Bub Smith of Schwegweb had a chance to sit down with the Henry Rollins and here is what came of it. Intense!
Schwegweb: In 2010 you had the “privilege” to visit North Korea…
Henry Rollins: Yeah, Well it wasn’t exactly a “privilege”. It was a very, very difficult visa to get. It took three years to get that visa. It was maybe the single toughest access destination passports I ever put in for.
Schwegweb: What was your drive to go there?
Curiosity. The fact that they let less than 100 Americans a year in and I’m sure they’re going to let less in now.
Schwegweb: We always hear more about the government in North Korea, but never much about the people. What were the citizens of North Korea like?
They wouldn’t let me meet any. It’s a very, very, very controlled environment. I cannot over mention how controlled that tour was. Two tour minders with me at all times outside the hotel. A hotel that’s built at the end of a bridge, that they put every single tourist in. The bridge is guarded. You can get to the parking lot, past that you will be arrested. You must ask permission to raise your camera up to your eye and you must point it at the thing you want to take a picture of. They told me yes every time, because of course, they are putting me in areas were I could sneak around and take photos and still it would look all “peachy”. So your taken to farms, the hospital…you’re taken to the great statue of Kim Jueng Il. Your just shown the monuments: the greatest hits. You’re given non-stop propaganda: ‘Our military is great and the people are happy. Everyone is fed.” It’s a bunch of propaganda. It’s sad because the people are just like you and me: Respirating food eaters who need sleep and a laugh now and then and they are not getting much of any of it. It sucks because they are just folks and haven’t done anything to harm anyone. They just had the misfortune of being born in North Korea. The government sucks. You find this in a lot of these countries like Burma. The Burmese people are great. It’s Than Shwe (the president at the time) he was the drag. The people were wonderful, beautiful people of south east Asia. Much like the ones I encountered in Lao, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand.
Schwegweb: What makes you want to visit all these countries?
I’m curious. I’m an angry man. My anger drives my curiosity. My curiosity drives my anger. I’m not angry at you. I’m not kicking dogs and mugging people. I’m angry to know. If it’s a country I haven’t been to I’m like “Let’s go! I’m pissed off! Let’s check this place out!” That fuels me. I do most things out of anger.
Schwegweb: Your a man who has tackle almost every artistic outlet: Author, Actor, Musician, Publisher, Activist. Which one of these platforms is your “go to” ?
The one I’m pretty good at is probably the talking shows. That’s were I hold my own pretty well and have invented this little space for myself. Musically I just yell. I can’t sing. For me it was always the message. I was never interested in being a musician, but I was always into having a platform with which to let fly the hash. You know? Sling the hash. I’ve done that with writing work, with acting and speaking. It’s expression more than anything. I just use different modes to get it out.
Schewegweb: In music now, what are the bands that you feel are the future of music?
Well, I’ll tell you what I’m listening, but I can’t recommend anything in that I’m happy to tell you whats on my Ipod. I can’t guarantee what you’ll make of it. People ask me all the time: “Hey man, what record should I get into?”. I’m like: “I’m sorry man. I can’t tell you anything cause I don’t know what your into.”
I can tell you I think this year has been really great for new music. The new Nick Cave album that came out a few weeks ago, I think is brilliant. The new Marnie Stern Album: The Chronicles of Marnia. It’s her fourth album. I think it’s just fantastic. I cannot stop playing that thing.
A great independent band Thee Oh Sees. There new album is called Floating Coffin and it’s coming out real soon. They sent me a copy of it. That one is great. Everything The Oh Sees do is awesome. It’s another great Oh Sees record.
The new Dinosaur Jr record from a few months ago, I Bet On Sky, awesome. The new High On Fire record, Fantastic. The new Bowie record, pretty cool. I like a lot more than I thought I would.The new Scott Walker Record: Bish Bosch, Genius. What you’ll make of this records I have not a clue.
Schwegweb: What was it that made you want to be a part of music?
Punk rock made me think that music was something I could have a part of more than just being a record buyer. Punk rock made me feel: ” Oh! There’s something in this for me!”. Me going to see Led Zeppelin when I was younger I didn’t feel apart of it. They were great. It was an amazing night, but it didn’t make me say “I’m going to be a musician.”. When I saw the Bad Brains, when I saw the Damned, I was like “Oh this is now talking to me. I want to be a guy with a microphone in his hand”.
It was punk rock that actualized it for me. It made think not only is it possible, but it was something I needed to do. I didn’t get that from seeing Van Halen or Aerosmith or Ted Nugent. As much as I enjoyed all of that it didn’t make me go: ” Yeah, I’m going to go get a band together.”, but punk rock did. The Clash did. The Ramones did.
Schwegweb: There’s something about that raw intensity. The movement behind it. It’s more than just a genre of music…
Yeah, it’s the lyrics. Finally, someone was angry to where I can stand it. Ted Nugent, who kinda makes a fool of himself now, back when I use to go see him in the 70’s, that was some of the best music I’ve ever seen performed live. He’s one of the best musicians. Ted Nugent with a guitar… He is a master musicians. What comes out of his mouth these days is regrettable. I use to walk away from those gigs just awed, but he was never angry. Just aggressive.
