Q&A with Henry Rollins

courtesy of Henry Rollins.

At this point does Henry Rollins really require an introduction? Since the hardcore punk era Rollins has been a jack-of-all-trades entertainer and thought-provoker with his bands, books, acting gigs, radio shows, spoken word tours, stand-up comedy, and most recently two National Geographic television specials about ‘the warrior gene’ and about snakes! Rollins grew-up in DC and to celebrate his 50th birthday on Sunday (50th!? We’re getting old!) he is coming home to put on two sold out shows at National Geographic’s Grosvenor Auditorium. I recently caught up with the notoriously tight-lipped Rollins and wrestled a few answers out of him.

courtesy of Henry Rollins.

Michael Darpino: How many years did you live in Washington DC?

Henry Rollins: Twenty.

MD: I know that you and Ian MacKaye are great friends and your friendship goes back to your childhood. How did you and Ian meet each other? When did you realize you had made a friend for life?

HR: I met Ian in the alley behind his house. We were both on bikes. We had the same kind. We got to talking and I started hanging out with him and his friends. I was kind of new in the neighborhood and didn’t have any friends, so I hung out with him. Even when we were very young, it was obvious he was very different. He was the first person around my age that I knew of who actually thought for himself.

MD: How do you feel about them renaming National Airport after Ronald Reagan?

HR: It is in fact, not Reagan National. It is DC National, it is every single time it comes out of my mouth, at least.

MD: DC has changed quite a lot over the years. Our neighborhoods seem to rise, fall, and rise again. Having grown up here, how do you feel about the shifting economics of DC neighborhoods? Is a little gentrification a good thing? Or is it rampantly out of control?

HR: My old neighborhood was, when I was living there, a very normal middle class one. Row houses, small yards, no driveways. I have seen people describe this neighborhood as a “rich boy’s paradise” I guess in order to make me out as some rich kid or something. I don’t know what effect that is supposed to have but anyway, that neighborhood now is insanely expensive. I saw a house I lived in with my mother for a couple of years up for sale a few years ago. I kept track of it. It sold for three quarters of a million bucks. That’s nuts. It’s a very small place. I guess people really want to live there. This happens all over the place though. Gentrification happens. It’s what money does.

MD: You are the second person I have interviewed who has worked with the great film director Michael Mann. He is one of my favorite film makers, so I have to ask; what was it like working with Michael Mann on “Heat”? Did he give you any interesting direction on set that you have been able to apply to other roles?

HR: He was friendly, professional. Not much direction, small part.

MD: I have found that when I DJ, the Rollins Band version of Suicide’s “Ghostrider” is one of your songs that people seem to recognize the most. In fact I think a lot of people don’t even realize it is a cover. Your version really is phenomenal, especially the extended 7-minute version. How and why did you and the band decide to cover “Ghostrider”?

HR: Always liked the band.

MD: I attended the fantastic “songs of Black Flag” benefit concert that you put on at 9:30 Club for the West Memphis Three. What are your thoughts on the fact that in November the Arkansas Supreme Court ordered new hearings for “the Three” based on DNA evidence?

HR: Actually, there’s going to be news this week. Things are moving along now. It’s getting very exciting. Damien and I wrote each other recently, he’s in good spirits. What has happened to those guys is more than I can get my head around, no matter how I try.

MD: You have provided me with some of the most enduring images of live concert performance of my life. For that, I thank you. I recall one time in the early 90’s, at RFK Stadium, someone, for some reason, pelted you with a handful of change. You then goaded the entire audience into throwing change. A non-stop hail of change then rained down on you while you performed. At the end of your set you glanced at all the change and jokingly thanked the audience for making you rich. At Woodstock ’94, I vividly remember someone lobbing a full-size Coleman cooler at you. As it sailed through the air past you, you turned your head watching it fly by and mouthed ‘fuck you!’ at it. Why do you think people were always throwing things at you in the 90’s? Do people still do that to you (I hope not!)?

HR: Always? I don’t know about that. I guess some people need to act out. I never understood throwing something at such a safe target as a person onstage. It lacks that confrontational element which commands respect. A man threw a shoe at me in Melbourne Australia a few years ago. We came to a workable agreement post show though, so everything ended up being swell.

MD: Do you have any upcoming projects that you would like to tell people about?

HR: Shows in March and April.

Try to sneak into Grosvenor Auditorium to catch one of Rollins’ sold out shows this Sunday. Happy Birthday Henry!

Michael splits his free time between defending the little guy and championing the underdog. He has been haunting the concert halls, dive bars, and greasy spoons of DC for the last 16 years. His interests include live rock music, researching obscure military/political conflicts, and good hamburgers. He is a friendly grump, has wisdom beyond his years, and is on a life-long quest to attain music nirvana. Follow him on Twitter if you dare!