Ever since the death of Samuel Clemens in 1910, the country has been in constant need of home-grown, brutally honest authors to gaze upon our world with x-ray perception and tell us the real truth of how we are doing things right or wrong, regardless of who we are or the extent of the backlash. Henry Rollins is a musician, performer and writer that has been doing just that with his regular journalistic contributions to magazines such as Details, LA Weekly, Vanity Fair and The Huffington Post.
Along with his stand up comedy, spoken word performances and YouTube series, “WordswithMeaning!” the critical observations of Rollins have been the perfect vehicle for a sustained, uncompromising assault upon hypocrites, idiots and pundits on both the left and the right at a time when everyone else seems to be lining up to kiss a large amount of corporate and/or government ass to make a buck.
Although the term has been used so many times it is nearly a cliché, “Renaissance Man” is the best way to describe the modern American philosopher known to the world asHenry Rollins. He’s been the lead singer of the legendary southern California hardcore punk band Black Flag, and was the front man for the critically-acclaimed, commercially successful Rollins Band. He’s also performed alongside Robert DeNiro in Heat, played a cop hunting down Charlie Sheen in The Chase, has appeared on David Lynch’s cult classic Lost Highway, and held his own as a central antagonist on the cable epic outlaw biker series “Sons of Anarchy”.
While Rollins was doing all of that he also won a Grammy for Get in the Van: On the Road with Black Flag, and authored the spoken word classics Black Coffee Blues and Think Tank. After getting his start in radio in 2004 as the host for Harmony in My Head on Indie 103.1 FM Los Angeles, in 2009 he began hosting a live show Saturday nights on KCRW 88.9 FM public news radio, where he combines kissaki-sharp analysis with cutting edge music for the massively perceptive. What’s next for a man with a career as intricate, illustrious and revolutionary as Henry Rollins?
I am sure you have a lot going on right now. What projects are keeping you busy?
The super boring job of proof reading and editing a lot of material. One of the books I have coming out is easy to wrap up, but the others will take a lot of surgery. Editing books takes a lot of time in between working, meetings and auditions. That’s what I do when I’m not touring. I’m also looking for employment.
It’s hard to imagine a person as prolific as yourself looking for a job.
It’s a non-tour year. Last year I did nearly 190 shows. It gets to the point where shows are still coming in, but the tour is booked so your calendar gets pretty marked up. Now it’s a non-tour year, I’m in this interesting position of having some solid jobs, I have a lot of contract stuff to do, but I still have to look for employment. That necessitates pitch meetings and auditions. Yesterday I was in a line thirty people long auditioning just for a microscopic role on a television show. We’ve mostly been pitching ideas for shows that I might be plugged into.
It is an interesting position, one year you are the guy, you are on the billboard, the marquee, and the next year you are in line hoping some casting person who doesn’t know you will throw you a bone. It’s good, though, that it keeps you humble.
What kind of show would you want to do? I could easily imagine you as the History Channel equivalent of Anthony Bourdain.
I’d like to do a show that tells you where and how the history books got it wrong. Just an entire series where we point out the facts and reveal how history is written by the winners, so of course the winners give themselves a white hat.
For example, if you tell a person in rural American that we lost the Vietnam War, you’ll be eating your dinner through a straw in your neck because he’ll break your jaw. But if you go over to Vietnam today, the Vietnamese have moved on. They are very sure they won that war, because they survived it. That’s how they think. “We are still alive, so you didn’t beat us.” What I mean is…there are a lot of ways to look at any historical event.
A cable television show that tells the real truth about the history of America? That’s way too controversial for prime time.
Doing that kind of show would be interesting to me, but since so many channels have corporate investors, you have to go with Current TV or some other equivalent, but they couldn’t afford to do it because they are always broke.
Watch the Fox News financial channel. They keep saying that we’re in a big recession so you have to invest in Home Depot. To people like that, someone else’s disaster is a shot in the arm for the economy.
When it comes to Hollywood, it’s all about the money, and a big part of that is maintaining a corporate-approved, advertising-friendly environment.When you go into the entertainment industry as a worker bee, and see how the sausage is made, you really see how it’s all just based on a scorched earth policy. You end up having really mercenary conversations with people, when it comes to what you will do.
Nobody would wants to see a show that tells people the truth. They might know too much. They won’t fight our wars for us, fill our prisons for us. They’ll question authority. When you sell bombs and bullets for a living, you push a political agenda that’s going to make you the most money.
You don’t touch cannabis, but you support its legalization. What is your honest opinion about this controversial topic?
