Interview: Henry Rollins

Henry Rollins was the frontman for seminal hardcore punk band Black Flag from 1981 to 1986 – a period which included their acclaimed album Damaged. After that band broke up, he formed the Rollins Band which released a number of albums including the 1994 album Weight with the song “Liar”.

Along the way, Rollins started giving impassioned spoken word performances, and has also acted in various movies and television shows including FX’s Sons of Anarchy.

This interview was for a preview article for for Henry Rollins’ spoken word performance on 3/21/18 at SOhO. It was done by email, with answers received on 2/19/18.

Jeff Moehlis: What political or societal issue is weighing on your mind most heavily these days? And what do you think should be done about it?

Henry Rollins: What distresses me the most is what I see coming up for the United States. In no specific order: DACA people and their future in this country. What the EPA is doing that will potentially toxify the country. What SCOTUS could potentially do to matters concerning LGBT matters, reproductive health rights and other matters. America’s now dangerously uninformed, bellicose and isolationist foreign policy. What should be done? Educate the electorate with the same interest given to funding the military, hang in there for another generation and hope for the best.

JM: Do you see any bright spots in recent American politics?

HR: I hope young people vote. But you have to give them someone worthwhile to vote for. The students from the Florida high school who spoke out after their school was attacked, they are bright spots.

JM: You recently quit as a columnist for the L.A. Weekly after it changed ownership. Are you hopeful about the future of journalism?

HR: I think the comrade Trump administration will give rise to some great journalists. It’s happening right now. I think journalism has been given a jump start. People like Katy Tur and Rachel Maddow will not be slowed down and time is on their side.

JM: How would you describe your travel philosophy?

HR: Go where things are interesting and if you don’t make it out, oh well.

JM: Charles Manson passed away recently. From your correspondence with him in the 1980’s, what did you learn about his world and worldview?

HR: A lot of what he expressed to me was his anger at being treated badly by the Beach Boys and the music industry. I wasn’t able to take that with much seriousness. He was a product of institutionalization and could be quite manipulative. He was good at it. He was a smart guy who spent most of his life inside. I think somewhere in the 1980’s, he gave into that totally.

JM: You’ve written a number of books over the years about your experiences. What’s the most important thing you have learned about yourself from doing those books?

HR: That I have a lot to learn, a lot of work to do and that I need to spend more time working. Self examination through writing is often brutal. I now understand why real writers are often hard to be around.

JM: I also have some music questions. Looking back thirty-some years after it came out, what are your reflections on the Black Flag album Damaged?

HR: I don’t have any. It was one of many records I made many years ago. I haven’t heard it since 1981. I didn’t write any the songs, so I was just a talking head on the album. It’s a good album because Chuck Dukowski and Greg Ginn wrote good songs. The weakest part of the record is the vocals. I guess that counts as a reflection but I have always thought that.

JM: What was the good, the bad, and the ugly about the early hardcore punk scene?

HR: Homophobia, racism and misogyny were prevalent, as was violence. There were a lot of great bands and good people at shows but there were some bad ones as well and those are the ones I remember the most.

JM: Do you have any memories that you’re willing to share from Black Flag playing in Santa Barbara in January 1983?

HR: I think we played almost the entire set at soundcheck. The show was filmed on video and I have the master cassette. That’s all I can remember that I’m at liberty to mention.

JM: The last Black Flag album in the band’s original run was In My Head. Where was your mind at during the recording of that album?

HR: That I didn’t like the songs and the lyrics that Greg Ginn had written made me cringe when I had to sing them.

JM: Besides Black Flag, what was your favorite SST band from the 1980’s?

HR: The Minutemen were my favorite of all those bands, as great as so many of them were.

JM: How did your approach to the Rollins Band differ from Black Flag?

HR: We were going to be an international outfit, playing all over the world and not making any of the bad business decisions that hampered Black Flag. The Rollins band executed operations with better efficiency than Black Flag. I learned a lot about what to do and what not to do from being in Black Flag.

JM: There are some parallels between you and Jello Biafra, from the music to the spoken word performances to the political commentary. Have you had any amusing interactions with him over the years?

HR: I’ve known Jello since I was 19. He’s a good guy, very smart, fights the good fight. I don’t see him all that often but it’s always good when I do. Nothing amusing stands out.

JM: What’s in the works for you?

HR: Documentary work, film, speaking dates, speeches, writing and editing.


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