Interviewed during the student protests of late 2010 Trebuchet got in touch with Henry Rollins, ex-frontman of Black Flag, Rollins Band, Actor, Author, Publisher and all round renaissance man to discuss about how he saw protest and catching up on where he’s at.
The current student protests are about tuition fees which are believed to make it difficult for kids from lower income backgrounds to access education. When asked why you do what you do you’ve said that lack of education and low career prospects have been strong factors in your drive to continue. What do you think about the role of education in people’s lives?
Henry Rollins: In my opinion, it is all the difference in the world. On a national level, it makes a difference. You look at the purposeful failure of America’s education system and the disastrous result. It’s an ignorant, war loving culture, obsessed with itself and at odds with the world around it. It is heading towards a two-tier system and there’s little to be done about it at this point. Seemingly, it’s what America wants; more prisons, more wars. This is what you get without good education. In other places, like South Africa, it’s life and death for some people. It’s too bad that so many societies value the war and strife dollar, because that’s what you get with all of this.
Henry Rollins Politics
Trebuchet: It seems you’re largely self educated and successful, would you recommend this over university education?
Henry Rollins:I went to university for one semester. It wasn’t for me. I don’t think I am really qualified to answer that question. I guess many would be looking for a job at the end of their time at college. I don’t know if a degree means that you will get hired. I know in the normal job world, it’s increasingly tough. I reside more in the underbelly of the entertainment racket and have not delved into the straight world of employment since the Carter administration.
Trebuchet: Student protest: whiney kids, an active part of growing up, or angry people with a voice that has to be heard?
Henry Rollins: I think it’s great when any student protests anything. At least they are mobilizing, thinking, being active. I don’t think it’s whining. I think it’s a good thing.
Trebuchet: In terms of protest, you spoken at length about many issues, have you ever attended rallies?
Henry Rollins: A few but usually I am somewhere else. I travel a lot and sometimes am in international ones, which is intense. Pakistan, Nepal, places like that. America, not as much. Like I said, I am all over the place and it’s rare that I am near anything happening.
Trebuchet: If so when and for what issue?
Henry Rollins: In America it has always been anti-war stuff.
Trebuchet: Do/Did you see it as productive?
Henry Rollins: I didn’t used to but now I think otherwise. I had to combat the cynicism in myself.
Trebuchet: You’re vocal on many subjects and through your shows you generally suggest a number of maxims and perspectives of life, given the platform is it important for you to try and enlighten people?
Henry Rollins: It is important for me to try and communicate as best I can. I think it would be a little much to assume that I enlighten anyone. I just try and get the information over the wall as best I can.
Trebuchet: What role do you think politics plays in people’s lives? ‘People’s lives’ in terms of people’s involvement in politics but also being subject to it?
Henry Rollins: I think it’s a huge role. It just depends on how much that person understands the degree of that fact. It determines how much you pay for gasoline, why this costs that much, why you can’t do this or that, etc. It’s all political to me.
As an American, I don’t think there’s much that isn’t political to a great degree. Like I said, it’s all about how much you want to know.
Trebuchet: On your show you once asked Serj Tankian and Tom Morello:
‘Do you think a musician has a responsibility either to talk about this stuff (politics) to their audience?’ How would you answer that?
Henry Rollins: I don’t think so. I don’t think an artist type should feel that responsibility. That assumes quite a bit on the part of the performer and I don’t think that one who goes to a show needs to hear it in that venue. Like I said, that assumes a lot of the ability of the artist type to be able to put something of worth across.
Henry Rollins Radio Show
Trebuchet: Your weekly radio show, writing, spoken word and travelling seem to be the things that inspire you most at the moment. With regard to travelling you’ve said (Sunday Times) ‘I’m looking for storytelling gold’, what makes a great story? Importance? A message?
Henry Rollins: I am looking for images and people that have a lasting effect on me. I am looking for things and people that change the way I think about things and make me have to reconsider things around me. I am lucky to have had a lot of these instances. I was just in Sudan and Uganda and met some amazing people and saw some very interesting things. If it moves me, then perhaps it will move others when I report to the audience onstage.
Trebuchet: In the same interview/article you spoke about not wanting to repeat yourself musically or become a parody of what you achieved earlier in your career. In your blog ‘Dispatch’you’ve talked about listening to Jazz and to a greater extent in the fanatic! series, would you ever consider an album of the experimental jazz side you showed in some of the Rollins Band tracks?
Henry Rollins: I don’t think so. I don’t think of myself in music at this point.
Trebuchet: You mentioned earlier this year that you were meeting with a few guys thinking about working on new material? How’s it going? Too soon to talk about?
Henry Rollins: I ran out of time for that project. I was hoping to meet up with them last summer and like I said, I ran out of time. I don’t know when that will happen.
Trebuchet: As a singer/frontman do you think you’ve always been more of a performer of words than a singer per se?
Henry Rollins: Yes. I can’t sing at all but I can get it across pretty well.
Trebuchet: Over the course of your career you’ve done spoken word poetry, stand-up, interviews and prose. What is relationship to the act and art of writing?
Henry Rollins: Onstage, writing isn’t all that much of what I do as I take no notes with me up there. I don’t write creatively as much as I used to. Could be an age thing, I don’t know.
I feel done with that kind of expression. I am more interested in my analytical mind at this point. Words and their precise placement play a much larger role in my life than they used to. I am putting a lot of stuff out there and get listened to and read a bit so I do my best to be accurate and relevant. I do the best I can.
Trebuchet: Your work has a strong non-fiction, autobiographical tone, have you thought about fiction?
Henry Rollins: I have written some but I am not good at it. I think that requires a rare talent that I don’t have.
Trebuchet: Some people might say that autobiography is the truth from someone’s perspective. How much of autobiography is fiction?
Henry Rollins: I think that depends on who is doing the work. I don’t think you can make a general rule about something like that. I imagine some people lie their asses off to make themselves look good, innocent or whatever. Perhaps some people lie to protect someone else. I would be loathe to say anything about anyone living that I wasn’t prepared to say to them in person.
Trebuchet: Are you conscious of omitting/editing parts of your autobiography as a creative act?
Henry Rollins: For me, it’s a boredom issue. There are some aspects of my life at least that are boring to the point of being cruel and unusual to the reader. I try to spare them those parts. As to the stuff that doesn’t put me in the most flattering light, run it.
Trebuchet: You’re well known as a diarist, does this help keep the past honest when writing about it? Hindsight being 20/20 etc?
Henry Rollins: I do the best I can to be clear. I think if I was to try and change events, I would get nailed. Too many witnesses to get away with things. I don’t have much to hold back about besides the super boring stuff. It’s not like I have to hide my inner racist or a gambling problem or some suppressed urge to kill postmen. I mean, I want to kill them. I want to kill them all but at least I’ll say it.
Trebuchet: And finally, you’re latest dispatch talks about a UK tour. Spoken word? In asking where you’ve been I guess I’m asking what the show will be about? Any clues?
Henry Rollins: I guess that tour is done. Didn’t know I had spaced on this thing for so long. Usually, I turn these things around pretty quickly.
Trebuchet: Ah well, many thanks and all the best.
Henry Rollins: Thanks.