Interview Date: 01/05/2011, 01/20/2011
Run Date: 02/11/2011
No, you’re not imagining things: it hasn’t been that long since Bullz-Eye last chatted with Henry Rollins. When we talked to him about “National Geographic Explorer: Born to Rage?” in December of 2010, however, we closed the conversation by forewarning him that we were already in the mix to chat with him in the new year about his contributions to Don Letts’ documentary, “Punk: Attitude,” which was on the cusp of a deluxe-edition reissue through Shout Factory. Rollins’ immediate response: “Sure, anything you need on that, too. Just book it and we’ll talk.”
Fast-forward to January 2011. Beating Shout Factory to the punch, Nat Geo Wild announces that Rollins will be part of the network’s panels (“WILD on Snakes”) during the 2011 Winter TCA Press tour. Finding it impossible to resist the chance to chat with him in person, we quickly booked a slot for a one-on-one. Funnily enough, though, when time was called at the 20-minute mark, there were still plenty of topics that had yet to be covered…including, believe it or not, “Punk: Attitude.”
Given how much talking Rollins has done over the years, it may not surprise you that he didn’t mind doing that follow-up phoner as well. Amazingly, there were still some topics which we never touched on – for instance, you might not know that he’s turning 50 on Feb. 13th and celebrating the occasion with another spoken-word tour – but as you’ll see, we certainly covered quite a lot nonetheless.
Henry Rollins: I know I’ve heard of Bullz-Eye. Have I done something for Bullz-Eye before?
Bullz-Eye: Yes! We talked in conjunction with the warrior gene special.
HR: Oh, okay!
BE: But, also, I’m the dude who…
HR: Wait a minute! You and I spoke, and…didn’t you say, “I’ll be talking to you later about something else”?
BE: Actually, I was going to be talking to you…and may yet talk to you again...about “Punk: Attitude.”
HR: Yeah! (Publicist) Mitzye Ramos, she wrote me awhile ago, she said, “Shout Factory’s putting out ‘Punk: Attitude,’ would you help with press?” And I like Shout Factory, and I liked the documentary, and…me, I just say “yes” to that. I go, “Yeah, yeah, I’ll help you! Sure, whatever you want!” So she wrote me the other day and said, “Here’s a whole bunch of press. You want to do it?” And I said, “Yes.” So they’re hooking it all up, and that’s where I saw the Bullz-Eye.com thing: on the itinerary.
BE: And, like I said, we also talked when you were promoting “Born to Rage?” Which was great, by the way. I hadn’t yet seen it when we did the interview.
HR: Yeah, it was fascinating! It’s a really interesting field of study.
BE: Unfortunately, I have since found out that I do not personally possess the warrior gene…which, I must admit, is not a huge surprise to me.
HR: Well, it’s interesting when you see these…like, those agro biker guys like Paul, the one with the fake forearm because it had gotten blown off. He didn’t have it. But some of the monks did. I don’t know what that means. Is it an inexact science? Does more work need to be done? Does it mean anything at all? I mean, should we care? That’s the questions I had. I kind of came away from it, like, “Okay, well, now we know, but…what do we know?”
BE: Yeah, but you could say that about just about any type of science, really.
HR: Yeah, I guess so. And maybe in something like 30 years from now, they can connect to something else and go, “A-ha! There’s the dot!” I don’t know. But it was interesting. It was a good week and a half of work. I learned a lot.
BE: I don’t know if you saw the graphic that our layout guy put together for the piece – I sent it to you, but I know you get a ton of mail – where it’s a shot of you giving your best angry face, and it’s surrounded by the yellow square that is National Geographic’s logo.
HR: Oh, no, I didn’t see it.
BE: No worries. Okay, so in the panel for “WILD on Snakes,” you mentioned how, when you were a kid, the National Zoo in Washington was formative in your love of snakes.
HR: Yeah, it was just close by, and it was a place you could go see a bunch of snakes. And the reptile department is nothing to write home about when you go to other zoos, but it’s the one I had. I was a local boy. And like I said on stage today, there was this local pet shop, and I was one of those obnoxious kids. “Can I touch the animal?” This guy was, like, cleaning 800 cats and 50 million fish, and he’s, like, “Pick up a cat scoop and help me, or get out of my store.” So I was there every day. “Excuse me, Skip…” His name was Skip – he’s still alive – and he’s, like, “Argh! Here! You have a job! Shut up and go to work!” And I learned hands on. And within a few months, I am dealing with birds, cats, snakes, lizards…you know, whatever was there, I’m cleaning it, getting bitten by it, crapped on. As you do. Walking home with all kinds of things crawling on me, and, “Hey, mom, can we keep this?” “AAAAAAAA!!!” (Laughs) Like many local geeky kids, I wasn’t the football guy. I was the “look at this!” guy, with the frog in the jar. That’s not that atypical.
BE: Were you one of those kids who had the animal guides that you’d flip through to identify what you’d seen?
HR: Peterson Guides! Oh, I had Peterson Guides for reptiles, birds…my mom was an Audubon member, so I’m, like, nine years old, sitting in some marsh in Chincoteague, waiting for the snowy egret to pass overhead, with all of these people going, “Holy shit!” (Laughs) And even then, I was, like, “You know what? This is kind of lame. But it’s cool!” So, yeah, my mom was an animal person, in that very gentle way. “Don’t touch them!” So I was always around animals. My father and my stepmother…his third wife, or whatever she was…they bred Weimaraners, so whenever I would visit them, there’s, like, eight big, friendly dogs around me. So I have this kind of inborn non-fear of animals, in that they’ve been drooling on me since I was this high, to where I probably should be more careful. I mean, I’m not a guy walking around picking up a cobra and putting it in my pocket or whatever, but if somebody says, “Be careful of that dog,” I’m, like, “Why? It’s a dog!” I just have no fear of a lot of animals, just because of that, and they read that and they kind of leave you alone because you don’t show fear. Animals are pretty shrewd as far as checking out a person’s body movements. They can smell fear on you. There’s a different enzyme released in the perspiration when you’re afraid.
BE: With the snakes, how much interaction did you get to do with for the special.
