Q&A: Henry Rollins Talks With Ex-MTV-VJ Iann Robinson About Why Black Flag Won't Reunite and Why He'd Rather Be 49 Than 20
Musician/actor/talker/personality Henry Rollins has been in touch Iann Robinson for years, long before Robinson's days as the MTV VJ Horatio Sanz once spoofed on Saturday Night Live. Since Henry Rollins headlines Irving Plaza tonight and tomorrow, we asked Robinson to get his old acquaintance on the phone. This is what happened.
"When I see these bands reunite and play that same set every night for the 30th year--I guess it's a paid check. I'd rather starve, personally."
My first encounter with Henry Rollins came via a letter. I have always been a Black Flag fan--their logo is permanently inked into my skin in two separate places--but it was Rollins's voice on Damaged that hooked me. One day I decided to write the man, figuring I'd never hear back. Instead Rollins wrote back not just a letter, but a fairly lengthy one.
During my MTV years as a VJ, I got to speak to Rollins on two separate occasions. One of my only fond memories from that era was when Henry called me to ask if I could do a quick blurb about his benefit record for the West Memphis Three--instead I got him an MTV web site feature and a full interview. After my career as music whore ended, only a handful of my celebrity "friends" remained in touch, but Rollins was one of them. He's offered me advice, read my comic books, and given me some solid writing pointers.
Don't get me wrong, we're not best buddies. But Rollins has always been very cool and very appreciative of my small attempts to help out. Not everybody likes Rollins, which is fine because not everybody likes me. Regardless, he is always outspoken, funny, and, most importantly, he looks ahead instead of wallowing in his past. Once again, I had the good fortune to interview the man. And once again, I learned some things.
You tour constantly, you do lots of spoken word talks all year. You have pretty much mapped out the rest of this year. Does it still surprise you that people come out and listen? Like do you ever walk out on stage and go, "Well they're here. I wasn't sure, but there they are."
Yes. It surprises me that sometimes the crowds get bigger. The biggest show I've ever done was yesterday in London. I sold out the Royal Festival Hall to 2500 hundred people.
Yeah, I felt like Freddie Mercury for a minute--um yeah, that's a hell of a thing, no openers just me. I'm 49 and the audiences are in many places growing, where it goes into the second night, the third night. And I'm just grateful. Because without gratitude, you suck--you know what I mean? What good are you if you're not thankful?
So it's completely surprising to me, and it's a little terrifying, in that I feel a real duty to this audience. I can't overemphasize that. Like if I do a bad show I must lose a finger.
You're performing at some festivals. Are you doing spoken word there or music?
No, no. I got no band right now, no band members, no band plans, so it's all me, just me on my own, the whole year, just talking.
I'm sure you've covered this before, but just for me, what made you decide that you were kind of done with music for now?
The necessity of doing old music music on tour. I went out in 2006 and played old music with my old bandmates [in Rollins Band], and while I love them dearly, you remember why you broke up with that girl when you go out to dinner with her a month later. "Oh yeah, I remember why we broke up. I really want to get out of here."
When bands break up and you get back together, by the second show, all we remembered was why we broke up. The shows were fine, we didn't talk much between shows. It was not acrimonious; we just kind of came to the end of it. It was our guitar player's idea to reunite, and we all kind of went, "Okay!"And so we did six weeks opening for X. Pretty fun, we played very well, and I was very happy when it was over. I said "Okay, that's it. No more old material."
And then in '07, I saw Van Halen play. I had a night off, we called David Lee Roth and said, "Hey, can we come see the show?" I've known David Lee for many years, and we went, and Dave gave us great seats. And the band was awesome. But it was men in their 50s playing music they wrote in their 20s. It's something John Coltrane would never do.
I take my cues from the jazz guys--and from Ian MacKaye. You notice if the drummer quits in Ian's band, he just makes a new band, he just moves on. And he's really unsentimental: "Fugazi--yup one of the many bands I've been in. What's next?" He's not cold. Just like, "It is what it is. It was what it was. And let's get on to what it will be."
One of the things I've always respected about Ian is that no matter how much money they throw at him, there has not, nor will there ever be, a Minor Threat reunion.
He's not interested. It's not a money thing. When I see Jane's Addiction get back together, when I see these bands reunite, like the Buzzcocks, who I love, who go out and play that same set every night for the 30th year--I guess it's a paid check. I'd rather starve, personally.
I'm not putting down Ozzy who goes out and sings "Paranoid" every night of his life. And I've had a chance to talk to Ozzy about that, and I say, "You go out and play all those songs every night" and he goes, "Yeah, I like to make people happy." I understand. It's a different head. It's an older-school show-business head. I don't want to do it. And most of the time, I don't want to watch. The only time I'll watch is when Iggy goes out and does Stooges songs because he's still terrifying.
That's an animalistic thing. He's primal.
I saw the Stooges do seven shows on that last tour and it was terror. It's fucking godhead. He's a murderer. He's terrifying. I'll walk on bloody stumps to see him play.
But I don't want to do it. And at age 50, there's nothing you can tell me about writing, or recording, or touring music that I don't already know.
So the talking shows allow me to live how I'm living now and go onstage and tell you about it. Music was maybe the abstract of that message: give it to you nine months later for the next three years. I'm now Sun Ra's Arkestra instead of cookie cutter here-we-do-the-set-again over and over. I'm enjoying the latitude.
The spoken-word stuff allows me to make more trouble. You can get in a whole lot more trouble with your mouth than with a song.