Hank's Think Tank

What's the Henry Rollins alternative to war? Talk. And more talk.

That movie Rock Star should have been based on Black Flag, not Judas Priest. Sure, Judas Priest replaced Rob Halford with an unknown, but that was well after the band's prime. By contrast, punk pioneer Black Flag replaced its lead singer with an unknown man who jumped up on stage and started belting out the lyrics -- and did so while it was on the rise. That man was Henry Rollins.

Those days are far behind Rollins. With Black Flag, the Rollins Band, and his spoken-word tours, Rollins has carved out a unique niche as a sort of meathead philosopher for the hardcore set. And make no mistake about it -- Rollins did all the carving himself. For a fellow who looks (and often acts) like the quintessential steroid-pumped jock, Rollins has proven to possess impressive business acumen. He now has his brawny fingers in all manner of media, from recording to publishing to producing. And for a man so steeped in the punk mythos, Rollins has done a pretty good job of looking like the Man over the past few years.

It's easy to say that from a safe distance, of course, where one need not be afraid of having a couple of teeth kicked in. That mean streak running up Rollins' back like the large sun tattoo across his shoulder blades is what assures that the man always hangs onto a bit of down-in-the-trenches, mosh-to-the-death importance in the pantheon of punk. But for a guy whose image is so tightly wound around his ability to stomp the average Joe, Hank sounded awfully pacifistic in a recent conversation with New Times.

Q:So, what's pissing you off these days?

A: Well, I'm really concerned about what goes on in my homeland considering what's at stake. It's interesting seeing stuff like the Trent Lott thing go down and wondering how much of a bad guy or a good ol' boy he really is. Just watching how all the Republicans deserted him. That's interesting to me. That's relevant, topical stuff that I find interesting. But I've done a lot of stuff in the last 18 months since I've been on a talking tour. So that'll play into it.

Q: What sort of stuff?

A: Things I've done -- movies, traveling, and stuff. And so if you've ever seen the talking shows or heard about them, it's a combination of all that. It doesn't change that much in format. It's me, with a mic, goin' off. The topics change because life goes on and different stuff comes into the mix.

Q: You mentioned the stakes in the homeland being so high. What exactly is the problem in government?

A: As an observer who gets his information from CNN, what do I know? It just seems like certain parts of the American government don't seem to want to listen to the rest of the world or the U.N. It's just us and Iraq. If you say "nuclear," if you put the term "nuclear" into that equation, it's a world thing. I know that we've gone to try and get the rest of the world to get behind America so we can all stand unified to get Saddam to cool it, and I wish he would just cool it, but there seems to be this overriding "we don't need you, we don't need anybody, we're America, so get the fuck out of the way." And I think that's really kind of a dangerous way to swagger with certain groups, certain countries, certain religions, and certain cultures. You can't do that John Wayne thing with everyone and have them tuck under. Some people stand up and will punch back or just attack fanatically. We live in a country that's really not prepared for that in a lot of ways. Prepared militarily, maybe. But culturally, we suffer from this idea of being bulletproof.

Q: The people at home aren't ready for the body count?

A:Well, who's gonna be ready to see their kid come home in a box? And the less of that the better. But as far as culture, I think America sees itself as having this imperviousness. An Israeli woman said it best on September 12. She said, "America used to be the world; now America's part of the world." I think that's just part and parcel of coming into, you know... gettin' a little on you. Europe is still, to a certain degree, war-torn. There's still half-destroyed buildings that they leave that way so you can remember what can happen when people blow it. And we don't really have that here. The Revolutionary War, the Civil War, cowboys and Indians. It's all on a postage stamp now. It's just a folk song. So the point I'm going to be making at the shows is, "Wake up -- we have enemies." But the people you think are our archenemies may not be the biggest ones we have.

Q: Who is?

A: I'm not into the Taliban, but statistically, they are not the biggest threat to homeland security. What's the biggest threat to you, sitting in your seat, right now? The Taliban? Some foreign force? Or an American? If you look at the statistics, Americans wipe themselves out at a dizzying rate. Every 18 minutes in America, someone kills themselves. In 37 and a half days, that's as many people as died on September 11. So why bother terrorizing us? Leave us alone! We're doing it. Four hundred thousand-plus smoking-related deaths a year, 687,000 obesity-related deaths, 10,829 gun homicides last year -- forget vehicular death. We're dropping like flies for really no good reason. So America has enemies: It's us. As far as homicide and suicide statistics, you have less chance of getting killed by a bullet by someone else than doing it yourself. That's a weird one. Good thing I'm not on marijuana right now. That'd be the rest of the afternoon.

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