HR: Well, not nearly as much as I wanted! (Laughs) We were at a place with Tom Crutchfield, the guy who smuggled sugar gliders in and did time, and he had, like, a king cobra, a couple on his facility, and…he’s one of those guys where it’s his show, where you go, “Hey, I…” And he doesn’t want to hear your story, he wants to tell you his, and you’re on his ranch, so… (Trails off) I wanted to say, “Hey, can we pull your king cobra out for our shot? ‘Cause I’d like to handle your king cobra.” And I knew he’d say, “No!” I just knew he would, just as a cautionary measure, ‘cause he doesn’t know me. But I was hoping to have my hands on more animals. It just…the situations didn’t really present themselves. So when I got hold of that albino manacled cobra you saw, I said, “This is the only hot snake we’re going to get that’s not in an enclosure, so let’s get the shot!” That’s why you’ll see me with it quite a bit: ‘cause it’s the one snake that the guy said, “Oh, yeah, here, pick it up!” And I was, like, “Cool!”
BE: Might as well make the most of it.
HR: Yeah. And I said, “Well, here’s your hot shot, because we’re not going to get another one.” And I was right: we didn’t get any more access. ‘Cause any keeper in his right mind…they don’t know that I actually do know how to handle reptiles, and you can see in the shot that I’m pretty at ease with it. Careful, but not terrified.
BE: So what else have you got on the docket for National Geographic?
HR: What else? More. But nothing specific yet. They like me, I like them. My bosses like the work we’ve done with the warrior gene and the snake thing, so my boss basically said, “We’re going to do more.” So they’re looking and wondering, “What’s the next cool thing to put Henry in?” ‘Cause you know NatGeo has, like, 80 things going on at once. They’ve got a lot of plates spinning, and I think right now they’re just looking for what they think would be cool with me in it. So my boss basically said, “This year, we’re going to put you in something. Haven’t figured it out yet, though, so hang loose.” So I said, “Okay!” They didn’t say how many. They just said, “We like you. We’re not kicking you off. Actually, we’re liking you quite a bit, so we shall see.” And I’m, like, “Good, ‘cause I want to do more!” But as far as what, I have no idea. They’ve said nothing.
BE: Are you pitching them ideas?
HR: Yes! I’ve got all kinds of ideas. I’ve pitched NatGeo Wild and I’ve pitched NatGeo Explorer. Like, I’ve worn them out. “How about this one? How about this one? How about this one?” (Laughs) And they listen very patiently until their eyes glaze over, so they’ve heard what I have to say. And I’ve actually written my boss, Juliet Blake, and said, “Oooh, oooh, I’ve got this!” And she’s, like, “Duly noted, duly noted…” So what can you do?
BE: Well, we spent a lot of time talking about “Sons of Anarchy” when we talked last time, but I wanted to ask you about some other acting gigs that I don’t think I’ve ever asked you about. Now, “The Chase” was your first proper film, right?
BE: How did that come about? Were you actively looking for acting at that time?
HR: No. I was looking for anything. I like to work. And so Adam (Rifkin), the director, he came to either me or my management and said, “Here’s this thing I want to do with Henry, here’s the script, Henry would play basically kind of a macho yet incredibly stupid policeman.” I was, like, “Oh, damn! I’m in! Please let me do this!” (Laughs) And so I met Adam, who’s just amazing, and I looked at the part, and he said, “Okay, you have the part. As far as me and the producer, we love you, we know you can do this…but Fox is not convinced. They are not enthused. They want to see an audition.” I said, “Okay. So what’s the audition?” And Adam, he just thinks different, he said, “We’re going to dress you up in a cop outfit, and we’re going to let you improv.” I’m, like, “Okay…” We did this in, I think, some huge Texas hotel. And they took my measurements, and…I look pretty convincing in a tightly-fitting uniform, with a big rubber sidearm that looks as real as you want. And I come out of the elevator, like… (Offers an intense look, breathing heavily through his nose) And these people…you walk out, and they’re, like, giving me concerned looks, like, “Um, I’m just walking here…” (Laughs) And we go out to the parking lot, and I’m in full cop gear, and all the cars slow down as they’re driving into the lot. I’m, like, “Whatever!” People are hitting their brakes! And Adam goes, “Okay, camera’s on. Do some stuff!” And I just started, like, saying really incredibly stupid things, and then I finally finished the audition by, like, girl-running through the parking lot, camping it up, going, “Hi! You’re under arrest!” (Laughs) We’re just goofing around, you know? And they sent that to Fox, and Fox went, “Oh, my God, we had no idea. Oh, yes, please put him in the movie! We just thought he’d be this uptight guy who can’t speak. He’s so the guy for this!” And so me and the other actor (Josh Mostel), we’re goofing around between takes, and Adam, the director, he walked up and said, “You know what? You guys are funnier than my script. Just do whatever you want.” And if you’ve ever seen that film, all of my lines, I made ‘em up. I just reeled everything off in all those scenes. Like, “I’m a standard issue street soldier!” That’s what got me the part. I said that in the audition. He goes, “What are you?” I’m, like, “I’m a standard issue street soldier!” I just pulled that out of my ass. And Fox said, “Who wrote that?” He’s, like, “He came up with that!” They said, “Give him the part.” And to this day, people will say, “Hey, could you sign this, ‘To a standard issue street soldier’?” And I’m, like, “Oh, yeah, that thing I said!” My little bit of alliteration. (Laughs)
Yeah, so that was my first foray into film, and then after that, parts started coming. There was a moment when I was very fab, when “Liar” was a big video on MTV, and then parts…I mean, if you’re hot, people want to cash in on it, so I’m just getting partpartpartpartpart. And then the next album doesn’t do as well, ‘cause we don’t have an MTV song, and it’s part…part…part. (Laughs) And, I’m, like, “Please, more parts!” And then it started to pick back up again after I started being in more films and more directors starting saying, “Okay, wow, he can actually kind of pull it off!” And, now, I can say, “Okay, I’m going to be off the road for three months,” call up the agent, see if there’s any movie parts, and most of the time I can land a thing and do it.
BE: How crazy was it finding yourself working with David Lynch in “Lost Highway”?