Smoking marijuana, in my opinion, is a monumental waste of time, but I’m not going to slap it out of your hand. But I not only want it legalized, I want it decriminalized. At least then you won’t go to jail for smoking it.
I see marijuana as just another stimulant. I fear alcohol. It fuels a guy up so he punches his wife and drives his car into a tree. I’m afraid of a person buying two AR-15’s and shooting up a shopping mall…that guy should get marijuana. I fear stupidity in America more than I fear someone buying weed.
My question is, will the states have the intestinal fortitude to retroactively free the black prisoners who are unfairly incarcerated for using marijuana if it’s legalized?
Probably not. The prison-industrial complex would lose a lot of money if it happened. I don’t think President Obama could ever let it happen.
I remember how, at one point I thought of the term, “prison-industrial complex.” I looked it up, and it turns out someone else thought of it a long time ago. Once they legalize it. Maybe the incarcerated won’t get their money back, but at least they will be free.
Obama may be against it, but the states have the tenth amendment, and can tell him to piss up a rope. But if it’s legalized then everyone who went to jail the month before over a back pocket full of weed should be let out.
The real problem is, if you decriminalize marijuana, you have a lot less opportunity to put Johnny in jail. It’s the prison-industrial complex. You see how much money is spent. The prison guard union is one of the strongest unions in America. They sell light bulbs for prisons, cement, paper, the food, and they need Johnny to break more laws. They say they are fighting crime, they are building prisons. Who’s making the money?
Why is it that cannabis still illegal in America?
Because brown skinned people grow, sell and use it. A lot of those Fox news assholes smoked it in college, but now they use coffee and martinis, so it’s only for faggot hippies. “I’m a responsible chemical dependant. I use booze. It’s just five martinis.”
Pot, by comparison, is messy. You are buying a plant from someone that is not in a vacuum sealed, federally-approved package at the local 7-11. Besides, everyone out there is buying weed right now, anyway. Why not just legalize it?
What is the cannabis legalization movement doing wrong?
By having guys and gals going to the medical cannabis places with their bullshit hangnail prescriptions. For most, it’s a scam. Oh, you hurt your knee so I’m going to write you a prescription for your hangnail.
But the reason why the legalization movement is such a clusterfuck is because there is no clear political plan. The first time I saw medical marijuana, I was at a friend’s house. His mother would smoke these government-approved medical marijuana cigarettes. My friend would steal them. Medical marijuana is never in a black or white area. It’s always in the grey.
That’s obviously the case in a lot of places. Since we are already there, why not just legalize it? It’s stupid how someone with cancer pain has to worry about being arrested. If marijuana can help, why wouldn’t you want them to feel better? Why would you be okay with them being in pain? If you can help someone, right now, why won’t you? We are supposed to promote the general welfare; it says so in the Preamble to the Constitution.
What is your best advice for proponents of cannabis legalization?
As a non-smoking, marijuana decriminalization proponent, I would go at in as sensibly and legally as I could. Take into account the people who oppose you. They count on you to be unkempt, sloppy, illegal and high. Don’t go into an intellection battle high. Go in with your facts and figures and stats tattooed on your brain pan. When you do that, an opponent will still have to respect you for it.
Fortunately, the world is changing. The President actually mentioned the word gay. That set a precedent. In a hundred years they will talk about Barack Obama and how he said, “Gay brothers and sisters.” That took a lot of brass.
In a political world, if you say that you smoke cannabis you might as well be say you like to make it with little kids and sheep. All the other side has to say is, “My opponent wants your son to get high at school.” Why can’t someone say, “My opponent likes wine so he wants your son to get drunk at school.
But they are elected officials. They are in a very precarious position. I get a second chance, if I screw up. They don’t. If someone loses an election, he doesn’t get to come back. You can say you back gay marriage, but that is as red hot as you get. Saying yes to marijuana has to no longer be seen as, “He said what!?”
Your country is changing very rapidly, though. If I was writing for a cannabis-based magazine, I would be showing that marijuana smokers are not the funny characters the media always depicts, but that they are doctors and lawyers…professional, responsible people, just like the people who drink four beers and watch the game after working at the office all day.
In this transition to a weed economy, there is going to be a drunken sailor syndrome. When you take a sailor off the boat he’s going to drink his paycheck. There’s going to be a transition. As Joseph Stalin said, “When you cut wood, chips fly.” Someone will abuse weed. It’s going to happen. They are going to drive recklessly, have THC in their blood, and a bunch of people will overreact because of it. But let’s face it, cannabis is already out there. Legalizing it will not change anything.
Check out Henry Rollins at his official website, right here: http://www.henryrollins.com