By Christian Schaeffer
By Gabriel San Roman
By Chaz Kangas
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By Mabel Suen
"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."
After a stint in a band called S.O.A., Rollins, the one-time manager of a Häagen-Dazs in Georgetown, Virginia, caught his break in 1981 when Black Flag's third singer, Dez Cadena, handed him the mic to sing "Clocked In" at a packed show in New York. Soon thereafter, Rollins replaced Cadena and, along with guitarist Greg Ginn, bassist Chuck Dukowski and one of several rotating drummers, put So-Cal on the map as ground zero for the American hardcore-punk scene.
Rollins's tour diary, Get in the Van, chronicles the era in blunt, graphic language ("I bit a skinhead on the mouth and he started to bleed real bad," reads a typical passage) and set the course for the cocksure singer's literary pursuits: writing brutal prose in the name of destroying the system, making sense of it or at least satirizing it somehow.
"I've always been fairly cynical in what I think the American impact on the American way really is," Rollins says. "You got a bunch of kids running around, throwing rocks at cops in D.C., protesting the World Trade Organization. Cops just beat the shit out of these kids: 'Done. Over with. Next. It coulda been Beijing, but we're showing restraint today, so go the fuck back home to Cape Cod, bitch.' This one guy wrote me the other day, 'I think there should be a revolution in America.' And I said, 'No, pal. You're never gonna get a revolution, 'cause if you think you're gonna stand up to the National Guard, local law enforcement -- now that every police agency in the country is paramilitarily trained since the Watts riots -- what are you gonna do? '
"I've hung out with cops," Rollins says, growing more animated. "I've hung out with the elite sniper guys. I've hung out with SWAT guys. It's unbelievable how lethal these people are. It's not like it is on TV. These are very bad people to mess with. They want to kill you. They want to kill somebody. That's why they signed up for the job.
"I can't believe anyone tries to perpetrate crime. If they knew what I know about these people, they might want to find a different job than, you know, carjacking or whatever. I've always thought that there's good cops and bad cops, and I'm on the side of the good ones. And the bad ones -- they do more harm than they might understand. It's so thoroughly destabilizing to have an authority figure break the rules.
"When the cop fucks you, who do you call?" Rollins continues. "And to live in this country and have that kind of fear -- fear of cops -- well, we always talk about how emancipated we are, and we always put down Stalin and his evil regime. How different is it when you fear the authority figures? When you're innocent? That's my problem with bad cops.
"We don't really have a voice," he says. "From what I have always been led to understand, your vote is nothing but something to be taken into consideration. There's, like, the electorate vote, and there's the popular vote. But it doesn't really matter. And I hate to have that kind of dissipated apathy in the face of all that, but I can't help but think it's true sometimes. I didn't lose much sleep over the whole thing in Florida," Rollins says. "I just had fun doing impersonations of Floridians trying to count."
Guarded playfulness in the age of hanging chad, terrorism and imminent war seems like welcome comic relief. For Rollins, it's just another day on the soapbox, raging until he's hoarse. With his "tumultuous teens, turbulent twenties and therapeutic thirties" out of the way (that's how Rollins sums up three decades of his life on his official Web site, www.henryrollins.com), what can Mr. Angry look forward to in his forties?
"Probably a receding hairline, increased bitterness and bile and a layer of ass fat I'll be unable to get rid of," Rollins says. "Yeah, that'll be me. Just kind of Volvo-drivin', lookin' like Alan Alda, wearing those kind of have-no-sexual-ambition kind of pants that you can buy at Banana Republic. I can get laid, but of course I'll have to go to the ATM."
Does Rollins ever think that he takes himself too seriously? "Not at all," he replies. "I take work seriously, but not me."
Does Rollins ever, in the dead of night, wonder whether he's sold out? "No," he says. "I don't think I've sold out."
And now the burning question: How much can he bench-press? "For the true measure of real strength," he says, "you never ask a guy what he benches. If you want to call him out, ask him what he deadlifts or what he squats -- that's the real strength exercise. That's where you shit your pants and scream.
"A few years ago, I deadlifted about 515 [pounds] off the floor," he adds. "I could've done more but backed off -- don't need to shit my intestines."
"I just do an occasional pushup now and then," I say with a chuckle.
"Well, I know -- you act like it," Rollins snaps. "But when you get in touch with strong mind, strong body, you might see things differently. Who knows? You might get laid."