By: Sarah L. Myers

Stay Thirsty: How was your show in Chicago?

Henry Rollins: I liked it. Its always been a really good crowd for me there, and they’re always really good to me, whatever show I do there. Music or stuff on my own, since 1982 to now, it’s been great. So it was just another cool night at the Vic and I don’t know, at this point, how many times I’ve been there. But, a lot. It was cool. It’s always a show I look forward to and feel quite a bit of pressure. You know, there are some cities that are more pressurized than others. I take all the shows seriously but some of big ones - New York, Chicago, London, Sydney, Melbourne, you know, big cities, big pressure, a lot of people at the show, etcetera.


Thirsty: I heard you went to see Van Halen while you were here.

Rollins: Went to see Van Halen the night before. I liked it. It was very interesting. It’s just, you know, I saw them back when they did their first album and they were an opening band. And they were good then and they were good the other night, but it was just interesting to watch men in their 50s play music they wrote 30 years ago. And it is what it is. You can’t say it’s something else. And so in a way it was ceremonial more than progressive, and it made me realize I wouldn’t want to do anything like that. No matter how much money they threw at me. It just felt like everyone was getting either a piece of history or trying to recapture something, I don’t know. I did not hate it. I have tickets for the LA show as well, and I’ll be going and looking forward to it. I love all those old records. And the band seemed to be having fun. It was just odd, the whole thing. You know, because there’s nothing new about the set at all. It’s just those old records.


Thirsty: “Provoked” comes after more than 25 years on the road for you. You’ve seen so many changes along the way, both in your audience and in society as a whole. How does performing now compare to performing then?

Henry Rollins

Rollins: Well, I think I’m in better venues. All around, everything is more efficient and is more together. Back in the early 1980s when I started, we were sort of in the wilderness, like independent touring, and just level of respect and acceptance was not anything like it is now. You know, the PAs would be pretty bad or the owners of the venue would be sometimes openly hostile, and sometimes so would the audience.

So it was a rougher ride where every thing was a thing. Like, ok, today we’re going to try to get to this show. Do we have a vehicle that works? Well, kind of. We hope. Take your foot off the pedal on the downhill cause we’re low on gas and we’ve got $1.85 amongst us to make it to town. There were at least two times in the five years I was in Black Flag we literally pushed the van to the gas station. We were just that untogether. And now things are, you know, living in the tour bus, it’s not so bad. We’ve got high speed access and a flat screen TV and, you know, a shower. And so those things have changed. And also just what people think of shows. People kind of, basically have warmed up now. And it’s not so much, “You’re gonna do what?! That’s outrageous!” Whereas, as far as being outrageous, I don’t even, I can’t even put my toe in that pool, because I’m not entering the stage on an upside-down crucifix made of televisions. I think that’s how Britney Spears is going to be coming in on the start of her show on her next tour.


Thirsty: Tell me about your recent USO trip and your visit to Iran. What do you think people in the US need to know based on what you saw there?

Rollins: Well, the last USO trip I made was late last year and I was in Qatar and Djibouti and Bahrain. And it was… I mean, a USO tour you meet a lot of men and women at different bases, a lot of Navy bases on that particular tour. I just did another hospital visit a couple of Tuesdays ago and those are always really difficult, cause it’s just nothing but injured people. Sometimes the nature of the injury is, you know, pretty catastrophic, where they don’t look like they used to. And a lot of the people I visited on this trip had TBI, traumatic brain injury, so there’s a lot of people with obviously trauma to the head and it’s pretty breathtaking as far as what you see, and not easy on the eye. And if it ever becomes easy on the eye for me I think I’ll be doing something wrong. I don’t want it to ever be something that doesn’t trip me out. So it was difficult. But I’ve done, I don’t know, six or seven hospital visits now. I always sign up for one of them if I’m going to be in the D.C. area. They can almost always use me. But it’s never easy. It’s always really difficult.

But those trips are always interesting. I mean, I like being able to thank the troops personally. You know, the war, I don’t like. I don’t think anyone likes it. But the troops I like very much. I think, you know, everyone likes the troops. That’s a great opportunity to be able to go thank them personally or at least crack them up or tell them a story. I don’t know, do something to make their day better. Because their job is pretty intense. Like in Iran, or Iraq rather, their job is ‘don’t get killed today.’ That’s basically it. Just don’t get killed for twelve hours. Get you and your buddies back to the base and that’s it.


Henry Rollins

Thirsty: I know when you came back from Afghanistan you were surprised by the humanitarian efforts there. Did you get that same sense in Iran? That there is some rebuilding going on?