HR: It was an honor...and he came to me. He said, “I’ve got no money left, I’ve got, like, five days left of filming, I’ve got these microscopic parts I just want to put really fun, cool people in, I’m a fan of yours. Would you like to be in my movie?” And I’m a fan of his, and I said, “I’m on my way!” I just went right to the set, shook his hand, met Patricia Arquette, who is just amazing, and I said, “I’m in! Yes, I want to do it! What is it?” He said, “You’ll be a security guard in a prison.” “I’ll take it!” (Laughs) And we go to the costume place, and they’re out of costumes except for the ones that are too small, so if you look at the footage, I’m in high-water pants. I just put it all on, squeezed into this outfit, and did the scene just to say I was in a David Lynch film. And I did it for lunch. There was no money. He was literally out of money. And now I see David every few years, and he’s always, like, “Henry!” He always remembers me, which is a big deal. And it was fun being, y’know, microscopically involved in a David Lynch production. I’ll never forget it. I’m sure I won’t work with him again, in that I’m sure he doesn’t need me for anything, though I’d say “yes” in a heartbeat. But I had a moment there, and, like I said, every few years I’ll run into him somewhere, and he’s always really friendly and comes right over and says, “Henry, how are you?” He’s a very, very nice person. Kooky in a wonderful way and artistic, but super-friendly. As they say, he’s Jimmy Stewart from Mars. (Laughs) He’s really cool and kind of out there in a genius way. Like, when you meet him, even if you didn’t know him, you’d be, like, “Wow, he does movies? Wow, I want to see one of those!” Because he’s such an interesting guy.
BE: You mentioned “Liar” a moment ago. That’s definitely the go-to song whenever someone mentions the Rollins Band. “Did you say ‘Rollins Band’? Man, I love ‘Liar.’”
HR: Yep. Five minutes to write it, one lifetime to live it down.
BE: Is there any other song that you’d rather have the Rollins Band remembered for?
HR: Yeah. Like, a whole bunch of them. (Laughs) There’s a song I wrote years ago called “Illumination.” It was a lyric that I’d been trying to write for many years, and one night, one couple hit me, and I spent the rest of the night hunched over a notebook in my underwear, sitting on the bed…and I looked up, and the sun was coming up. And I’m, like, “What have I been doing?” I’m freezing, and I’ve been sitting in my underwear for, like, four hours. It’s a song where we went to India to shoot the video. I wrote most of the tune, I wrote all of the lyrics, and…it’s just about seeing the world and what it does, the effect of looking into the abyss and the abyss looking back at you, so sayeth Nietzsche. And it’s a lyric I’m very proud of, a riff I’m very proud of, a song I...you know, if someone said, “One lyrics of yours on a desert island, which one would it be,” I would say, “Read ‘Illumination.’” That’s the one to read out loud.
“Liar” is a good song, but we literally wrote it as we were tuning up for the first day of band practice with our new bass player. He was playing with his bass, and to crack everyone up, he’s just jamming along, and I started saying some stuff, making a joke, and I said, “I’m a liar! Hey!” And everyone’s, like, “That’s funny!” And we would play it at CBGB’s while we were warming up to make the album, and we would play it as an improv, and the punchline was, “’Cause I’m a liar!” And the crowd would laugh. And the guy who ran Imago Records said, “That’s a single!” And we said, “We’re not going to record that!” And he said, “Oh, you’re recording it.” And that’s when we had to make an arrangement for it. I had to actually write lyrics, because it was an improv! So we just kind of made a song of it and recorded it, and we said, “Well, that’s a B-side.” And he says, “No, that’s a single.” “Uh, no.” “Yeah!” And he was right. And all of a sudden, our audiences were, like, 600 more a night. All of a sudden, we’re playing those KROQ Weenie Roast shows, whereas before we couldn’t even get arrested, let alone get a ticket to go to the show. And for about eight months there, we were one of those bands in that world of, like, “Hey! We’re flying business class!” And the next record comes out, and it’s, like, “Hey! Fuck you! Who cares about you anymore?” (Laughs) And it was interesting. It was, like, “Wow, it’s the 15 minutes…” ‘Cause all of a sudden girls want to meet you, and you’re, like, “Okay!” And you’re playing those big radio fests that we would never have been able to be at before…and we never were again. It was a moment, in ’94, where we had that, like, “Wow, you’re kind of ready for prime time,” and we got the Grammy nomination. And then life went back to normal. Your crowd goes back down to that core audience, you go back to the smaller room, and life goes back to normal.
BE: What’s your favorite project that you’ve worked on that didn’t get the love you thought it deserved?
HR: Oh! I don’t know. (Considers the question) I was really proud of the Rise Above benefit record that we did in 2003. It was Black Flag songs, which is old material, but…
BE: That was the benefit for the West Memphis Three, right?
HR: Yes! And it raised money, but…it should’ve sold a million, ‘cause, I mean, look at the cause it’s going to! And it sounded really good. It came out way better than I thought it would, and everybody sang so well and played so well. When you listen to it, it’s one of those tribute records that doesn’t suck. You go, “Wow, this is really good!” I just did it because I wanted to help these guys, but it came out as this rip-roaring, whup-ass record, and I always wished more people…I wanted more atta-boys from that. Every once in awhile, someone goes, “Dude, that Rise Above record…” I’m, like, “Thank you!” ‘Cause that cost me $70,000 to make, and a lot of…it was two summers of my life, and I’d happily do it again. I’m not complaining. I’m just saying that we really…I called in so many markers, I tapped so many people. Like…I don’t know the guys in the Queens of the Stone Age. I just called them and said, “Hi, I met you. You know me? Cool, here’s what we’re doing…” And I called, like, Mike Patton, my friend from Faith No More, or Ice-T, or Iggy Pop. These are people I know, I’ve seen them around and done shows with them, and I said, “Look, do you want to do this thing?” Iggy didn’t know the case. He doesn’t know Black Flag music, really. I said, “Look, Jim, for me, here’s what.” Chuck D is a longtime buddy of mine, I go, “Chuck, here’s the case.” And he was on it. Some of the phone calls were easier. Like, Corey (Taylor) from Slipknot was, like, “Dude, I’m on my way!” He was, like, into it. Loves the music, knows the lyrics already. The guys from Queens of the Stone Age knew the lyrics already, they were fans.