When I heard Johnny Rotten I was like “Oh! This dude’s pissed. Finally!” Cause I was mad. Like a lot of teenagers I was furiously angry at whatever. Who knows what a tenth grader is mad at. Probably everything. That was me. Like 80 million other young people in the world. I heard the Ramones I’m like ” Wow! There’s your outsider music! None of those dudes are meeting the chicks. Or if they were that means I will too, because I’m a kook like them.”
Then you hear The Clash. It was the first time in my life that it occurred to me to question authority. I should of learned that from Thomas Jefferson, but I didn’t. I learned it from Joe Strummer.
Schwegweb: Speaking of “Questioning Authority”. A few years back you were big on the “Get Bush Out” movement…
No I didn’t think it was possible. I was very critical of his administration. I just don’t think your ever going to unseat a president. Watergate was light relief compared to George W. Bush marching into Baghdad and slaughtering hundred of thousands of people and killing a bunch of American boys and girls. He’ll never do any time. Either will Cheney or any of these other blood splattered criminals. So I have long given up on the power of the people to unseat a president. I did think [ George W Bush] was ruinous to America’s health.
Schwegweb: With our new administration where do you see this country going at the end of this term?
Nowhere! I think the legacy of the Barrack Obama administration will be gridlocked. It will be what could of been. It will be 8 years of puffy, conservative republican member’s of congress going: No! You’re going to get a watered down version of Obama care that will get mangled and probably end up more unwieldy than what was in place before it. Basically what were getting now… Iran is probably one of the better beneficiary of the Obama administration. Because it’s going to be a total of 8 years that Tehran will not be leveled. The next republican president, which may very well be in 2016, will go into Iran within the first 300 days in office, I bet. Like McCain would of done, like Mitt Romney probably would of done, because the guy has no vision what so ever.
Schwegweb: In your opinion what’s it going to take for this country to get that “change”?
The change would have to be a paradigm shift in American values. You say you value truth, equality and freedom. Everyone in this country says they do.Do you like freedom? Hell yeah! Should everyone have it? Well yes, to a certain degree. If your an axe murderer I think you should be in a cage. You lost your freedom because you slaughtered a family, so no freedom for you.
Should everyone have equality? Hell yeah! Okay, so let’s see you put that across. To have real equality in this country it would not be the America you are currently soaking in. In this country you do not have racial equality, gender equality or sexual orientation equality. A man and a man can’t get married. To me that is a constitutional discussion that is asked and answered and dealt with by the first, fourth and fourteen amendments. Why we are flopping around with this idiotic prop 8 just shows you that you have homophobia in America. I wish these people would be more honest and forth right. Just come in through the front door, turn the lights on, sit down at the head of the table and say ” Good morning. I hate fags. Got it.” They need to just say it instead of saying ” Well is destroys the sanctity of marriage”. You hate gay people! Your a homophobes! I got it! At least the Clan gets into their outfits. They don’t try to slip into society. At least the Neo-Nazi has the self respect to sieg heil you and let you know where he is coming from. You can disagree with him, as I do. At least the guy is coming in through the front door and says ” I want to kill all niggers.”.Well, okay we got it.
Until you teach better values in school and leave god out of it, for at least a paragraph, you’re going to keep getting what you got now. You got a hand full of rich people, a rapidly diminishing middle class and a whole bunch of people who find themselves on some kind of bread line. While the eight rich people are saying ” Suck it up sweetheart! Don’t be such a pussy!”
Teachers are leeches on the system? You want to see what it looks like without teachers? You want the Rand Paul version of America? Go ahead put him in office. You wanna see what that looks like? Go to Somalia. That’s libertarianism. In a country of 300 million people your going to do your own thing and tell everyone else to do there own thing? Okay. I’m going to stop acknowledging traffic signals. That’s what you get.
So when do things get better? When you start valuing your young people. When you value your education. When you have a clear definition between church and state. When value peace over war. When you value people over profit. How soon are you going to get to that? I’m not holding my breath.
Schwegweb: You’re a guy who tours almost non-stop. Do you find it difficult to turn that off when you get home? Not being on stage in front of your fans?
Awful. And it gets worse as I get older.
Schwegweb: What is the one common misconception about yourself that drives you crazy?
I don’t know if their are any. I’m very lucky in that I get lots of access to press. I say no thanks to more interviews than I say yes to. Everyday my press office gets press requests from all over the world. So I’m giving quite the platform to sound off upon. TV, radio wherever I can plant that flag. So I don’t think there would be any misconceptions from anyone who would be willing to do a modicum of searching around from opinion on anything. I don’t think anyone would say ” I thought you were a racist. I thought you were a conservative.”. Really? I don’t think you would have to do much searching to find out where I come down on every big ticket issue. Not that my opinion is any more important that anyone else’s. I’m just saying I don’t think that at this point in 2013 that there is a misconception of where I come down to everything from marriage equality to global climate change.
Schwegweb: What can we except from Henry Rollins in 2013.
Well this year not much stuff out on the road. A lot of film work. TV work. A lot of writing. Two books coming out this year. A lot of radio work. Writing for two different publications. A handful of shows. I have 30-40 gigs, but mainly television. History Channel stuff. Movie stuff that I have set now all the way till basically December 1st.
We would like to thanks Henry Rollins for sitting down with us. Check him live on April 12th in Grand Rapids Michigan.
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