Rollins: I think these people try and do this all the time. I mean, American forces are trying to do everything from getting kids to brush their teeth to opening up literacy centers, helping build schools, irrigate farms, you know, I’ve seen that everywhere I’ve been from Kurgistan to Iraq. But that doesn’t necessarily… it’s a Band-Aid on a massive chest wound. It’s a good attempt but it’s never enough. And it’s far outweighed by the bad stuff that’s happening, especially in a place like Iraq. You can give out all the toothbrushes you want but when twelve people are blown up in a village, no matter who did what to whom, America is blamed. American forces are blamed. And a lot of the times, with Blackwater, you know there are security concerns over there, doing what they want with no checks on their conduct . They shoot at American forces when these guys do what they do. And so I think our guys mean well, I just think they’re in an incredibly difficult situation.


Thirsty: The name, “Provoked,” seems to say a lot. What are you focusing on for this spoken word tour?

Rollins: This year, well, to kind of finish up the answer from the previous question, you talked about Iran. That kind of goes into this question. I am talking about Iran on this tour because I was just there. I spent about five or six days in Tehran. And my take on it was, all the people I met were really friendly, it’s an amazing city, people are hustling and bustling. They’re not hanging out in caves plotting Jihad. They’re working. They’ve got jobs, they’re going places. It’s a noisy, loud, happening place. And I met many, many Iranian people, just at the stores, on the street, in museums, in people’s houses. And everyone was cool to me. My favorite interactions were just the ones on the street. I walked all over the place on my own. The only thing that got in my way was the cold. It’s freezing there. But the people were fantastic. I had, quite honestly, a really good time. So I hope we don’t bomb them. I hope none of the people I met get killed. I think the world’s a better place with all of them in it and I like their children, and I’d hate to see them lose their lives.

And what they said about our invasion, our occupation of Iraq, I said, “what do you think about that?” And they all basically said, “We fought them for eight years, and all of our friends are dead.” And I said, “so what do you think about war?” They go, “We hate war. We like kids. We want peace. Ugh.” And that was nice to hear. And everyone I talked to, I asked them, “So what do you think about America?” And they go, “Well, we like you. We scared of your president. But, you, we like.” I said, ok cool. Because I don’t think people should hate America. I don’t hold to that. I think we’re a good country. And I think America sucks that that whole thing is, we’re poorly represented. A good country, a poorly representative president. But that will hopefully change. But that’s that. But as far as what I was getting to on this tour was a lot of the travel I did this year - Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan - pretty interesting places in the news right now and I was in all of them. I talked a tiny bit about our president and the fact that Karl Rove no longer manages the English language that kind of rolls around in our president’s mind and how everything he does now is oh so interesting. And there’s been a lot of interesting things in the news, little tips of icebergs that lead to bigger issues. Like all the Larry Craigs of the world, and it’s more than just a joke. You know, Larry Craig getting caught in the men’s room, really doing nothing illegal but it leads to a bigger question about how we view homosexuals in America. Why we’re still so stuck in the mud with homophobia. That the fascination still… that some people can’t come to grips with, you know, that there’s gay people in the world, and the world has been going on for centuries with gay people in the world, and it hasn’t fallen off its axis. There’s a lot going on in the world right now, so there’s a lot of things to talk about.


Henry Rollins

Thirsty: That said, people are so complacent because things are just so overwhelmingly bad right now. What can the single person do to make bigger changes?

Rollins: I don’t necessarily hold the idea that Americans are complacent. I think they’re poorly tended to by the media. I think the media is giving them a diluted and distractionary take on world events and on events in America. We should be using a higher contrast and hitting them harder with real information. The CNN, and the MSNBC and all these agencies are afraid of that. They just don’t do it, for one reason or another. They just don’t do it. And that’s why you have some Americans living in a cloud. And why you have to work so hard to get the real information. It’s too bad that you have to search on the Internet or go to these little sites here and there, where these people come off almost as heretics, just to get real numbers on casualties in Iraq. And why when you ask about that someone will call you un-American. Which, Naomi Wolf has an interesting thing, The Ten Steps Towards Fascism and the End of America. And one of them, it’s very well written, that thing, you can download it, it’s online. But one of the things she’s says is, just change people’s perception, or make any inquiry or criticism of the administration, is an act of being a traitor. Which is what goes on now. “What about the war in Iraq?” “Why do you hate America?” That’s always the dimension of that discussion on Fox News. You never get to ask any questions without being called a nasty name. And, you know, a lot of people, they back off. Or they just get the news they’re given and they go on their way. But what can people do? Well, dig harder, be angry at their representatives, their state representatives, and work harder. Bring the young men and women from the state back home now, when you see that California’s on fire and about half of the National Guard’s resources for California are in Iraq. What good president would leave his country open to natural disaster like that? Pretty interesting with a Republican governor, you think he would be, the “Governator” or whatever he calls himself, would be taking a little bit better care of his people. So, you know, what can you do? Vote. Protest. Or just be aware, you know, of that squeaky wheel.

