The Big Issue story: Henry Rollins, ‘Still Angry, Still Curious’, May 2010

A story for The Big Issue #354. Click below image for a closer look, or read the story text underneath.

Henry Rollins: Still Angry, Still Curious story in The Big Issue Australia by Andrew McMillen

Henry Rollins: Still Angry, Still Curious

Shooting the breeze with punk pioneer turned spoken-world celeb and broadcaster, Henry Rollins.

Henry Rollins is a true Renaissance man. The 49-year old (born Henry Garfield in Washington, DC) has appeared in music (he fronted iconic hardcore punk act Black Flag, before establishing the Rollins Band), film (he’s appeared in Heat, Bad Boys II and The Alibi), television (he hosted The Henry Rollins Show for two seasons), radio (he hosts a live talk show on Californian station KCRW), and print (he blogs for Vanity Fair each week, and established his own publishing company, 2.13.61, named for his birthdate).

Exhausted yet? Rollins is also known for campaigning on behalf of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), and appearing in public speaking gigs before US troops stationed in Iraq. Rollins was in Australia in April and May for a spoken-word tour entitled Frequent Flyer. It was the 27th time he’d toured here

Rollins took the time to share some of his acquired wisdom with The Big Issue.

You’re a true multimedia figure, Henry. Which medium is most gratifying for you?

The talking shows are perhaps the most fulfilling. I like being on the radio, it’s only two hours a week but it’s really fun and a much lower pressure than the other things that I do.

Of your career so far, is there a single release, event or achievement that you’re most proud of?

I am not a proud person, really… I have a sense of right and wrong and that’s about it. I don’t think anything I have released is particularly good. I will say that I give it my best shot every time.

What’s your take on broad societal problems like homelessness and obesity?

Homelessness is a hard issue to deal with because on its face it is sad and tough but there are a lot of different ways someone ends up that way, so the cure and preventative measures are complex, political and broad-ranging. Obesity, especially in children has as much to do with marketing, concepts of self-esteem and how technology has shaped how people live as it does anything else. Many sit still in front of a screen and and don’t always get out and move around. Also, the West is very well fed, relative to other places. I don’t know how sustainable that is or how healthy that is in the long term.

Are you comfortable with the notion of celebrity?

Sure, if people want to be famous, they should go ahead. It’s nothing I would waste my time with but for some, it’s what they want.

Although you didn’t seek fame, you’ve found it, seemingly without compromising your values or your message. What advice do you have for those who wish to follow in your footsteps – that is, to be become known and respected, but without resorting to selling dog food or glad-handing politicians?

I just do my work and am respectful as possible to those I meet. Not everyone’s going to dig you, so you have to deal with that but you can’t let it stop you. It’s not always easy. I work very hard and put myself through a lot to keep things happening.

You’re known for speaking out in support of gay rights. What compelled you to do that?

Because homophobia is ugly, hopelessly ignorant, and dangerous, and it’s about time that sane people stand in the face of it and say “no more”.

You’re no stranger to using your profile to promote initiatives that you feel strongly about, like the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA). Did this activist streak emerge naturally, or do you hesitate before becoming involved with such projects?

There’s no hesitation. IAVA helps veterans and I am honoured to be a part of it. I would like to think myself part of a solution rather than the problem.

Why did you tour with the United Services Organisation to speak for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, even though you were opposed to the US involvement in the war?

Because soldiers don’t start wars. I have no argument with the military, just those who ordered them into the illegal war in Iraq.

Do you have a particular approach for exploring cities you’ve never visited before?

I walk down streets, alleys, slums, along rivers, in cemeteries and see what happens.

When you’re recognised while travelling, do you find that people expect you to live up to your role as a performer?

People are usually very cool to me. I am cool back. It’s fairly constant, but I am used to it.

With each successive Australian tour, your popularity increases. Do you prepare differently for different-sized audiences?

No. Every audience gets the best show I can do. They are all equally nerve-wracking.

What do you get up to during your downtime between shows?

Sleep, reading, answering letters, gym, writing.

Finally – what motivates you?

Anger, curiosity.

By Andrew McMillen / Photograph by Maura Lanahan

This was a pretty painless interview to source. I had the story pitch approved in late March ahead of his Australian tour, and set about attempting to contact Rollins by emailing the address listed on the website of his publishing company, 21.3.61.

One minute later, Henry himself replied, saying that he’d be happy to conduct the interview via email. What a pleasant surprise.

Comments? Below.
  1. Matt says:

    Hey Andrew,
    Nice one on getting in touch with Mr Rollins – just curious, do you feel the interview brings across that Rollins is short and abrupt (courtesy of short email responses) when in reality he may not be? It would be interesting to see how one could encourage someone to type as they would speak – probably not possible!

  2. Yeah, there’s certainly less inclination to ‘talk around’ a question via email. The interviewee can thoughtfully consider their response and decide exactly what they want to say, whereas in a live interview, they’re more likely to think aloud before arriving at a conclusion.

    So he does come across a little short and abrupt, which isn’t true of his live show – where he’ll talk for up to three hours without so much as pausing for a drink of water.


Leave a reply.