I wish that had gotten a bigger hurrah, but everything else that I do, I have a very utilitarian thing with it, in that I take it all very seriously. I don’t take myself seriously, but you take the work seriously. And whether it’s Bon Jovi or Britney Spears…no matter who you are, that record you made, you really do like it, and you really did work hard on it. It could be Cher or someone you want to make fun of or whatever, but they worked really hard on it, and they really did expend calories, lose sleep over it, obsessed over it. That’s not unique. And when someone pans it, you’re, like, “Damn, man, I had a nervous breakdown over that record, and you give it two stars? You’re dissing me? Fuck you, man! You’re hurting me! If you don’t like it, fine, but don’t rip me a new one on that!” And, so, I sometimes can take it personal, but on the other hand, I’m very prolific, in that I’m always doing something. I have a little company. Lou Reed said it best: “When you’re as small as me, you can do whatever you want, because no one really cares.” And I’m kind of like that. I’ll do, like, two books a year…like you didn’t know that. (Laughs) But I just throw them out into the void, and eighty people go, “Yay!” And everyone else, goes, like, “Huh?”
BE: “Wait, is that by the ‘Liar’ dude?”
HR: (Laughs) Exactly. “Oh, you’re that guy? I forgot about you in ’94!” And, so, I just do stuff. I’m not all that precious about it anymore. I write, record, do these things, and I care about it until it hits the medium it goes out on, and then I’m onto the next thing. If you want to be mean about it, I’m, like, “Yeah, but I’ve got eight other new things.” And, also, I’m 50. I don’t have time to bask. I’ve only got time to do stuff. ‘Cause you never know when you’re just going to keel over. So at this point, I’m only into doing it. Like, when someone…a guy like you, for instance…
BE: Why, thank you.
HR: Well, no, what I was going to say that you send an E-mail saying, “Oh, your interview’s up on the site, here’s the address,” and you’re kind enough to get back with me, but I never go. (Laughs) That graphic you wrote me about? That’s why I never saw it: I’m onto the next thing. It’s no diss. Not at all.
BE: No, I understand.
HR: I’m just onto the next thing. You wanted me to do the interview, I did the interview, I answered every question as best I could, and now I’m, like, 40 exits down the highway, onto the next deal. And I just kind of go, go, go. Like, any documentary that I’m in, I’ll watch with great pain of watching myself. “Sons of Anarchy,” the box set, I bought it. But I’ll never watch it again. I’ll put it on the shelf, on the “Dubious Achievements” shelf I have in my garage, and then I’m onto the next vine. Like I said, it’s a utilitarian thing that I have. I do things, but I try not to be precious about them, because when you get emotionally attached to stuff…it’s easy to be wounded when someone says, “Your record sucks!” I’m, like… (Recoils as if in pain) “Ow!” I’d be bullshitting you if I told you I had a thick skin, because I don’t. You can get to me. It’s all close to the surface. So when someone disses what I do, I’m, like, “Ow! Damn!” Because I put everything I had into that. But a lot of performers are like that. It’s an emotional thing you have with it. And if it’s not, you should probably get a different job. If it doesn’t mean that much to you, then get a different gig that does mean that much to you. I guess. Or not. Whatever. Do what you want.
At this point, the conversation wrapped up, and Henry once again assured me that if I wanted to talk further, this time focusing on “Punk: Attitude,” I should just get up with his manager, and he’d be back on the phone in no time. Sure enough, just over two weeks later, after I’d gotten back from the TCA tour, we were talking once more.
HR: Hey, Will! How are you doing, man?
BE: I’m good, but you’ve got to be one of the few people who can say that they’re suffering from Bullz-Eye interview burnout.
HR: (Laughs) Yeah, maybe I should just get a cot and move into the offices.
BE: You know, if you’d like, we can set that up for you.
HR: Well, thank you!
BE: But it is good to talk to you again, as always, and now that I’m finally back from the TCA tour, I’ve actually had the chance to watch “Punk: Attitude,” which is pretty awesome.
HR: Oh, cool! Yeah, you know, I really haven’t watched it. I kind of do these things ‘cause I’m asked to. Like, Don Letts…well, at first, his people called and said, “You know who Don Letts is, right?” I said, “Yeah! The Clash guy! Friend of Bob Marley’s.” They said, “He’s doing this documentary. Do you want to be in it?” I’m, like, “Hell, yeah! Sure!” So that’s how I got involved. Rarely do I watch these things, ‘cause I hate watching myself on TV. I just…ugh. And so, yeah, I hope you dug it. I got a lot of nice mail about that thing when it first came out.
BE: Yeah, I definitely dug it. And I noticed that you had the honored position of offering the first words spoken in the movie.
HR: Ah. Yeah, Don wrote me after he put it together, and he said, “Well, you’re kind of the glue in this thing, in that you’re the one who made the most sense, so we’re kind of using you as the baseboard all through this documentary. I hope that’s okay.” I said, “Well, it’s your documentary, chief, so sure.”
BE: You’ve got a line in the film which left me imagining an alternate universe where the movie was called “Punk: ‘Fuck This’ with a Backbeat.” That’s a great line.
HR: (Laughs) I’d forgotten I’d said that. I say stuff and move on to the next thing, and now it’s been, what, three or four years since I did that?
BE: Longer, I think.
HR: Yeah, maybe it’s more like five.
(Writer’s note: The film was actually released in 2005, but there’s no telling when Rollins actually filmed his interview segments.)
BE: I enjoyed the bit where you talk about how Glenn Branca begat Sonic Youth.
HR: Well, you know, Lee (Rinaldo) and Thurston (Moore) were in his band, and when you hear early Sonic Youth, you hear a lot of, like, Branca-esque guitar mangling. And I don’t think Thurston or Lee would disagree, necessarily. I don’t think it would be correct to say, “Oh, they got it all from him,” but I think either of them would say, “Oh, yeah, we definitely came up with that music and that idea that Glenn was kind of the first to do.” You know, Glenn Branca launched a lot of ships, probably. Probably more than he’s ever given credit for.
