By Allison Babka
By Bob McMahon
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By Dew Ailes
"All journalists and critics are ants at the picnic," Henry Rollins declares from the offices of his vanity publishing company, 2.13.61 Publications. "I'm not curious to see what you write about me, not curious about any review about anything I do. I don't care. I would be loath to read anything about me by someone who wasn't there. I'm not gonna see it their particular way -- me, having been there."
For a guy who makes his living from just talking -- rambling on about everything from Baywatch to the death camps at Auschwitz to how world peace might best be realized if political leaders would only give each other an occasional hand job -- Rollins sounds downright irritated. Can it be that ol' motormouth really hates being interviewed?
"I like communication, and I like the idea of the interview," Rollins says, "but I don't enjoy being taken out of context. Usually people are cool with me, 'cause I think you get what you give. I'll gladly answer any question as best I can. I'm always respectful and try to give good clear answers -- and basically write your article for you. I do every interview that's put in front of me. I'm doing five hours of phone press today."
Hooray for Henrywood! To promote his spoken-word tour, the musclebound raconteur has condescended to waste his afternoon with more than a dozen prescheduled picnic-crashers. "This is your last chance to indict or trip me up," he adds.
No stranger to venting his personal unease on the world, Rollins shows no signs of slowing down at this point in his life. The mouthpiece for pioneering hardcore outfit Black Flag (actually its fourth and final frontman) and founder of the decade-old Rollins Band, the industrious 41-year-old singer/writer/publisher/actor has sat confidently behind the wheel of his own company truck since 1986 -- the year he launched a successful solo career as a spoken-word artist. Since then, Rollins has parlayed his menacing presence as a typecast heavy in films both notable (1996's Lost Highway) and decidedly stinky (1998's Jack Frost). When Nikki Sixx of Mötley Crüe passed up the chance to make a cameo in last fall's box-office hit Jackass: The Movie, Rollins filled in by recklessly driving a Hummer on a motocross track while stuntman Steve-O bounced around in the backseat, getting a messy tattoo of a smiley face jabbed into his deltoid. In a similarly themed spectacle, Rollins co-hosts the Learning Channel's Full Metal Challenge, a program that pits 27 different homemade high-endurance vehicles against one another in rugged terrain.
There's also plenty of commercial voice-over work, which keeps the tattooed colossus busy year-round: Rollins mouths car commercials, spots for Life cereal and even "an on-camera thing" for the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. "I've always been against drugs," Rollins says. "That's how you destroy yourself: You take drugs." (He debunks the popular notion that he's an overcaffeinated coffee achiever: "A cup a day -- that's about all I've ever drunk.")
One of the founding fathers of America's hardcore-punk movement, Rollins today poses more than a contradiction for rabid fans from days of yore -- days when news of a warehouse show was spread by word of mouth or even by spray-painted graffiti on a highway overpass. Now you're more likely to see Henroid making a guest appearance on the Drew Carey Show (joining the "TV Party" cabal that he once mocked so effectively) than rattling the cage of a world that he can't stand. But work is work, and Rollins has certainly paid his dues.
Exuding hypermacho excess and something he calls "the courage to allow myself to be stuffed and mounted," Hank certainly knows the value of a good zinger. "If you've ever seen the first seven minutes of the Dennis Miller show, where he just goes off -- that's what I do," Rollins says of his current standup routine, part of an international tour slated to occupy at least nine months of 2003. "It's everything from the last movie I was in to the thing that happened to me in traffic the other day to my theory that Donald Rumsfeld is the new Henny Youngman.
"[Rumsfeld] has these great one-liners," he continues. "I've never seen anybody at a press conference be so blunt and just shut reporters down. He just blows them away with the shit he says. 'How can you justify having all those prisoners in Guantanamo Bay behind chain-link fences and in prison?' And [Rumsfeld] says, 'What? They're in shorts on a sandy island in the summer. I wish I could be so lucky. Next question.' I can't believe the shit he's saying! He needs a rimshot man. The guy's thoroughly lethal, but I just get some kind of weird twisted laugh from listening to the guy talk."
Less of a joking matter, perhaps, is the way that Rollins -- before his current incarnation as a paid social commentator -- cut off contact from his divorced parents and reinvented himself as a punk legend. After a hardass upbringing at the all-boys Bullis Academy for problem kids, the former Henry Garfield discovered rigorous self-discipline on military time. "I got a lot from it [Bullis]," Rollins says. "I hated it when I was there, but I got a really good education and the ability to apply myself to something."