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            Interview with Henry Rollins By Gabriella

January 1998

Henry Rollins, the frontman of the Rollins Band, former singer of the legendary punk band Black Flag, author, actor and spokesman of underground America has not let age slow him down. Provocative and prolific, Rollins has produced nine albums, eleven books, and eight spoken word releases since 1984.

With his body developed to a muscular peak, he appears to be man of steel. Even jet-lag seemed to have had little effect on him as he met with Gabriella in Europe for the following interview...


NY Rock:

Henry, for most of us, a day has only 24 hours, how do you make time for all of your projects?

Henry Rollins:

I don't want to waste my time. For me, it's important to get stuff done. I'm working a lot. I'm editing the books I publish (I write and publish my own books). Then I'm looking after everything concerning the band. I write our press releases myself, choose the PR photographs, check our videos. I'm also recording my spoken word albums or work for my own video company and occasionally I'm playing a small part in a movie, like in David Lynch's Lost Highway.

I just get things done instead of talking about getting them done. I don't go out and party. I don't smoke, drink or do drugs and I'm not married, that leaves a lot of time for my work.

NY Rock:

Your comment about not being married makes it sound like you consider women a waste of time...

Henry Rollins:

Of course, I don't. It is just that I don't want a wife and I don't want kids. I'm 36 and if I met a woman of my own age and married her, I'd also be marrying her former life, her past. It might be OK for some people – I don't want to judge it or anything – but it's not for me. It would destroy my creativity.

NY Rock:

That makes you sound like a dedicated loner.

Henry Rollins:

Yes, I guess you could say I am a loner, but I feel more lonely in a crowed room with boring people than I feel on my own. I need to do things on my own, need to be left alone. I mean I appreciate fan mail and that the people like what I am doing but I can't answer it. If I would answer 25 letters a day I would be just a guy answering mail and not an artist anymore. That is what I tell people if they want to talk to me about my work and that they love what I am doing. I've often been accused of being arrogant if I simply say, “Thanks for telling me that you like what I'm doing but I would rather get back and do some more of it.” We could sit here all night and talk about it but then I would never get any work done.

I don't mean to be arrogant and I really appreciate my fans but talking about what I am doing is not something I'm good at. I do what I do and that's it. I want to get back to my work and do more of it instead of talking about it.

NY Rock:

You often said that you communicate through your work. What is the reason that you are so dedicated and different from other artists?

Henry Rollins:

I want to change things for the better, just like everybody else. The only difference between me and others is that they think they can change something with cute little poems, nice cards or embracing trees and being nice to little lapdogs. You know what? That won't change anything at all. That won't stop racism or drug abuse.

NY Rock:

That doesn't sound very optimistic...

Henry Rollins:

I am an optimist because I want to change things for the better and I know that blood has to be spilled and disharmony and cruelty are necessary to do that. My optimism wears heavy boots and is loud. That's what is needed to be heard where I come from. How do you want to change things for the better? By hugging Nazis? By trying to argue with them? It doesn't work this way. Do whatever you can, but in order to change anything at all – in order to make optimism an active power – you have to look things right in the eye. You have to confront, to be prepared to be pushed around, to get arrested, to get verbally abused, to lose your friends and your financial security. That's the bitter truth!

Maybe I'm pretty harsh and depressing sometimes. My lyrics aren't pleasant and nobody thinks, "Oh, that's wonderful," but there are enough people out there who do just that. There are enough records like that out there on the market and if you like it you can listen to the nine million albums who just deal with how wonderful things are.

NY Rock:

What inspires you?

Henry Rollins:

I get inspired by things that happened to me, thoughts I have in my mind... Some artists can write about books they read or movies they saw, but that's not for me. I need to experience something, feel strongly about something. I can only write about personal stuff, about my point of view.

NY Rock:

You seem to be a very private person. How do you manage to perform? Don't you dread all those people watching you? No stage fright?

Henry Rollins:

I can't remember that I ever had just a minute of stage fright. Giving a good performance, giving it all is what it's all about. I love to perform. I love to go on stage and sing. It's just as much a part of my work as writing. Maybe I have an exhibitionistic streak in me. Maybe I am a show-off but the stage is different. I can deal with people who watch me on stage but I am not good in communicating with people any other way than through my work. Maybe it's my way of relating to people. Being an artist is dragging your innermost feelings out, giving a piece of yourself, no matter in which art form, in which medium.

NY Rock:

Isn't it scary to go out and tell an audience about your most intimate thoughts?

Henry Rollins:

Of course it is, but at the same time it is very challenging and liberating. I see the truth as my shield. As long as I tell the truth I feel that nobody can touch me. I can't really explain it, but I feel as long as I tell them my dark sides there is nothing they can dig up. If I don't hide anything there is nothing to be scared of. I've always seen it as the role of an artist to drag his inside out, give the audience all you've got. Writers, actors, singers, all good artists do the same. It isn't supposed to be easy.


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