BE: Obviously, there was east coast punk and west coast punk, and you kind of address it at one point, saying that Agnostic Front never could’ve come out of LA.
HR: Yeah, it’s a different thing. And that’s not putting them in the pejorative, you know. The Weirdos or X never could’ve come out of DC. I mean, it’s just…different localities, different geographies are going to give you different results. It’s a stewpot, and it’s going to have a different taste depending on where you go. Down south, there’ll be more cayenne. You go up north, there’ll be more nutmeg. It’s just going to be different.
BE: Obviously, there were more than two sounds, but particularly in the case of east coast and west coast punk, was there any semblance of a rivalry, or was it just a matter of bands circling each other and listening to what each other was doing?
HR: I think there wasn’t much rivalry just because the two coasts are so distant, so, thankfully, the LA band doesn’t go to New York and have the New York people show up to beat them up or something. It’s not like the Sharks versus the Jets in “West Side Story,” where they’re both going to meet in the middle and duke it out. I quite honestly don’t remember…and I could be very wrong, but I don’t remember any kind of rivalry. No one said to me, “You west coast guys…” I really don’t remember that. I just remember, “Here’s a bunch of bands,” and you were into it. But maybe that was just me, because I didn’t really care about the coasts. Like, there are those guys in Boston, they had that record, This is Boston, Not LA, and it was, like, “Ooooooh, okay!” I never really understood what that meant and why you needed to say that. And that became, like, a really famous compilation record. I have a copy. And all those bands on there, I played with all those bands. They’re all really good. But I didn’t understand the attitude. And there’s that really, really good record, No New York, that early No Wave compilation, and LA responded by doing a great EP – which, apparently, is finally back in print again – called Yes LA. And it was equally great. The Germs and all kinds of great bands are on there. It was kind of tongue in cheek, like, “We’ll say ‘yes’ to anything! We’re in California! Wooooooo!” (Laughs) And it’s that kind of thing, to me it’s, like, we’re not piranhas. We’re not Siamese fighting fish. Why are we being thrown into some ring like we’re supposed to rip each others’ throats out, like two dogs? We’re, like, “Who’s running this show? ‘Cause I don’t want to be that way!”
I think we get that a lot in this country, where multi-gajillionaires, people who really do shape world policy, they don’t listen to Rush Limbaugh. They don’t know who that is. They deal in billions of dollars. They’re bigger than US Steel. They’re bigger than the US Military. They supply the US Military. People like Boeing, who really do tell the president what to do. They don’t care about gay marriage. Like, the guy who runs Boeing…? “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” he doesn’t care. It’s all chess to him. He doesn’t read The New York Times. They’re in a different league. The point I’m making is, they give you and me – the ground dwellers, the plebes – same-sex marriage, “don’t ask, don’t tell,” and racism as these bits of scraps to fight over, to keep us distracted from a much bigger, more ghastly picture. And the closest we get is the notion of what Eisenhower called “the military industrial complex.” It sounds like I’m making some huge point, but what I’m saying is, in the music world, we were given, “Oh, you guys hate the west coast punk,” and we were, like, “No! Shut up! That’s some cop who wants you to hit each other so that he can arrest both of you for fighting! Stop it!” That’s why I was so anti-drug. My main anti-drug thing was, it makes you arrestable. Why do you want to play into the hands of these assholes, these people who want to beat the daylights out of you? Why are you making it easier for them? And why on your way back from the punk rock gig did you throw something through the window of that store? ‘Cause now that venue’s gone. You’ve just got that venue, you’ve lost that neighborhood, and you just lost access. You just gave yourself over to the tabloid media, who are going to run roughshod over you. Why did you take a gun and open fire on your foot? And so I saw those issues being thrown at punk rockers, like, “Oh, so I’m supposed to hate you because you’re skinheads?” And I never bought in. I was, like, “Oh, this is so stupid.”
I see it happen all the time, and it definitely happened in punk rock. By, like, ’84 and ’85, you’d go to New York and you’d have these skinhead punk rock guys with their American flags that are like Archie Bunker, but they’re going to CBGB’s in the afternoon for the matinee, and they’re, like, “America!” Huh? What…? Hey, I like America, too, but what is this Archie-Bunker-with-a-backbeat stuff? And all of those bands just really turned me off, and I think I’m pretty abrupt with that whole scene in that documentary. That scene bums me out, ‘cause they would come to our shows and wail on the gay people in the crowd. And I would see them on the street in the east Village, and they’re, like, “Yo, what’s up, pussy?” And I’m, like, “Ugh, really? Really? What are you, a thug? Is that what you are? Should I run from you? I am absolutely afraid, yeah, but…why is it coming to this? Why? Why do you not like me? ‘Cause of the music?” So I hated it when it all of these fake lines got drawn in the stand, and I blame people like Tim Yohannan and Maximum Rock ‘N’ Roll, where it was, like, “Oh, you sold out,” and they were on this witch hunt to purify. It’s, like, what, are you Pol Pot? And that’s why I always used to take those people to task…and I was hated for that. I didn’t cut my hair after 1983. It was just, like, “Screw all ya’ll.” “You’re a hippie!” “Sure. I’m a hippie. Me and your mom, we’re hippies. Fuck you, man.” And you’ll see photos where my hair is down to whatever, where it would literally just break off.
BE: Along those lines, one thing I was impressed with in the documentary was that you talked about Korn and Limp Bizkit, and although you didn’t actually say that you liked them yourself, you fully acknowledged that you could absolutely understand why teenagers would.