If you’re not a squeaky wheel, I think you’re sleeping on the job. As far as change, it is very frustrating because you have the Do Nothing congress, and a lot of Democrats were put into office in 2006, the hope being that they would start to end this war. So the question, it’s this unending need for money that the Bush White House demands on the taxpayers.

So, you know, you have to get active. To sit still at this point is to be part of the problem. But it didn’t always used to be. You know, my parents, and my parents’ parents, if you just kind of believed in the dream, you were part of strengthening America but that’s not… to be complacent now you’re actually working towards your own detriment. And a lot of these people who still carry the Kool-Aid for Bush, they’ll get it when their job goes to Bombay, but not before. It’s going to have to hit them personally. You know, all you need is a draft and all of this will change very quickly.


Thirsty: Have you seen the documentary, “Control Room”, about Al-Jazeera? It presents the other side of the media, like you were talking about.

Rollins: You know, the rest of the world, I travel pretty much… you see world news, like BBC world news, it’s way more comprehensive. I’ve had kind of fun debates with Iranians in Tehran. We’re talking about Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and what a psychopath he is and they all agreed. So I said, “Well, how did he get elected? Are your elections corrupt?” They’re like, “You’re asking us if our elections are corrupt?” And I said, “Well, what do you know about ours?” And they were just like schooling me on the 2004 election. I’m like, “Wow, how did you know all that stuff?” They said, “We watch world news. You should, too.” I said, “Wow, yeah, I’ve got ya.” So, yeah, and it goes back kind of to what I was saying. We’re not tended to very well. The media in my opinion has really let us down, almost where I’m openly hostile to whenever I talk to a CNN person or someone from a larger media outlet, like the Chicago Tribune or whatever, and they give me just the slightest bit of attitude. “So why do you think you can change anything?” “How?! You’re the one with the power! Why are you being such a sissy and not stepping up to these people? You give me a day at your newspaper I’ll go right at them!” What’s there to be afraid of? What, you afraid of progress? And that’s just it. You have a country that has been kind of… this administration has shown you what happens when you question the president’s time in the military, you get Dan Rather, or you get Valerie Plane, when your husband Joe Wilson goes, “Uh, what about that?” Well, look at the trouble they make and a lot of private citizens are kind of like, (sighs) ok. People have been kind of wounded by this administration. And it’s bad for this country.


Thirsty: You’ve stated that you’re continually motivated by your anger. Is there anything else that motivates you? Or do you even need anything else?

Rollins: No, the anger is probably what gets me going. It keeps the blood thin, and it keeps me interested and concerned. You know, when I get angry, I contribute money to an orphanage. That lets go of my anger. I don’t go hit anybody. I don’t go drink myself into a stupor. It makes me want to go raise money for an organization or, you know, try and do some good. That’s where my anger comes from. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing. No one’s died because I got mad. Quite the opposite. There have been some good things that have happened. I mean, several thousand dollars have left my bank account, because I put my money where my mouth is.


Thirsty: When you had Marilyn Manson on your show, you asked him what scares him the most about the current state of America. How would you answer that question?

Rollins: Well, the fact that there’s no one really sticking up for America in America. While you have an administration that’s kind of running wild, unchecked, just look at all the stuff with Blackwater and the private security companies in the past few weeks. All that’s being done in your name so no matter who you voted for, if you’re a Bush person, well, I hope you’re happy with what you got. This is what you got. So go and defend that. And how you can suspend your belief or your conscience or your common sense… if we all had so many great fans like that whoa re unconditional. It’s a weird cult, the neo-conservative pack. But that’s what scares me in America, no transparency. Lack of accountability, lack of responsibility, and that idea that we should be afraid of our government. You know, I watched that movie “Sicko” the other day and one thing that really hit me was they interviewed some French guy and he said, “Well, one of the big differences between America and France is that the French government is afraid of their people. You know, they know that we’ll come over there! We get mad. We’ll come over and we’ll light some stuff on fire. You Americans, you’re scared of your government. It should be the other way around.” Like, the people who come to my show, I’m scared of them. I seek not to fail them. Or waste their time. I like them, but I’m kind of on hooks.


Thirsty: I loved when you had Ozzy Osbourne on your show. You’ve worked with him before, and toured together, but how was it to sit down and interview him? Did you just feel like a total fan at that point?

