Henry Rollins 88 298.
(photo credit: Courtesy photo)
One of American counter-culture's most prominent and prolific voices, the writer, musician and occasional actor Henry Rollins is also a Grammy winner who's undoubtedly penetrated the mainstream consciousness. In the early Eighties, a then-20-something Rollins wrote a fan letter to the seminal hard core punk band Black Flag, and after a period of corresponding with the group ended up serving as the band's lead singer until its 1986 breakup. The front man and principal creative force for the popular Rollins Band, Rollins is also the driving force behind the 2.13.61 prose and poetry publishing house and has earned a devoted following as a funny and topical spoken word artist.
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In addition to his ongoing work on these projects, he's now hosting his own show on America's Independent Film Channel and the Harmony in My Head radio program on a Los Angeles-based alternative radio station. Despite his vehemently anti-Bush politics, the Washington, D.C.-born Rollins has embarked on seven USO-sponsored tours, entertaining US soldiers all over the world. Following visits to Teheran, Djibouti and Dubai, Rollins landed in Tel Aviv earlier this week for three gigs in Israel, which kick off with a Thursday show at Jerusalem's Gerard Behar Center and include Friday and Saturday shows at Ramat Aviv's Eretz Yisrael Museum.
What's your work life like and how do you prioritize your projects?
I don't tell people what they should do, but for me, I think I should be working all the time. I work through weekends, I work on airplanes and I work on the road. That's what I do - I just try to meet deadlines.
Maybe I'm just a grim workaholic - that's what the girls in my office say. They say I'm cowardly, and [that] if I were a real guy, I'd go out, get a girlfriend, and sit in one place and have to deal with that. They say I'm deferring adulthood ...
[But] I go with my interests, hoping that my enthusiasm will carry me through, because it's not going to be my talent - I'm not really good at anything.
Most of the projects come from me. I have a low threshold of tolerance for when I'm pitched [proposals], so I try to generate my own fun. Last week I was in Iran. I just got my visa and went. I went out there and tripped on it - checked it out, saw the sights, met a lot of wonderful people, went to people's houses at night. In America, on the news, you don't get to hear from Iranian people. All you get is, "Ahmadinejad denies the Holocaust and we gotta kill him before he kills us."
The people I met there said, "We're scared of your president, but we don't hate America, we don't hate Jewish people."
Your muscles are a big part of your public persona. Who in the entertainment world has a thicker neck than you?
I'll be 46 in a few weeks, and I think at this point you could say that my body is in decline, kind of gracefully moving towards death. That's just another reason why I keep limber and work out. My neck is no longer very thick. I don't work out like that any more. I look kind of like a guy who tries to keep fit and watches his dessert intake rather than the dude who works out all the time ...
So who has a bigger neck? [Notoriously skinny musician] PJ Harvey. Anybody. I don't know.
Isn't this talk about fitness and nutrition very un-punk?
I don't know, man. Why do I have to be responsible for a label I didn't come up with?
What are you working on here besides the spoken word shows?
The show Friday night here is going to be filmed for a TV special that will be the start of my season on the show. [The show's mildly suggestive tentative title is "Uncut from Tel Aviv."]
Last year the season kicked off with me live in New York. This year it's live in Tel Aviv. And I think we'll be shooting some stuff on Sunday of me just walking around here and there, just to get my carcass out of the venue and into Tel Aviv.
Being a pop star doesn't always mean people are ready to hear your political beliefs. How do you get away with it when others don't?
I don't think I preach, and I don't think anyone sees me as a pop person or as a celebrity. A lot of times I find myself tuning out when Susan Sarandon or Barbra Streisand get up, because they usually do this stuff at the most inopportune times, like at awards ceremonies.
I've been to Iraq and to Kuwait and Kurdistan. I saw it with my own eyes, but it's not for me to be a pundit up there. So I can bring that to the stage, which is not me just reading a bunch of books and going, "Okay, here's what I've gleamed from cursory glances at periodicals."
What about your perspective makes your spoken word act compelling? Does it resonate with Israelis, who share limited common cultural baggage with you?
I've always thought of myself as a low-rent guy, and I try to remain vigorous and at a more believable level. I don't know what that means to Israelis, but I think that remaining earnest and without affectation keeps me clear-eyed, because it's very easy to lose the plot when one is being pleasured or surrounded by people going, "You're the man." I don't think anything I say has much layering to it. I try and deliver like Hemingway used to - declarative sentences that just say it. I don't really have the intellect for subtext, and I don't want to be oblique.
You've become a champion of human rights issues. How does that role interact with a visit to Israel?
I love Israel. I've been here before. I had an amazing time. In America, we're very closely aligned with Israel, and I think it's probably mutual. Both countries have great affection for one another. We're buddies, you guys and us guys.
I feel no fear of walking around in Tel Aviv. I'm not making a statement, nor am I taking a risk - I'm not trying to be anything. I'm treating these gigs coming up like I'm anywhere on stage with a microphone ... Every year I ask my agent, "Hey man, can I get back to Israel?"
I'm one of those people who will fly anywhere and have been glad to have done it. I would've been happier if Israel were just part of my normal tour, like Chicago is and London and Sydney.
Having been here and experienced the people here in Israel and loving it, it personally grieves me to see all this pain. Too bad that we're not at a point where this can be settled, but I think some day we will be. It's just too bad that kids are fighting their grandfathers' wars every year.