HR: Sure. That chord progression…? It totally works. Yeah, I mean, I’m not the anti-fan. I don’t know these people. I’ve hung out with Wes (Borland) before, he’s a wonderful guy. But when you hear it, you think, “Man, if I was 15, that might be my favorite band.” Same thing with Pantera. I respect it, because it wasn’t shabby musicianship by any stretch. I can’t say I know every song nor do I have any of their records. Phil (Anselmo) and I are pals. But when you hear it, to not understand why it works…? You just don’t understand music. Or to be an A&R guy and say, “Oh, I don’t hear it”? (Laughs) It’s, like, “Oh, really? You’re fired. Because someone’s going to make a lot of money selling this. As a commercial entity, this can’t fail.” And when I hear Limp Bizkit, I’m, like, “Oh, that is so going to work. With millions of people.” And, you know, record sales have proved me to be right about that. But on the same token, you hear Guns ‘N’ Roses, and you’re, like, “Oh, yeah, that’ll work,” and that’s a record I’ll buy. But when you hear “Welcome to the Jungle,” you’re, like, “How can this not work? It’s impossible!” Or a song like “Kashmir.” Are you kidding? Get ready to be very, very well paid, ‘cause here it comes! And there’s certain bands that made those records where you’re, like, “Oh, it’s a lock,” where it might not be my thing but I definitely see why it works.
BE: I’ve often wondered why there was such a dividing line between Guns ‘N’ Roses and Nirvana.
HR: Well, I can’t…I have no understanding as to why that would be. I never would think of those two bands as being exactly opposite or of their bands’ fans meeting each other in the parking lot for the big throwdown or whatever. They’re both hugely successful bands that wrote derivative and very well done music. I mean, they’re both kind of rock, you kind of hear their influences, and they’re both quite good. I saw both bands play, and I thought they were both pretty great.
BE: Watching the documentary, I couldn’t help remembering the bit in “Get in the Van” where you wrote about touring overseas with The Damned and The Anti-Nowhere League. That’s probably my favorite part of your book.
HR: Yeah, that was one of those…those kind of tours are kind of tough. I had no idea what we were in for. A lot of the bands who…I had their records, and they were, like, mean to us because we were from America. We were like auschlanders. And, you know, you have the Chelsea guy going, “Oh, what’s up, America? Hey, Los Angeles!” I’m, like, “Wait a minute, I took over an hour of my minimum-wage pay to buy your 7” on Rough Trade! I wanted to meet you…and you’re burning me? Telling your fans to beat me up?” I mean, they went onstage and they’d go, “There’s this band playing tonight, Black Flag. I want you to beat them up.” And, immediately, me and Ian MacKaye – from Fugazi, who was actually on that Black Flag tour – we walked out into the crowd and said, “We’re from Black Flag, we’re from America, does anybody want a piece of this?” And, of course, everyone wisely said “no,” because I was ready to kill. And that was kind of unfair, to thrash some poor guy in the crowd, but we immediately ran into the crowd, going, like, “The beatdown…? Let’s start it right now. Right here, right now. Who wants to go?” And I’m not exaggerating. We were, like, literally walking around with our hands out, going, “First up? Anyone here…?” And everyone kind of went, “Ah, piss off…” (Laughs) “Come on, man, we’re here to see a show. We’re not this guy.” And to this day, that singer…he owes me an ear. And I had a chance in ’84 to take that ear off his head. He drunkenly wandered backstage at a Black Flag show…and I think that’s in the book, too. Bill (Stevenson) says, “Oh, isn’t that the guy you were supposed to kill?” The guy’s, like, “No, don’t kill me!” (Laughs) He was almost in tears! It was so funny. Bill’s, like, “Oh, I think you’d better kill him now, ‘cause we’ve got to go play soon, and you can’t kill him afterwards. You’ll be too tired.” And he’s going, “Please don’t hurt me!” It was too funny! We just kind of let him cook there for awhile, and then I said, “Ah, get the fuck out of here…” (Laughs) But, yeah, he definitely owes me an ear.
BE: I know you had the opportunity with Infinite Zero to reissue some seminal albums. Obviously, you liked them all if you took the time to reissue them, but do you have some particular favorites that you’re glad to have gotten out there again?
HR: Well, justice was served. We got to put Alan Vega, from the band Suicide, the great vocalist who…most of his solo work, he couldn’t get it released in America. And I told him, I said, “Alan, I want to change that. I want to get all of your work out in America, ‘cause I think you’re the real deal and an American artist.” And he said, “Oh, thanks, kid!” He’s, like, the nicest guy ever. And we did that. We achieved that. And to get James White and the Blacks, the Contortionists stuff, back in print without paying too much money for the record…? Now, the objective of the label was to bring you, the punter, a bunch of cool music at a reasonable price, stuff you’d be paying through the nose at collector-boy prices for otherwise. And then with the advent of eBay, all of that stuff skyrocketed. And even those Infinite Zero $8.00 CDs now go for money! But that was the attempt: to make cool and esoteric music, some of it out of print, available, well-mastered, and approachable. So we had really cool people do the liner notes. Like, “Hey, you’re from Soundgarden. You like Devo? You want to write some liner notes?” “Hey, let’s get Paige Hamilton to write liner notes for Gang of Four! Let’s make this super-cool!” So that was the attempt, and those records are so gratifying, to put out Trouble Funk and all those great Devo records. And it wasn’t even my money! It was so great not to have to split the finances. Because usually it’s all my money, and it makes you lose sleep. But this was Warner Brothers’ money. So instead of Madonna buying another houseboat, which she deserves, Warner Brothers gave me and Rick Rubin a little bit of money. For them, it was a crumb from the corner of the mouth of the great beast. For us, it was a ton of dough to do the right thing with.
BE: Talking about liner notes, you’ve actually written some for a few other folks, like The Adverts’ Cast of Thousands.
HR: Yeah, I write liner notes for anyone who asks me to if I like the record. And I always charge the same price: free. I’ve never been paid for liner notes, and I do them for everything from Shepard Fairey’s books to albums to reissues to blurbs to whatever. I mean, y’know, I do it because I’m a fan. I’m a kook for the stuff. And I enjoy it. So I do it. It’s a labor of love. And, yeah, I’m a huge Adverts fan, and when T.V. Smith, the singer, said, “Would you do the liner notes for the reissue of Cast of Thousands,” I’m, like, “Shit, man, I’m honored. And terrified.” But, you know, I did the best I could. When Iggy asked me to write liner notes for the Raw Power reissue last year, that was tremble-in-your-boots time, but I did it. He approved it. He liked it. I sent it to the Sony guy, ‘cause Iggy doesn’t do the internet, and I e-mailed them and said, “Hey, get back to me if this is okay with him.” And he wrote me and said, “Hey, I’m at the airport in Miami, about to go over to Iggy’s house, but I approved the liner notes. They’re amazing.” I said, “Well, has Iggy seen them?” He said, “Well, no, but they’re good.” I said, “No, no, no, no, no, no. They’re not approved until he sees them.” Because I don’t want to inspire that guy’s anger. I said, “Pal, if you print them before Iggy approves them…? No, no, no, no, no.” And he said, “Okay.” So he showed them to Iggy, and Iggy said, “Yeah, they’re cool.” And I said, “Now we’re done.” ‘Cause he’s the man. You don’t go over or around Iggy Pop on anything. But most of the time I send them right back to the artist, and they’re, like, “Yay, thanks!” “Cool. No problem.”