Rollins: Well, actually I’ve interviewed him at least five times before. I’ve done two of his video press kits and I’ve interviewed him for different magazines. Since about 1995 or thereabout. So it was nothing new to interview him because I’ve been there before. But of all the interviews I’ve ever done with him that was probably the best one with him just really being on top of it, of the topic matter. I mean, he’s a really nice guy, man. I think it’s kind of easy to tell. He’s really, honestly a good person. Yeah, it’s kind of hard. I mean, I can’t call myself a friend of his, because I’m more of a fan than anything. I see the guy ever few years, and he remembers me, and of course I remember him. But that’s about it. There’s a lot of people he probably says hello to in a day. He’s one of those people, he’s instantly recognizable, and I can’t understand why anyone would have a real problem with the guy. People are like, “I hear he does…” (laughing) I don’t know where that would come from! But, so yeah, it was fun for me, but I always go at it as a fan with him. When I’m talking to him at a show or something I’m always kind of going from the fan angle, not really the friend angle. So I can’t call him… I mean, I don’t know him. But he and his family are actually really cool to me. You know, traveled with them and when they have any kind of event in L.A. I’m always on the guest list.  Very nice.


Thirsty: You’re good friends with Crispin Glover right? We just interviewed him again for an issue of the magazine.

Rollins: Yeah, he’s so great. I’ve known him for 20 years. He’s the one who told me to go act. He was building one of his books, I think, “Rat Catching”. It’s a great one. He’s amazing. That’s when I first met him. It was like right after he had done “River’s Edge,” or right after the movie came out. But anyway he was coming over to this house I was sharing with this woman, we both had publishing companies, and he was working with her constructing his books. So I would see him for days on end when he came over there to work on “Rat Catching” and “Oak Mot” and those early books.

We got to know each other and he said, “You should consider acting.” And I went, “oh, come on, man.” And he said, “no, what a lot of people go to school to learn to do, like acting class, you have it.” And I said, “I don’t want to get in line and go do that embarrassing thing,” and he said, “you wouldn’t have to, you’d be able to just meet the director.” So he said, “promise me you’ll at least try it.” I said, ok, and twenty movies later or whatever it’s been. So, he’s the one who kind of poked me in the side and literally a year later I was in my first film. He’s great. I’ve seen the first part of the three movies that he’s working on. I went with him last year and we watched it and I’m forgetting the name of it but apparently it was the first of three. That thing blew my mind. It really makes you rethink everything. I mean, it really… yeah.


Thirsty: Yeah, and he always does that Q&A after the film, and everyone always asks him, “What was it like to work with people who are mentally handicapped?”

Rollins: Well, they’re actors. Cause that’s kind of what I asked him. I said, “man, that was intense.” And he said, “well, you know, they show up, they do their work, they go home, they have problems with the script or whatever,” (laughing) They have all the normal questions. And you think to yourself, well, why wouldn’t they have all the normal questions? And it just makes you kind of have to check yourself. And that’s good. One should check oneself. I’m sure he told you what he went through financially to put that over the wall. I mean, talking about standing up for what you want to do! I mean, that’s what it’s all about. So he’s the real deal. He’s impressive.


Henry Rollins

Thirsty: Did Patton Oswalt already come on your show?

Rollins: Yeah, he’s great. I saw him the other night. He did a show with Jeanne Garofalo at the Troubadour in L.A. I’m just glad I was sitting because I laughed… I mean, he’s lethal. He’s like the funniest man alive in my opinion.


Thirsty: The whole thing he does about the KFC Famous Bowls…

Rollins: Yeah, the beef bowls. “I’m alive! I’m a man!” That’s the part I was just like, I was weak. I was sitting on the stairs next to the stage watching and I could barely breathe.


Thirsty: Two of the funniest appearances you’ve done are the “I Love the 80s” and “Jackass.” How did those come about?

Rollins: Well, I’ve done a lot with VH1 over the years. And I’m useful to them because I can form a sentence and I have an opinion. You know, and they basically need content. So you show up and they go, “What about this?” And you go, “I don’t know. I didn’t like it,” then you’re not much use to them. But if you can go long and be opinionated, well, then you’re filling up time for them. You are providing content and they like it. And so I like them, they like me. I think it’s a good station. So many times they’ve asked and many times I’ve said, “sure, I’ll weigh in.” So that’s how that has come about, but it’s not recently, I’ve been doing stuff with them for many, many years. And “Jackass,” they just called me. They said, “hey, here’s this idea we have. We want you to do this.” I said ok. I drove out to where they were shooting, I shot it, I drove back into town and went to band practice, and never thought about it again until the DVD came out and people started writing me like, “what the hell?” But after I do something like that I never pay attention. I just go onto the next thing.


