The outspoken Henry Rollins |

The outspoken Henry Rollins

Stina Sieg
Courtesy photo by Ben Swinnerton

ASPEN, Colorado ” It feels like every time you see Henry Rollins on stage, he’s mad as hell. Whether he’s talking about our outgoing president, the country’s economy or the pain of dating, he’s full of vitriol. Probably most of the folks seeing him this Sunday are looking for more of the same.

One-on-one in a Monday interview, though, he sounded much more collected. He doesn’t have to always be his stage presence, he explained. He went on to talk with passion about volunteerism and the need for Americans to care about each other.

But, it being the eve of the election, there still was a big dose of that trademark fire in his voice. Among other things, he offered a shout out to every young person considering voting for the Republican presidential nominee. If you like McCain, he felt, then prove it ” and join the military as soon as you leave the polls.

“So, stop what you’re doing. Don’t be such a hypocrite and, by the way, don’t be such a coward, and enlist,” he said. “Unless, you’re a hypocrite-sissy-coward-communist.”

Yeah, the old Rollins isn’t going anywhere.

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“Well, yeah, you know I was always kind of a spazz, and so I learned to focus it, so I wasn’t shaking, rattling and rolling so much as going through a tube, a barrel. And so that’s kind of what the last several years have been, you know, like focus, discipline, trying to do something of worth, trying to get something across.”

“Oh, expression, you know, basically. All these things to me are string instruments. One’s a banjo, one’s a guitar, and you kind of have the hang of a couple of them. You can kind of fake it with another one. Find your fingering on the neck and get through a version of ‘Louie, Louie’ or something. You know, for me they’re all kind of cousins. The music, you know, you’re using words. You’re expressing yourself with your voice. Then you’re on the stage talking, again, through the microphone. The writing is a different voice. The acting, you’re telling a story again. You’re using your language and your body. So they’re different, yeah, but they’re not going from nanobiologist to delicatessen attendant.”

“Well, I don’t know if I’m giving them anything. I’m just kind of letting it fly, and some people seem to be interested. They seem to be OK with it. Obviously they show up ” we hope. I just kind of want to put it out there, and sometimes it gets confrontational in this present climate. You know, those who are telling the truth often get some people writing them angry, poorly spelled, rarely signed letters. You know, ‘Move back to Russia,’ of course.”

“Well, I get my best lessons when I bump into something, you know. I’m not all that articulate or coordinated, so I usually stumble, and it takes me three times the amount of time to get something done because I just can’t, I can’t read the instructions. Maps completely befuddle me, so I have to get up earlier and work longer to get there. And it is frustrating to be so damn stupid at times, but I go for it, and I document my failures quite well, and quite often it’s the best part of the show. But also the best learning for me is through the mistakes and through ‘OK, start again.’ And it’s been like that since I was a little kid. I never aced anything. I’ve never been good at anything.”

No, no. At this point, it’s kind of what I’m used to doing. It’s what I think the job of the artist is, to kind of let it all hang out there, dig deep in, and pull it out and say, ‘Well, there it is.’ And, in that, I think a lot of people will also see themselves. They go, ‘OK, well, he’s saying it, I didn’t want to go there, but I’m glad he goes there.'”

“Yeah. Well, just fear. You know, fear of letting your voice be heard. I quite like the confrontation. I got a wonderful letter today. A girl said that ‘Me and my idiot boyfriend went to see you last night. You were great. And we broke up over you, because he said, ‘If you like him, I can’t possibly go out with you.” Yeah, I didn’t say it, but I thought, well, maybe you’re better off without him. ‘Cause all I said last night is, ‘Let’s feed some poor people. Let’s come to the conclusion that all wars are preventable and unnecessary, and dictate our foreign policy from that and go outward.’ Well, why not? Unless, unless you like kids coming home with their legs torn off and in bags and boxes. If that’s what you’re into, then vote accordingly. You know, you’ve got your guy. He put it right out there during the debates.”

“Sounds kind of lame, but the future. You know, I really, I do a lot of work on behalf of hungry people. I’m very concerned with the affairs of my country, and the last eight years have put me through a lot. And I’ve been lucky enough to see a lot of the ramifications of our actions very close up in places like Baghdad and Kabul or Walter Reed Army Medical. I’ve seen a lot of things with a great deal of clarity and up close, and it gives me quite an opinion on things. And the last few years, I’ve done a lot of traveling, and that’s been very informative ” Africa, Central Asia, South East Asia, Middle East, you know, all over ” and learned, as you would expect, quite a bit. And that’s what makes me want, you know, science, progress and all that stuff that’s coming. Because there’s a lot of people in the world. They don’t deserve water that gives them diarrhea and kills them. They don’t deserve famine. What living thing does? So, there’s work to be done. And as an older guy, that’s where I’m seeing a lot of my concerns.”

“I’m trying. Basically, for me, it’s basic responsibility, a sense of civic duty to realize that as a citizen of America, you’ve got work to do. It’s not a free ride. And part of that is everything from picking up garbage to looking out for someone else ” be it Katrina or, you know, something down the street.”

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