I Don’t Understand Slowing Down: An Interview With Henry Rollins


13428659_10154388950192868_2528007190944529425_nThis blog’s show pick for tonight is the legendary Henry Rollins bringing his spoken word tour to The National–and what better way to celebrate the punk icon’s return to Richmond than with a Q&A with the man himself. This brief discussion of Rollins’ philosophy and future took place at the end of September before his two-show engagement in South Africa and shows that Rollins acclaimed work ethic is as strong as ever, as are his sharp wit and shrewd observations.

You penned a recent article with LA Weekly about doing as much press as you can saying, “Doing interviews keeps me sharp.” There is, however, a large pocket of musicians who have a different opinion on press interviews especially since the press is ever-growing in the internet age. Do you think you are just wired differently in this regard, or are these musicians missing an aspect of interviews that might possibly change their motivation?

I can’t speak for anyone but myself. For the most part, I do press to promote shows I have coming up. I would rather not do any interviews at all. Now that so many people seem to have an outlet, I have had to pick and choose. In the future, I would like to do far less of them than I do now. A lot of the questions are less than great and I get the feeling that I am wasting my time on some of them.

In the vein of “keeping yourself sharp,” do you think approaching music again would have the opposite effect? You were vocal earlier in the year about realizing you were done. Did this come from the lack of inspiration or more from a malaise with creating music at this stage of your life?

I have not done music for many years. I woke up one day and had no more lyrics. It’s not a problem. It’s just something that came to an end. So, I went onto other stuff. Luckily, I have never looked for a career. I am an opportunist, an adventurist. Not interested in going onstage at 55 and singing songs I wrote 30 years ago. To me, it’s intellectual cowardice.

Being an opportunist and adventurist has led you to live a very full life, not just in terms of your artistic output as an actor, musician, et cetera, but also in life experiences and travels. Do you actively seek out new environment and experiences, like your trip to the Antarctic Peninsula, or is it more of the right time and place for these events?

I work at it. If I have a month where I don’t have to be locked on a set or a series of stages, I will plan a trip of some kind. I am trying to live an eventful life. It’s almost like I am the executive producer of my life and I am trying to make a really good show. That’s as best as I can describe it.

What does “slowing down” mean in your world? Is it even a real possibility in your future?

I don’t think of retirement in a conventional sense. For a lot of people, it’s a financial goal, that they worked their whole lives so they could retire. I think that’s a really strange idea. I just do stuff. I don’t know when I will stop. I have not planned that part beyond saving money for a time that I can’t get work. So, no, I don’t understand slowing down. I can see a time when I am not as easy to reach.

You seem to keep abreast of the current music scene. Is there any movement or revival that’s particularly interesting to you?

I don’t think of music in those terms. I listen to a lot of noise and drone music as well as a lot of independent music. All of that is interesting to me. There have been a lot of great re-issues of music from all over the world like Cambodia, Nigeria, Thailand, interesting ’50s electric music that is getting put out again, et cetera. In 2016, there have been a lot of great records. Thee Oh Sees new one is great. New Dinosaur Jr., amazing.

You have been very vocal about this presidential election. Did the first debate change anything in your mind about the current climate, or all we still headed towards a monumental divide in this country no matter who wins?

I think the debate was just an exercise in entertainment. Clinton supporters claim she won. Trump supporters claim he won. Were there any moments that surprised anyone? It was just theater, like how a lot of American politics are. USA isn’t headed towards a divide. USA has been divided since April of 1861. As to mending that divide, neither candidate winning will do anything to help. Either way, half of the electorate will be mad. It’s a mad population.

Do you find it challenging to not allow politics to dominate your spoken word performances this year?

No. Actually, I think there is less to talk about on that topic than ever. We shall not overcome. USA democracy is broken. It can be fixed. Ask Congress to get to work. Oh, wait, they’re on vacation. What is there to talk about? Marriage equality has to go to the Supreme Court? What more do you need to know about how stuck in the primordial ooze USA is? To me, it’s like talking about a corpse.

Are there any topics that you have banned from entering your performances, or have you learned that some topics and stories are better left unsaid?

I can’t think of any. I leave out anything that would be boring to the best of my ability. I trust myself to leave out what should be left out.

Obviously the crowd for your performance in Richmond will be primarily made up of fans of your musical projects, but how would you describe the show for those who are vaguely familiar with your work, yet curious enough that they might attend?

I will be onstage talking. I will be telling stories from travel I have done since the last tour, musicians who have passed away recently, films and television work I have done. There are hours of me onstage anyone who is so inclined can check out online to see if it’s something they want to check out live.

Henry Rollins’ spoken word performance is at The National in Richmond tonight starting at 8 PM. Tickets are still available from $20 to $29.50 and you can purchase them here.

Doug Nunnally (@MusicDoug)

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