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Henry Rollins

As the ultimate punk provocateur's spoken word show gathers momentum he takes time out to talk to Dazed Digital about why he is still raging against the dying of the light

Whether as a punk musician in Black Flag and later in Rollins Band, or as an author, a columnist, blogger, TV host, actor or spoken word artist, the ultimate punk provocateur Henry Rollins knows the value of making himself heard. Having recently travelled the world, Rollins has just taken his spoken word tour on the road in the UK, talking about his cultural adventures, the myriad problems that blight the socio-political landscape of his native America, and the challenges faced when you devote your life to sticking it to The Man. We took some time out with the creative dynamo to find out exactly what fuels his rage...

Dazed Digital: Do you have a set itinerary for what you’re going to talk about at your spoken word shows?
Henry Rollins:
I go out with a very clear idea of what I’m going to do because what I don’t want to do is go on stage and ramble. I try to put things in some kind of order, at least conceptually. Once I have that in place I try and run through it in my head and then I take it to the stage. And then onstage, it kind of goes through an evolutionary process and you have to move things around and bring that in as you’re telling it. The shows end up being a journey of discovery.

DD: What kind of subjects are you tackling on stage this time?
 Since I’ve been here last, I’ve been to Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Burma, India, Nepal, China, Brunei, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Mali and Senegal. America has a new president, which is interesting in that it sparks a lot of racism in my country. Racism that was dormant or not really that evident is now all over the place in America. These people were always around it wasn’t just like, 'Ding! I’ll be a racist now!' it’s more like, “Now I’ve got a microphone!” It’s really depressing, so I deal with all of that.
If I’m outside of America, I try and make the show more of a global thing where people can plug in, but Barack Obama is such a notable guy. He is articulate and really interesting. He is America’s first African American president in a country with such a history of racism. There are right wing pundits in America – talk show hosts and radio people – who have an unbelievable amount of sway in American politics. One of the most famous is Rush Limbaugh, he’s an awful guy and makes hundreds of millions of dollars. Barack Obama’s administration responded to the Haitian crisis within 24 hours. Here comes the soldiers, here comes the food, go go go...  Rush Limbaugh told his multi millions of listeners that Obama only did that to gain favour with black people in America. This is the kind of idiocy that I have to deal with in my country. I can’t not put that on stage.

DD: Is it important to you to be vocal on as many platforms as possible?
 Yes, and the older I get the more important it is to me. I think it’s important that there is opposition to multinational companies, and that there is a vocal opposition to war and conflict, world hunger and that someone, at least in America should be vocal about needing a better healthcare system. I’m near 50 years of age and this is my idea of what a punk rocker should be doing at age 50. I hope that Joe Strummer and Thomas Jefferson would look at me and go, 'That’s right. Rumble young man rumble!' The older I get the more I’m like, 'Sure I’ll write an article for that, sure I’ll do a benefit, yeah I’ll shake things up as best I can!' in an effort not to go too gently into that good night, as Dylan Thomas put it. That is my motivation because it’s not paying me, I just don’t want to let these bastards get away with it is my bottom line, I want to stick it to The Man as best I can.

DD: What is your preferred platform and has that changed at all with age?
My favourite platform used to be music and it’s great to be in a band and to get up there and be very loud and persuasive, there’s nothing like it.  It’s just that at this point, I don’t know how I could do it better than I did before, so I really don’t see the point. The music seems like a younger man’s pursuit and I’m not that guy anymore The idea of hauling out all the old songs which are ancient – that’s for Mick Jagger to do.

DD: Do you think music still is a good platform to make the kind of statements you used it to use it to make?
 Yes, if a band has an audience who will listen then a band has a platform on which to say things. I’ve always thought Tom Morello and Rage Against The Machine made good use of that. The Beastie Boys have certainly made use of that, U2, Sting... whether it’s a sign-up booth at the stadiums they’re selling out, or mentioning a website on stage and saying, 'Check that out. There is a war going on over there, you should have an opinion about that!' All of that is incredibly valid to me; rock'n'roll has always been a great way to get people together and get a message across but I don’t think it ever stopped a war. If music could stop a war I think Bob Marley and Bob Dylan would have stopped all the wars, because those are two people who wrote arguably some of the best anti-war-lets-all-get-together-and-not-hate kind of music I can think of.

DD: Other than voicing your opinions on politics, have you ever considered becoming more actively involved in politics?
 No, because I’m a highschool graduate so I just don’t have the intellect for something like that, and because most politicians are somewhat mad. It’s a lot of ego to get you into that game and there is no doubt in my mind that as a private citizen I can use all that latitude not looking for votes, not looking to get re-elected, to get stuff done. Every politician, every president gets votes by getting people that don’t like him to like him. That’s why politicians are slippery because they talk out of both sides of their mouth. I only want to talk directly.

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