Saturday, October 06, 2007

Henry Rollins is ready to talk business

The former Black Flag frontman rants, raves, reminisces, opines, and editorializes at Berklee tomorrow night. The former Black Flag frontman rants, raves, reminisces, opines, and editorializes at Berklee tomorrow night.

Henry Rollins, a hard-core renaissance man who clocks life with military precision, is behind his desk at 0600 seven days a week. These are the hours Rollins must keep to do his jobs, which include rock singer, spoken-word artist, cable television and radio show host, human-rights advocate, and frequent participant in USO tours.

You can hear all about it tomorrow night when the 46-year-old former Black Flag frontman rants, raves, reminisces, opines, and editorializes at Berklee Performance Center during his latest and well-titled show, "Provoked." Rollins called recently to chat about his busy life, and below are radically condensed excerpts (the man likes to talk) from our phone conversation.

Q. When did it occur to you that talking was an art form?

A. The neighborhood I come from in Washington, D.C., put a premium on storytelling, being able to imitate your friends or the idiot you ran into at the store.

Q. How do you prepare for a spoken-word show?

A. Basically, I know the ideas I want to get into, the truth of the story. A lot of what I do these days is fact-based. If you want to talk about the Iraq war, you better do a little research and memorization and make it noble. Why would you want to be wrong about anything, even people you don't like?

Q. What's on the agenda for "Provoked"?

A. Another year of this war without end. Saber rattling against Iran. My experiences with airport security. Singing with the Ruts. All the people walking around Cambridge in barrels with suspenders as lawyers move into their homes.

Q. Do you get hate mail?

A. One a week. It's always misspelled and unsigned, telling me to join the Taliban or marry gays if I love them so much. Sometimes after a show someone confronts me, but they usually don't have the intellectual motor. They've memorized something from Bill O'Reilly.

Q. You tour with the USO to entertain troops overseas. Is it hard to keep your personal views about the war under wraps?

A. Not at all. It's simple. The war they're fighting and the war we're speculating on from the safety of our hovels are different. Their friends are getting vaporized, and we're talking about documentaries. I say nothing, ever, that would be deleterious to morale. All they should remember is that I'm funny, I put them in a headlock, and I'm shorter in person.

Q. You host a radio show, "Harmony in My Head," on LA's Indie 103. Do you play music from your own collection?

A. Yes. It's a specialty show. I play Eve, Bela Bartok, Black Sabbath, and room-clearing aggro, which I quite like. Tomorrow I'll play Anthony Braxton and Public Enemy. I play lots of Lenny Bruce. I've played Ernest Hemingway's Nobel acceptance speech.

Q. How many CDs do you own?

A. 14,000 to 15,000.

Q. What's the criteria to get on "The Henry Rollins Show," your weekly Independent Film Channel program?

A. You have to interest me. I like to bring on someone the audience will be surprised by, and I try to get off topic. We already know Samuel Jackson's a good actor, so we talked about how he was an usher at Martin Luther King's funeral. I talked to Larry Flynt about Jerry Falwell. And I did two weeks of prep for Gore Vidal. I didn't want him going, "What am I doing on this show?"

Q. Do you ever feel overextended?

A. Yeah. That's how I live. It brings out the best in me. My instinct is to lie in bed and eat carbs and watch box sets.

Q. What do you do to relax?

A. I go on these lean tissue-burning trips. I did do a real vacation once, three days in Madagascar with a novel, a ruined map, a massive Toblerone bar, and geckos on the thatched roof of my hut. I was relieved to get back to the buzz and whir of things.

Q. Have you ever thought of running for office?

A. No, ma'am. I love being effective in the private sector.

Joan Anderman can be reached at

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