Henry Rollins: The Interview! Anger, Drugs and the Black Flag Reunion
Henry Rollins began writing his L.A. Weekly column in early 2011, and it quickly grew to be one of the paper's biggest draws. The column succeeds for many reasons -- readers' innate fascination with his time with hardcore punk heroes Black Flag, the fervency of Rollins' unflinching advocacy for his moral and political views, and the humor in his fish-out-of-water experiences, from snake hunting with Pentecostals in Kentucky to seeking out underground music in Vietnam to being laid out on the colonoscopy table. But perhaps its greatest appeal is that it feels real. Henry's not kissing anybody's ass. In fact, he sometimes seems to go out of his way to piss off his enemies. But with honesty comes trust, and his readers believe each word.
Credit: Timothy Norris
See Also: Henry Rollins: Why I Write
I've edited Henry for two years, and for the publication of his new book, Before the Chop: L.A. Weekly Articles 2011-2012, just released on his 2.13.61 imprint, I interviewed him at his bunkerlike North Hollywood house, which is decorated with framed punk-rock posters and other rare music ephemera. Just back from the D.C. area, where he was shooting a documentary series concerning the history of American government (one of many subjects about which he is an unlikely enthusiast), Rollins spoke from his living room area, above a massive, carefully archived music repository, and below his personal gym.
Although he says anger drives everything he does, he has a knack for putting people at ease, and clearly loves to field questions. We spoke on everything from his relationship with his father to how he got into weight lifting, as well as his thoughts on a recent Black Flag reunion tour, to which he was invited but chose not to participate.
When you arrived to L.A from Washington, D.C., in 1981, could you have predicted you'd stay this long?
No. I arrived here in L.A. when I was 20.5 years old and I quit a shitty minimum-wage job -- which was about $3.75 an hour -- to get into Black Flag. The band wasn't big, but they were a bitchin' band, and I liked their music. So I packed my life into a duffle bag: four pairs of underwear that I still had from the ninth grade, a couple of shirts, and whatever else I could carry. I gave away most of my stuff and took a Greyhound bus from Washington, D.C., to Detroit to meet the band. I ended up joining them and came out to L.A. and became completely broke. Black Flag was one of those bands that had trouble making ends meet and paying rent.
I've been to California a few times before, but nothing prepares you for a life in L.A., especially Hollywood. There was a lot of violence with police around that time. Daryl Gates, the police chief, was especially heavy-handed, and had a personal dislike of Black Flag. On Rodney [Bingenheimer]'s show on KROQ, we literally called out Daryl Gates by name. We were picking a fight with the police and we got it. We got really vilified because of that, and the police ended up winning.
Had you tried drugs and alcohol back then? You've long had a reputation as straight-edge.
I drank a few times during high school [and a few other times] and didn't like it. I did have three shots [of corn whiskey] at a distillery a few weeks ago, but it was for a show I'm doing on Prohibition. They asked me if I wanted to take some shots, which were 150 proof, and I said, "Yeah, let's do it." I literally went weak in the knees, because I have no tolerance, and was a little buzzed for about 40 minutes.
I did try marijuana once in May 1987, but it was awful! Mainly because I got really stoned, just off two hits. The whole time I felt like everyone was looking at me. I also tried LSD several times, at least three to six times in 1983 and '84. It was fascinating and terrifying. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone. I also tried mushrooms a few times, and really enjoyed it because you just laugh your ass off and then it just goes away after a while. There really are no aftereffects that I can discern.
I've never really been interested in drugs, but I'm not straight-edge. I just don't have those rules of "not doing it." Anyways, I always wanted to get somewhere, and knowing I was low on talent, I knew I had to rely on my strongest characteristics, which are tenacity and discipline.