BE: Did you ever hear from any artists whose records you spun on “Harmony in My Head” (Rollins’ former radio show) who were just thrilled to death that you were giving them some love after the fact?
HR: Oh, yes! Absolutely! And that’s…well, you know, I still have a radio show. I’m on KCRW now.
BE: Right, sure.
HR: The best thing I get through the internet is, “Hey, we’re a band on tour, we’ve had people coming to our shows on this tour saying that they showed up because they heard us on your show, that they’d never heard us before, but you played our music, and that’s why they bought a ticket,” and it’s some microscopic band living in a band. And the fact that our show helped…? I can’t tell you how cool that is to me. That is just…that’s one of the big reasons I have a radio show: to get that small band over the wall. ‘Cause no one did that for me, so I like the idea of, “Well, I’ll do it for someone else.” So that is very gratifying. And the other gratifying thing I get is, “Hey, Henry, you turned me on to jazz.” Like, “I’m now the proud owner of five John Coltrane albums because of you.” That is so cool. To turn a young person onto jazz…to me, that was one of the greatest things ever, that turn-on to jazz music, because I’ll be listening to that music ‘til I die.
BE: In the documentary, there’s a lot of talk about how punk from the ‘80s, a.k.a. the so-called “pre-Nirvana era,” isn’t covered as much in the history books. Do you think that’s changed since that film came out? Are there any books that you’d recommend?
HR: Yeah, I think what you have now are a lot of people like me, who are now in their 50s and are kind of cul-de-sac’ing their lives and coming around. They’re taking stock and they’re making documentaries and writing books. They’re summing it all up, I guess, as they go running into senility…like me. And they’re seeking to kind of compartmentalize it or sum up the parts and say, “Okay, here’s what it was.” And when that gets addressed, then you actually get more reportage from…well, like that great book Please Kill Me, which I’m sure you’ve heard the title of. Legs (McNeil) and Gillian (McCain) did a really great job with that book, giving you the early No Wave days, all your Alan Vegas and all that, going into your New York Dolls. ‘Cause all that music is gospel to me, and to hear it from their mouths, to hear that oral history of it, people who were actually there, like Arto Lindsay and James White, etcetera, etcetera…that, to me, is pure gold. Because when these people die, you lose that cranial treasure chest, and it’s something that a writer can’t really achieve. You can’t really get it like you can from the horse’s mouth. So I think more and more you’re going to get these books and these great articles in, like, Mojo, with these great musical writers really getting into the minutiae. And, thankfully, a lot of record labels, like Hyped to Death, a great little record label that only puts out…like, those ridiculously rare singles, they’ll make a compilation CD of 20 of those that you’ll never hold in your life. They’re that rare. You’ll never see a real one. You’ll only see a .jpg of them…unless you come to my house. Because you have to be old to have bought those singles. (Laughs) So, you know, there are all these labels who are kind of taking a Library of Congress view of all of this stuff, where they’re putting it out there or even just making it available for free download, so that you, the punter, can kind of hear what all these craggy old men are talking about.
BE: How did you come to appear on a live version of “We Are 138” by the Misfits?
HR: Oh, we were playing a big building in San Francisco one night. The upper floor is the On Broadway, which is a venue, and the bottom floor is the Mabuhay Gardens, both very famous venues. Black Flag was playing the little room and the Misfits were playing the big room, and I’m backstage in the freezing Mabuhay Gardens, trying to take a nap before the show, ‘cause we had driven up eight hours for the gig, and what sounds like some band covering Misfits songs is coming from the floorboards above my head. And after the third Misfits song, I said, “Okay, this cover band sounds like the Misfits. They’ve got these songs pretty dialed in.” So I ran up the fire escape to the back entrance of the On Broadway and walked in, and I’m, like, “Holy fuck, it’s the Misfits soundchecking!” And this back in the day when they would only play on Halloween, and the only person I ever knew who ever saw the Misfits was H.R. of the Bad Brains. They were one of those mysterious bands where we all had the records but none of us had ever seen them…and all of a sudden I’m looking at Glenn Danzig. I’m, like, “Whoa…” I’d had those records since, like, 11th grade. And they said, “Hey, Black Flag!” And I go, “Uh, hey, Misfits…” And, you know, hands were shook…and these are very big, strong men. And I said, “What the fuck? You’re playing? You’re touring?” And they said, “Yeah!” I said, “You didn’t used to do that!” They said, “Yeah, we’re kind of getting out on the road.” I went, “Well, damn!” He said, “You’re playing tonight?” I said, “Yeah!” He said, “We’ll come down and see you play!” I said, “I’ll come up and see you play!” And, thankfully, the venues knew they’d have crossover, so they booked the two gigs far enough apart where you could go see both. And so at point Jerry Only says…they’re soundchecking, and he’s, like, “What song do you want to hear?” And I said, “Oh, man, I can pick a song…? Uh, ‘Bullet.’” And they go into “Bullet,” and I’m, like, “Holy fuck, man! Can it get any better?” And so I watched soundcheck, and then watched the show. They went on before us. And then Glenn just sort of looked at me and said, “Hey, get up here!” So I get up on stage, and he’s, like, “Hey, it’s Henry from Black Flag!” And he went into “We Are 138,” which, y’know, doesn’t really have lyrics. So I just yelled. (Laughs) And I didn’t know they were recording it that night, but I ended up being immortalized on a Misfits record. But that was the first time I ever met or saw them play. November 1981, I believe.
