TheVine interview: Henry Rollins — “Hate, fear, and division. That’s where America’s at.” March 2012

I interview former Black Flag frontman and spoken word artist Henry Rollins for TheVine. Excerpt below.

The biggest problem when told you have 20 minutes on the phone with Henry Rollins is what exactly to talk about. Rollins’ life hasn’t beendished out in just events and episodes, but rather grand arcs of interest, each of which could swallow up hours of discussion. From his early days fronting punk bands State of Alert and Black Flag to penning books, starring in a variety of films, producing documentaries for National Geographic and conducting his own spoken word shows, Rollins is very much a man of all trades.

Returning to Australia for The Long March, a 19-date, month-long tour across the country of his latest spoken word show – or ‘talking show’, as he prefers to call them – TheVine took the opportunity to get on the phone and chat to Rollins about as many topics as we could, including the man’s ceaseless globetrotting, his perceptions of the United States, and how life’s changed since turning 50 early last year.

He was about as clear-minded and passionate as you’d expect. But those who have seen Rollins’ spoken word show know he also talks with an understated humour, delivered in tiny punch lines that you’ll miss if you’re not on the ball. And he certainly won’t laugh at them himself: that would be a little too cock-a-hoop for man as modest as Henry Rollins.

Thanks for taking time away tonight to talk to me, Henry. I understand you’re in New York, is that right?

Not a problem at all. I’m actually now in Louisville, Kentucky.

You’re on tour at the moment, but you’ve been based in Los Angeles since your Black Flag days.

I’ve been an occasional New Yorker. I’ve lived there for like a year at a time here and there. When my bandmates were New Yorkers I was living there for album writing time, which is quite enjoyable because New York is fun and I’m from down the road from there [Washington DC]. But as far as property, yeah, I live in Los Angeles.

So you enjoy getting back out east?

Yeah, it’s where I come from – the trees and the weather. I like how the speed of people speaking is kind of more what I’m used to. But I’m not picky. I’ll live any damn where. For me mostly it’s all about the work.

Talking Los Angeles: you’ve lived there for the most part for the last 30 years.

And it’s good for me in that the work that interests me between tours is what I can get done there: radio, TV, documentary, film. It’s all there. I do a lot of all of that there, a lot of voiceover. I write for a local paper there. I have a radio show there, so L.A. is very good to me. It’s not easy to break it open there. There’s a lot of people who want to get a job, so I do very well. I live well. I live in a place that doesn’t drive me crazy and so I’m doing pretty good.

Do you still see yourself staying there long term?

I don’t know how many terms I’ve got left. I’m 51 so I think I’ve got another couple of decades and then I’m out. I have no complaints where I’m living. If I had George Clooney money I’d definitely love to get a place to live back in my old hometown so I could go there when I wanted to. But I spend a lot of my year on a tour bus or in a hotel room, so up to 200 nights or more a year.

You’re described as many things in your bio: author, musician, commentator, entertainer. It’s interesting because so much of what you do now – travelling, observing, reporting, photographing, interviewing, presenting – in a lot of peoples’ language that’s journalism. Would you ever consider yourself a journalist of sorts? Does that idea sit comfortably with you?

If I was a better writer. I have interviewed quite a lot of people and I’ve done quite a few documentaries, and I’ve written for a lot of newspapers. I turned in a thing for [Australian] Rolling Stone weeks ago that got accepted. They asked me and I said OK, and I wrote them a thing and they said they’d take it. I’m forgetting the name of the newspaper in Sydney, but they asked me to write something and I sent that, and they accepted it.

But I get asked to do things like that so I guess that kind of makes me a journalist. But the writing I do for the most part is like an op-ed, some guy and his big-ass opinion. But as far as hardcore interviewing five people and connecting the dots, I’ve not done much writing like that. But I enjoy it when I do. At this point I’ve interviewed a whole bunch of people, everything from movie star types, directors, to members of government, just people on the street, people in war-afflicted areas, people in third-world countries, all over like Sudan, Uganda, South Africa, Israel, Northern Ireland. All over the world I’ve interviewed people.

For the full article, visit TheVine.

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