the personal to the global, I ask Henry whether he thinks that the internet is a force for good. “I think that with any massive technological leap, like the internet, there’s good parts, and there’s bad parts,” he says in a mockingly levelled tone. “You can go on a website, and with your first amendment rights, call my wonderful President every racial epithet you can figure out, and who’s going to stop you? So it lets a lot of mediocre ideas and sentiment have this faux-importance, which is fine… There’s just a lot more chaff to get through before you get to the wheat.”
As Henry Rollins continues to soar with an unwavering work ethic worthy of a man of his achievements, I’m curious to know what he’d choose to be remembered as his great contribution. “For people to know that I’m a high school graduate from the minimum wage working world,” he rattles off instantly. “I’m nobody from nowhere, and through determination, and a profound lack of fear, I have achieved a lot without a great deal of talent. And so if I can do it, what’s your excuse?” For one of the most infamous no-bullshitters in recent memory, that seems as perfectly delivered an epitaph as any.
‘An Evening with Henry Rollins’ will be touring Australia in September, go see what the man has to say, tickets here.