Ahead of his spoken-word tour of the UK in January 2016, former Black Flag frontman/activist/actor/traveller and all-round righteous force of nature Henry Rollins tells NME what’s in store.
What can people expect from these shows?
“I’ll be talking a lot about the travel, films and TV work that I’ve been doing since I last toured internationally – which is a lot. The talking tours are basically me going out into the world, as far and wide as I can, getting as much information and insight as possible, then coming back to the stage with the reportage.”
You’ve written a lot about the Paris attacks. Did it have personal resonance for you in that you know Eagles Of Death Metal?
“I was with those guys the night before the Paris attacks in London. There’s a movie that I’m in that I also wrote the screenplay for [Gutterdämmerung], that we rolled out some scenes for in the Kentish Town Forum. Jesse Hughes is in the film, and made an appearance and Eagles played a couple of songs at the end. As I was leaving, I said, to Jesse ‘see you next time man’, and waved goodbye to his girlfriend and bandmates. I got off the plane the next afternoon in America and received a text as soon as I turned my phone on: ‘you better check the news right now.’ And that’s when I found out about the Paris attacks.”
Does it feel like an attack on a community to you?
“No. Someone in some band [Bono] said this is the first formal attack on music. These are terrorists. If I’m going to be a terrorist, I’m going to go to a place that’s densely populated and blow people up. It was opportunity. I don’t think it was like, ‘OK, we’re going to get these rock’n’rollers.’ Terrorists read their own press and I do think they’ll see music shows as an effective place to cause damage. Across Europe, I think security at summer festivals will be heightened. Because that’s going to be a target for bad guys. Look who you kill – a high body count of beautiful young people. It’s not just the people killed in that theatre – the Parisians and band members who survived are going to have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. And PTSD’s no joke. You don’t rehab out of it, no-one puts you on a couch and talks you out of it. You walk around with it for the rest of your life.”
You visited Syria. What were your impressions?
“I found a lot of nervous people. There are posters of Bashar al-Assad everywhere, but people are too scared to talk about their leader. When I returned to San Francisco International Airport, I wrote down all the countries I’d been to on my entry visa and my passport was put in a big folder and I was put in a room with three uniformed men yelling at me. It was funny because they thought they were intimidating me! ‘WHY DID YOU GO TO SYRIA?’, they’d scream. ‘Cos I’m Jonny Quest Jnr man!’ They’re like, ‘don’t you know it’s hot?’ ‘Hot? Are you kidding? You could melt butter on your forehead at noon’. They went no, it’s hot politically. On the way out, one guy broke character: ‘Big fan, big fan.’ It was during the Bush administration and that’s when I knew something’s up with Syria – when Homeland Security decided to target me. It was hot, extremely beautiful, the people were incredibly friendly to me, and I had an amazing time. I feel so bad about what happened. I’m really looking forward to meeting Syrians when they come to America so I can tell them how happy I am to see them.”
What do you think about the state of punk rock today?
“As long as you have adolescents, hormones and guitars, you’ll always have punk rock. The state of it has never changed. I think the most substantive change that ever happened to punk rock – it’s like anything else that stands still. It gets commercialised, the rough edges are sanded off and sold to the masses. As far as the stuff that still peels the paint off cars, you can find that in any city anywhere in the world. There’s still people in a dimly lit room with no air bashing it out like their lives depend on it.”
You signed an open letter urging negotiators at Paris’s climate summit to “come together and intensify our efforts” against climate change. Do you feel it’s become a neglected issue?
“There’s a lot of well-moneyed forces at work to keep the conversation on the back burner. When you want to talk about climate change – which is very real – you’re pushing against the lawyers of big oil and agriculture. For the last two weeks I’ve been on the Antarctic Peninsula with scientists who walked me through how this is a bigger problem than we’re led to understand. I was watching an eco-system die. There’s material I’ve been working on for the next tour about how we should all be vegans living in huts, fearing the sun, worshiping the earthquake god and dying by 28 from an impacted wisdom tooth. Humans are so smart we’ve invented an existence that is contra mother nature.”
What do you think of the prospect of Donald Trump becoming president?
“He’s just a bored rich guy who likes to say things that get dumb people excited. I don’t think he’s going to be President but I think he’s having a really good time being crass. I think he gets to a lot of truth and he’s funny. The pool of people running for president this time around – Hillary Clinton included – are not exciting to me. Bernie Sanders, who doesn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell of becoming president, is the most logical choice for me. I’m a commie/pinko/socialist type, so Bernie Sanders appeals to me because he seems like an extraordinarily fair and decent man. To me, Hillary Clinton is a corporate operative. I feel like I’ve been sprayed with Teflon non-stick spray. Whenever she speaks, I feel like I’ve got a thin layer of lubricant on me. I’m like, ‘Eww, I feel oily. Thanks lady’. I don’t think she’s sincere. All these people are miserably dull and will not take the country anywhere good.”
Who’s your person of the year?
“The new Prime Minister of Canada [Justin Trudeau] because he was asked the question: ‘Mr Trudeau, why are you going to diversify your government and make it a 50/50 split?’ He said: ‘Because it’s 2015’. That is so evolved. I don’t know what kind of prime minister he’s going to make but damn, did I love that!”