BE: So I’m curious: when you guys turned up on the “Repo Man” soundtrack with “TV Party,” did you see any sort of upturn in your own record sales as a result?
HR: I have no idea. I mean, that would be a question for Greg Ginn and Chuck Dukowski, in that it was their label. Good question! You would think, ‘cause that was kind of the song that Black Flag was known for, ‘cause it was kind of a single. I don’t know. I have no idea what the saturation of that soundtrack or that movie ever was.
BE: Did you have people coming up and saying, “Hey, man, I heard you guys on the ‘Repo Man’ soundtrack”?
HR: Oh, yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. But it’s not like all of a sudden we were playing stadiums. I mean, my pay raise never came, so... (Laughs) …no Ferrari! I’m sure that soundtrack definitely helped bring some people to the music. I just can’t tell you as far as numbers any kind of uptick.
BE: And I don’t think I’ve ever actually asked you what you think about Wartime in retrospect, and how that record holds up for you.
HR: I thought it was kind of cool. You know, it was just this idea that me and Andrew (Weiss) came up with on a Black Flag tour, actually, and then a year later I said, “Well, why don’t we go in the studio and kind of actualize the idea?” And he said, “Let’s do it! Industrial go-go!” And we did it. And I gave the tape to some people, and my friend Kate over at Chrysalis heard it, and she said, “We’ll sign that!” And we went, “Really…?” Because we just did the demo and thought, “Well, we did it. We’re done.” And it came out, and we’re, like, “Well, all right…” And…I don’t think it made any money, and the small advance, we used it all up recording it. But we got some free lunches at Chrysalis, and I got some free Robin Trower CDs, so I feel like I came out ahead on that deal. I haven’t heard that record for at least 180 years… (Laughs) …but, yeah, I thought it was cool.
BE: Johnny Rotten had an “I Hate Pink Floyd” t-shirt. You recorded songs from Dark Side of the Moon with the Flaming Lips. I no longer have any idea which is the more “punk” move.
HR: Well, here’s the “punk” move. I had never heard the record before. I’m not a Pink Floyd fan. It really doesn’t…no disrespect intended, but it doesn’t do it for me. I was in my buddy’s studio, editing a talking record, just down the street from where I’m standing, and the Lips called and said, “Hey, we want Henry to do this. Would he be interested?” I said, “Yeah, I’ll try that out. I’ll try anything.” And so I said to the studio guy, “I need to procure a copy of Dark Side of the Moon, because I need to do these voice parts.” And he said, “You don’t know that record?” I went, “Uh, no.” He said, “Well, I have a copy.” Like, “Of course, I am a living person, therefore I must have Dark Side of the Moon.” I’m, like, the only person who doesn’t have one, I guess. So we found the part that the Lips wanted me to do the voiceover, all the laughter and spoken parts, and I did, like, three or four takes of each thing, just so they had options. And we made an MP3 file of it all and sent it to this studio they were working at. And I wrote the bass player, Cliff, and I said, “Hey, Cliff, here’s the stuff, let me know if it came through and if it’s working.” And, like, half an hour later, Cliff wrote back. I had my laptop on in the studio, ‘cause we went back to editing, waiting to hear from those guys, and they said, “Not only did it work, but we have flown to the mix.” I mean, it all worked, they’re on the record, it’s done. Thanks!” I went, “Damn! That was fast!” He said, “Yeah, it just worked out! We just Pro-Tool-ed it right into the thing, and we were done!” So that’s how I came to be on a Flaming Lips record. I’ve never heard it.
BE: It’s good. I downloaded it when it first came out.
HR: Oh, cool! Yeah, people…my road manager is a Floyd fan and a Lips fan – I’m a Lips fan – and he said, “It’s awesome! Their interpretation of that music is fascinating, the production is ridiculous, it’s so cool.” And he said, “You come off in it. It’s great!” I got interesting letters about that. People were, like, “Dude, the Lips are my favorite band! It’s so cool to see you on that record!” And other people were saying, like, “What are you doing? Why would you do that?” And I go, “Why not? It was fun!” And now the Flaming Lips are my buddies. I’ve seen them play live and I’ve got…not all of their records, but I’ve got most of them. I play them on my show. They’re cool people. And really fun to see live.
BE: Okay, I know your next interview is getting ready to call you, so I’ll just wrap with this one, which is mostly just to pacify a friend of mine. He wanted me to ask you this question in these exact words:
“Jack Frost.” What the fuck, Hank?
HR: Oh. Well, first off, my name is Henry.
BE: I understand.
HR: Second off, I work for a living. Is your friend employed?
BE: He is, yes.
HR: Oh, good! Then he likes to be employed, too!
BE: He does.
HR: Yeah, I work for a living, so when the movies say, “Hey, you wanna be a crazy hockey coach for a bunch of psychotic eight-year-olds in a movie on the Warner Brothers lot for a nice chunk of change,” and a guy who created some really funny television shows (Troy Miller), he helped create “Mr. Show,” is directing, you say, “Yeah.” Or I said, “Yeah,” anyway. So that’s why the fuck.
BE: (Laughs) That works for me.
HR: And, you know, we can have more fun with it. I can take the large amount of money I was given for that, we can put it on the table, and he can try and take it from me, and we’ll see how that goes for him. (Laughs) For me, I hit all this stuff like some gangsta rapper guy, you know? Want some, get some. It’s work for me, and I’m going to go take it. I’m going to step up to it. I come from the minimum wage working world. I’m not an artist. I have no art in me. I work for a living, so when opportunity knocks, what, you think I like starving? I’ve been there, done that, and it sucks. So I take the work. I went from making food into parking cars and cleaning shit, whatever, and then into music, where I really started starving. But I say “yes” to work. And all this stuff, it’s a blast. These films I’m in, none of them are going to be regarded as “The Godfather II,” but, thankfully, I’m not Marlon Brando, so I’m not seated with that burden.
BE: There you go.
HR: There you go.
BE: All right, Henry, I’ll let you get to your next one. Good talking to you…again! (Laughs)HR: You, too, Will. And just in case you’ve got anything else, I’ll go ahead and call back in 20 minutes, okay? (Laughs)