Q&A with Henry Rollins
Brian DeAngelis, SFGate.com
With more than a half-dozen occupations under his name, Henry Rollins has plenty of stories to tell. The former Black Flag vocalist and spoken word artist begins the second leg of his tour, titled "50," on March 17, and will finish up on April 9 at The Independent in San Francisco. I had the opportunity to speak with Rollins about his current tour, his work with National Geographic and recent trips to Asia and Africa.
Brian DeAngelis: You've obviously toured very extensively over the past few decades. Outside of turning 50 [Rollins turned 50 on Feb. 13], what do you feel is making this tour unique for you?
Henry Rollins: Well, nothing really, in that it's just a handful of shows around the fact that I am indeed 50 and it's not an extensive tour, the venues aren't big. I didn't want to not be on stage and be 50, and next year will be the big tour ... so this year is my one shot to do some shows and be on stage at the ripe old age of 50, so I couldn't pass it up.
BD: So your birthday show at National Geographic Live [in Washington, D.C.], how was that?
HR: Good. It's honestly a bit nerve racking having so many people you know there, and the backstage is full of people you know. It's not remotely how I do shows otherwise, in that usually there's no one backstage, I'm just by myself preparing, it's very quiet ... D.C. shows are quite often a test to kind of get through it because there's so many people I know [there]. I take all of this very seriously, not in myself, but the work really seriously.
BD: On your most recent excursion, you went to China, North Korea, Mongolia, Nepal, Tibet, Bhutan and Vietnam, as well as worked with [water and sanitation organization] "Drop in the Bucket" in Uganda and Sudan. What did you take away from this that you feel would adapt to your show?
HR: Well, it makes for some pretty great travel stories. The trip to Southern Sudan, which I was in Sudan and Uganda for about three weeks, it was a real eye opener and a rare opportunity for me to really be day after day on the ground in Africa. I've been to Africa 11 times, and have never been able to go into it with the depth that I did on this last trip, because I was with the "Drop in the Bucket" people. ... I was on someone else's schedule. ... I was there to observe. It allowed me a lot of time to walk around, see a lot of things and go to some remote spots there's no way I would have gotten to on my own. We were so in the middle of nowhere in these locations ... and so it was a hell of a thing to meet these amazing people, see how they're living, and try to get an understanding of things.
BD:You also have a new book due out in November, "Occupants," can you tell me a bit about that?
HR: It's photos and essays, so on the right side of the book you have a photograph, on the left you have some writing, and it became very labor-intensive, processing all the photographs and having to issue some bit of writing for every single photograph. It ended up being a 25,000-word thing of creative writing, which is hard to do. For me, as a more analytical [writer], editorial-type writing comes easier to me. ... But to write creatively you got to really pull it out of some deep space. It's pretty much done, and is looking to come out in October now. ... This is like "Henry a Photographer," and hopefully no one takes away anything from that with any pretension attached. I don't think I'm an artiste, it's mainly photography to show you something. It's not, like, artistic, I'm trying to be clear and demonstrative and showing you a situation I was in.
BD: [The National Geographic special] "Snake Underworld," which should be airing in April, can you tell me a bit about that as well?
HR: It's the second thing I've done with National Geographic, and we basically went around America and interviewed people who keep snakes as a causal pet, people who have massive breeding facilities, to one fella named Tim Friede who self-invenimates. He injects with black mamba venom, rattlesnake venom and water cobra venom every few weeks. ... He and I pull this thrashing 10-foot black mamba out of its enclosure, and the thing was trying to kill us both, and he milks it, he puts a bunch of venom on a scale and weighs out a few cc's of whatever venom, and we filmed it specifically so you know there's no switch out. ... We have the ambulance standing by. ... [Upon injecting the venom] his arm swells up a little, the swelling goes down, he sweats for a minute, the sweating goes away, and about 20 minutes later you kind of forgot he just injected enough black mamba venom to kill every single person in the room together. ... The documentary kind of gets into the why, what is with you people? ... What compels you? ... [It's] an interesting aspect of what it is to be an American.
BD: Your April 9 Independent show, as you said, definitely falls in line with a more intimate venue. Do you have anything special planned for your last show?
HR: No, I mean I'm just gonna go out and do what I do. The fact that it's a smaller venue maybe affords some people a closer look at my craggy face. What I wanted for this tour, since I turned 50 this year, I just wanted to have some fun with that. To not be taken too seriously. I'm certainly not taking it too seriously.
BD: Well great, thanks for speaking with me today and good luck on the tour.
HR: Cool man, I'll see you down the road.
Henry Rollins appears Sat., April 9, at the Independent, 628 Divisadero St., SF. Doors are at 7:30 p.m., show at 8 p.m. The show is sold out. For more info, go to www.theindependentsf.com
See that link, there is no embeding, it features Henry's ass, you know you want to click.
So fucking excited for the show tomorrow!
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