Henry Rollins

Thirsty: Going back to VH1, is anything in pop culture pissing you off now or getting under your skin?

Rollins: Nothing. Believe it or not, I really don’t pay attention to it because it’s not really killing anybody as far as being that way. Whatever Britney Spears is up to I just feel sorry for a girl who can’t hold onto her kids and is having some problems. I’m not mean in that way. I’m mean in all kinds of other ways. But whatever is going on with “Dancing With the Stars” or whatever, I don’t care about the problems of rich people. You know what I mean? There’s just bigger fish to fry.


Thirsty: After you finish your spoken word tour, are you planning another USO trip?

Rollins: Well, I basically give them my availability and they tell me whether they can use me or not. I’ve already told them I want to go out maybe around Christmas time, put me in coach, I’m ready to play. And they basically sent me a letter back saying, “Noted. We’ll let you know.” And if they need me, they’ll let me know. And if they don’t, they’ll let me know. So I basically give them my avails as best as I can and I take my orders from them. And they take their orders from DOD and that pseudo chain of command, you now what I mean? It’s all about what the Department of Defense allows them to do, and what they have a budget to do and what they need at that time, so that they need me at all is quite incredible. So we’ll see. But I don’t tell them, “hey, you’re putting me on tour here!” They tell me whether they need me or not. They only thing where I can say, “hey, I want to do that” and I can get it done is like a hospital visit. I tell them a month in advance, “I’ll be in D.C these three days, I can give you the top half of this day, the bottom half of this day, let me know if you need me.” Most of the time they can use me for a hospital visit and about a week later they’ll go, “ok, 10:30 pick up on this morning for three hours,” you’re like, yeah, alright.


Thirsty: Is there another book that you’re planning on releasing soon?

Rollins: Yeah, I just put out a new one called “Fanatic, Volume Two.” I’m working on volume three, and also working on two other books and they will move along slowly. There’s no great demand for me to put out anything. I kind of put them out whenever. It’s not like the world is banging my door down and saying, “book.” I just kind of release them when I do and a few people go, “yay!” You know? No one cares, really.


Thirsty: “Solipsist” is a book that means a lot to me, and helped me get through some pretty rough times throughout the years. Is there something that’s been equally inspiring to you, or did you write your way through those times?

Rollins: Well, both. I mean, writing’s always been a good thing for me as far as getting through problems. It’s almost a meditative thing, like a journal entry is a way to check in with yourself, or the popularity of blogging or whatnot. But yeah, music has always been a great thing to blast me through the blues. You know, some heavy record you’re into. And I absolutely get a lot of inspiration and juice from loud records or records that have some meaning to me, whatever it was. Maybe you heard it at a certain time in your life and it had relevance. But yeah I get a lot of inspiration from books, there’s books whose passages I read over and over. Sometimes there are just certain writers I like to read at certain parts of the year. Like in the autumn for me it’s F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Thomas Wolfe. Especially the second novel, “Of Time and a River,” to read parts over and over. But, yeah, I would be lying if I told you I got no inspiration from anything or anyone but myself. That would just be not true at all. I don’t believe anyone is self-sustaining in that way.


Henry Rollins

Thirsty: I had one random question for you. When did you get your Neubauten tattoo?

Rollins: Oh, 1984. I’ve known those guys for a very long time, and I thought it was a great graphic, and those guys were pleased when they saw it. I think they liked the free ad.


Thirsty: Thirsty just interviewed Blixa Bargeld out in San Francisco.

Rollins: Yeah, I was in San Francisco recently to see Grinderman. They played Chicago, too. I flew from Beirut for those shows. And, you know, as you saw, they don’t disappoint live. And on the first night, I forget what song they did, but Blixa came out and sang (in San Francisco). He was great. Chicago’s always been a fan of Neubauten and the Bad Seeds and the Birthday Party. Chicago, if you’ve got a good band, you can always have a home in Chicago cause Chicago knows music. When I was in Black Flag, that was one of the first music scenes I was aware of. You know, where Black Flag had a lot of allies in Chicago with bands like The Effigies and whatnot, where you realize that some cities really have a happening music scene. Like D.C., Seattle, New York, California, S.F, L.A., there’s pockets of real activity, and Chicago always had that. And people know. People go to the show. That’s why we did our last live album in Chicago because I know people are going to show up and I know it’s going to be a great audience. Everything comes through there. Every art opening, every play, every band, everything. It’s the hub of the Midwest. It’s like New York, but inland.






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