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.

Q: We're not addressing those problems enough, in your opinion?

A: I think those kind of problems are so woven into the American fabric. We smoke, we drink, we eat a lot. Yeah? Tell me something I don't already know. Well, it kills you. Oh, whatever, whatever. I'm fine. I'm just saying this country needs to straighten up, straighten its shirt a little, stand up a little straighter, watch what you eat, watch what you say, and wake up a little. That's what I say.

Q: What does the country need to do now?

A: We need to look globally and realize we're not the only country in the world. And how you live offends other cultures for right or wrong. We're seen as the Great Satan for everything from Britney Spears to letting women be educated. So there's a lot of people with a bone to pick with us, rightly and wrongly, and you should investigate that. You should look into other cultures and see why they feel this way about this, and not just go, "Oh, they're rag-headed bastards." It's a lot more than that. We are the world. If you travel, you see America everywhere. Almost as much as you see the culture you flew 30 hours to go to. You're in one of the many branches of America Inc.

Q: Is it any wonder people hate us then?

A: Right. When you travel abroad and you see what we do to other countries, how we just walk in and go, "Great. Hi. Can you move? Thanks. Put that one there, that one over there. It's OK -- we worked it out with your king. He gets ten percent. Your culture? Oh, love it. Love those little papier-mâché things you make. I just bought 50 of 'em for my son. He likes to burn them." The way we just marginalize other cultures and say, "Aren't they cute?They can do so many things with string!" These are cultures that are hundreds or thousands of years old that have withstood wars and purges and pogroms, and we just walk in and go, "OK, so... Starbucks. One there, one there, one there." And other cultures go, "Hey, fuck you, man. You're pushing us to the side to put a Mariah Carey poster up?" That's how we come off to some cultures. And I'm not anti-American; I'm telling you I've seen it. Wow, are we crass. No doubt. I still think we live in the greatest country in the world, but I think the greatest is yet to come.

Q: The next generation will have a better outlook on the world?

A: Most certainly. To think that at one point we backed Taliban members because they were taking potshots at Russia. So how can you say you're righteous in all of this? The only way to be righteous is to steadfastly keep dragging everybody kicking and screaming back to the negotiation table, not doing this war thing. This thick-skulled, laconic, Hemingway march to war. We're talking about human beings here. I don't care if it's Iraqi or American. I don't want anybody dead. I don't want Saddam Hussein dead. I'd like him not in power, but I don't want him dead. What does that make me? I just wish there'd be more sanity. And it seems as if Bush doesn't care what the U.N. is saying. He wants a war, and by God, he's gonna have it. It trips me out. If you go to war, you should be cursing your weakness. You should be thinking, "I got it wrong. We're going to war. I must have fucked up. There was a peaceful solution, but I couldn't find it." The president should say, "I'm sorry. I failed you as a nation. We have to go to war now."

Q: But according to Bush, there really is nothing else to be done.

A: He hasn't shown me he's found the needle in the haystack. I want to see every piece of hay out of that barn so you can tell me there's no needle in there. I think men of that great height should be a little more methodical. And I'm no peacenik softy. It's just that we're talking about good American boys coming home unrecognizable. And I'm sure Bush isn't into that. He'd be horrified to have to call that guy's mother. But he's asking for it. The mission to me is that everyone stays alive. How do you do it? I don't know. I'm just a guy in a rock 'n' roll band.

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