Ever-quotable punk icon Henry Rollins once said there were few things he hated more than U2. Now that the Irish group has "saved rock," is it possible that ol' Hank has changed his mind?
"Oh, yeah, they saved rock with that fuckin' corny lightweight pap record," he says of the band's critically lauded All That You Can't Leave Behind. "If that's savin' rock and roll, rock and roll's already dead. Rock and roll's Charles de Gaulle, if that's saving it."
When we suggest Radiohead is the other option for those looking for inspired rock these days, Rollins gets downright belligerent.
"Well, whatever," he snarls. "That's just [the opinion of] a bunch of guys like you who make their living by reviewing records you get free in the mail, so who gives a fuck what you think?"
Not just another mohawked misfit with an attitude, Rollins has the physique to back up the tough talk. Known as "that Black Flag guy," he's an impossibly severe-looking man with chiseled arms, a tree trunk for a neck, and one of the evilest dispositions in the history of modern rock. For years, the Rollins Band has consisted of old-school buzz-saw guitar blasts with Hank tonelessly shouting "I'm a liar!" and "I am obscene!" As a musician, he's almost entirely humorless.
But Rollins isn't just an angry punk rocker. In addition to fronting the Rollins Band, he's taken on a variety of guises. Between his spoken-word CDs (A Rollins in the Wry is the latest), his many memoir-oriented books (such as Get in the Van, his account of his years with hardcore band Black Flag), and his role as the host of Night Visions, a new Twilight Zone-esque horror anthology series on Fox (folks are already calling him "the new Rod Serling"), Rollins has found numerous ways to express himself. He's become a comedian, an affable Everyman, and a sensitive modern thinker. Fire up A Rollins in the Wry, and you'll hear Rollins onstage at some L.A. club, telling jokes about bad drivers and Rite Aid. What's even more strange is that his favorite target is now himself. Most of his spoken-word material consists of personal anecdotes, with Rollins savagely spoofing his own writing style. "No one knows me! I'm the enigma! No one likes me! I'm the lord of darkness! Please fuck me!" he yells on Wry.
"I know that some of the stuff I've written, if I'm not able to somehow make fun of it, then I think I'm somehow losing the point," he explains. "Anything I wrote at any one time, I felt very passionate about, but I can look at it years later and go, 'Well, that's a little much.' But everything's a little much when you're 23. Your girl leaves you, dah dah dah! Everything is traumatic. But you get older, and you go, 'Ah, it's Thursday. I guess it's time for the chick to leave.' Sheer repetition gives you more of a Tom Waitsian take on things, rather than 'You fucking bitch!' and the 30-page indictment in your journal on how she wronged you because you can't even pull your head out of your ass and see that maybe it was you, asshole."
Rollins probably resides on the short list of "godfathers of punk," and in an attempt to secure his legacy, he hasn't shunned the festival circuit. Still, the Rollins Band has always avoided the Warped Tour. Pop-punkin' teenage suburban skateboarder iconography clashes harshly with Hank's image as the super-serious hardcore philosopher. But not this year.
"My friend Kevin runs it, and every year he asks me to come out and be on the Warped Tour," Rollins says. "And I go, 'Kevin, none of these kids wanna see an old man staggering around the stage. It'll just be total apathy. You can find something that will be way more interesting for young people, rather than me.' And he goes, 'Nah, they'd love you. It'd be great.' And finally I say, 'Nah, I'd rather go do my club tour and play all night and just do my thing.'"
But this year, Rollins decided to give it a shot for two weeks, road-testing the new album. He's really excited -- or at least as excited as an aging icon can get.
"We're doing seven shows -- about as much as I can stand of doing the Warped Tour," he says. "I don't even know what bands are on it. I don't really care. It's not like I'm gonna avoid 'em. I guess I'll hear 'em when I get there. We're doing a week and a half or whatever, and then we're getting on to the real thing, the big long set [for a separate headlining tour]. That'll be fun."
Nice, the new Rollins Band album, continues a trend begun with 1998's Get Some Go Again. It's looser, calmer, and more varied in its sonic attack and features soulful backup singers and saxophones. One tune even busts out a be-bop walking bassline, as Rollins does his best hipster jazzbo/Stray Cats frontman impression. Sure, the Black Flag buzz-saw guitars still swarm over everything, and Rollins is still angst-ridden ("Hello darkness! Hello pain!"). But he seems slicker, punchier, and mellower. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that he just turned 40 in February.
"I was onstage that night, and the next day I was on an airplane, and life goes on," he says of his birthday. "I was like 'Oh Christ, I'm 40.' I get Viagra solicitations now on the Internet. I get Viagra and porn spam. I am someone's demographic. Everyone is somebody's demographic, and I must be in the 'Can't Get It Up/Need to Watch People Fuck Because I'm Not Doin' It on My Own' time of my life now. Time for me to get a bald spot, a ponytail, and a Porsche."
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