|Anger For Life: Interview with Henry Rollins|
by Jim and Jen Shaneberger
Henry Rollins put his rock bands, Black Flag and the Rollins Band, to bed. In fact, he’s moved on from music entirely.
“I felt like year five at the university and everyone was looking at me like ‘Dude, shouldn’t you be getting a life?’,” Rollins explained, “At one point, I no longer thought musically. I no longer wanted to write a song. I could do it mechanically, but my heart wouldn’t be in it because I just don’t process information in a lyrical fashion anymore.”
So, after 25 years, he left the module and went out into deep space to see what would happen to him, “without the tether of music.”
To his delight, the offers rolled in for radio, voice over, acting, television, documentary and writing opportunities. We interviewed him on a Monday, and he admitted wondering how he would get to Friday without his head exploding.
Rollins is coming to the Orbit Room in Grand Rapids Friday, April 12 not to share his music but his experiences and reflections.
He’s 52, and has to keep moving because life is brief.
“30 to 50 felt like two weeks,” he confessed. “The teenage years are like pulling a knotted rope through your ear, every day is an eternity. But, as the rails get a bit more greased and we get older, it goes quickly.”
To slow life down, Rollins tries to make things more eventful.
“Like when I travel alone,” he said. “A day in Africa is worth five anywhere else. Everything gets beat up, including you. Three weeks in Uganda or Sudan and you come back tenderized like you’ve been caned every day. I live for that.”
Uniquely, Henry Rollins is a solitary individual. He’s either alone on stage, alone in front of a camera or a microphone in a studio, listening to music or writing alone. In fact, most of his relationships are professional. And, he admits he goes out of his way not to spend time in the company of others.
“A lot of what interests me, what I’m tasked to do on a regular basis, requires solitude,” he said. “I’ve traveled all over the world by myself for months at a time.”
On several trips it’s been just Rollins and his backpack through ten countries, maybe starting in Jordan and ending up China 100 days later. “It’s pretty trippy out there, when you’re on day 70 of just my water bottle and my camera and I’m in Bangladesh. It’s a bit like what solitary confinement is like,” he said. “You can get way up in your head, and we all get there. But, to spend sustained amounts of time there is a strange place to be.”
Rollins is drawn to dodgy streets; he’s the great adventurer. He wants each day to feel like he’s really been through something. And though he admits he’d love to sleep late, eat pizza and watch TV, he recognizes this temptation and avoids it all together. He doesn’t even own a TV, instead a record player. In fact, he tries to listen to a number of records a day.
His favorite responsibility is the one that produces the least amount of stress, his KCRW broadcast. “It’s fun to prepare and deliver. I let the music be great and I just kind-of goof-off between songs,” he laughed. “We take the music seriously, but not ourselves.”
But, it’s the talk shows and documentaries that have the most potential to create social change, though they come with a heavy amount of stress. Henry Rollins balances this weight by leveraging anger.
“I’m trying to do something here, so I retain a great degree of anger from day to day. Anger FOR life, not AT life,” he explained. “Raging with life itself, to be a part of its fury.”
He maintains that his anger leads to good things. It fuels his curiosity and pushes him to explore dangerous territories in countries like India, Iraq and China. That way, when he’s on stage he can tell of what he saw, not something he read.
Besides his adventure stories, Rollins shares his political and civil views from the stage. Especially inspired are words on civil abuses and oppression, as social justice is his advocacy arena.
“Violations are happening on everything from athletics to music, to what’s being taught in schools and how it’s being taught, to how young people are interacting, to social media,” he stated. “To America’s military posture in the world, to America’s amazing incarceration rate and the increasing number of incarcerated people who happen to be black and male – all of those things at once.”
He described society as groups of tectonic plates in constant motion, creating friction and conflict. “That’s why there are 27 amendments to the constitution and not a mere ten, the Bill of Rights,” he continued. “America is constantly evolving. Even within the last 100 years, women didn’t have the right to vote; it took the 19th amendment in 1920 to get that going. Before that women like Susan B. Anthony were facing jail time for having the unmitigated gall to seek sedition vote.”
He maintains that American is currently going through one of its more “colorful and garish, grotesque social upheavals”. One thing that’s exacerbated America’s condition, according to Rollins, is America’s black president. A black president, especially one with an agenda of big ticket items: healthcare, the military, winding down a long war in Iraq and planning to wind down a long conflict in Afghanistan, incites those with racist tendencies to act out.
“There are a lot of people in that monetary food chain who will have to wait for the next Republican president to get it thriving again—when we go and beat up on Iran,” Rollins said. “What you have right now is America waking up, with the old guard changing. America’s a bus, it’s moving down the road, and it’s being torn from their grasp.”
Social change doesn't come easily. With this change comes a lot of mistakes, cruelty and misdirected anger. Rollins spoke of the effect of social media bullying as well as equality in same-sex marriage.
“Look at what’s not being taught in schools,” he said. “Not enough sex education for my liking, not enough work on the civil rights movement.”
Still, he maintained hopefully, “We’re going to evolve...Our county is walking off the sedative of the social unconsciousness.”
Show details: Orbit Room
Friday, April 12, 2013 at 6:30pm
$22.50 in advance, $27 day of show
Guitarist Jim Shaneberger splits his time playing with a number of Grand Rapids bands, while wife Jen owns and directs music production company Industry Standard Entertainment. Black and white photos taken by Paul Jendrasiak in Grand Rapids in 1991.
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