By Chere Di Boscio
Former singer for legendary punk band Black Flag and his own group, Rollins Band, Henry Rollins never does anything without putting 110% of his effort into it. Far from your average rock star, Rollins doesn’t just record music: he’s released 17 spoken word albums, on which he shares his poignant yet amusing experiences and world views, and he has also written a dozen or so books, the most recent being The Grim Detail, and pens a popular column for LA Weekly.
As if that wasn’t enough, he’s had his own talk show, where he interviewed icons ranging from Iggy Pop to Pharrell Williams, and hosted a TV series for National Geographic called Animal Underworld. Rollins is also an actor, and has featured in several films and TV shows, including Netflix’s Sons of Anarchy, and feature films, such as Heat, Lost Highway and Batman Beyond.
Here, he talks to Eluxe about capitalism, carbon, kids – and why America deserves better.
When you embarked on filming Animal Underworld for National Geographic, you said you wanted to “better understand the ancient bond between man and beast”. What understanding did you ultimately gain from that experience? And how have animals impacted your own life?
I think in rural settings, people have a different appreciation for animals than might the city dweller. In parts of India where poisonous snake bite is common, people have a much different value system. I live in a city. I’m not thinking about wolves, lions, etc. I think there is something very interesting about people who live day to day in an environment where they could get taken out by a wild animal. There has to be some kind respect that is derived from that relationship. I was raised with animals. I worked at a pet shop, I had a lot of snakes as a young person. An appreciation of animals is good for a human, it can lead to a better understanding and respect for all living things.
You’ve been involved with all kinds of charitable causes, ranging from ending poverty to protecting animals and everything in between. Which causes are you most passionate about?
For me, it’s anything having to do with kids. No child asks to get born, so when they are here, they should be shielded from any possible horror. It’s not the most unique thought but the orphanage I have donated to for over 20 years always feels like the right thing to do.
In previous interviews, you’ve spoken much about your literary and musical heroes, but which political activists or people making a difference (past or present) do you most admire?
My favourite politician is Abraham Lincoln. I think he was a great speaker, as far as the speeches of his that I have been able to read and I think he presided over a very awful time in America. When you look at the photos of him, you can see how worn out he had become. As far as a look of exhaustion on a president’s face, the only one I can compare it President Johnson during the Vietnam War. He looked destroyed. I think Nelson Mandela handled himself in a most exemplary manner. I was in his office a few years ago. He wasn’t in the building that day and they let me look around. He had pictures of himself with both President Clinton and President Obama.
You’re often very critical of America, yet remain a firm patriot. What is it specifically that continues to give you faith in your country?
I meet a lot of Americans and they are good people. I just think we deserve better. That has to come from us. We should treat each other better. Why in the hell would you still have racism? This ancient, moronic hatred? Why does our foreign policy have to always involve so much death and so much death of innocent people as a matter of course, to the point to where no one bothers to say anything. I guess a lot of people don’t want to move forward. It’s frustrating at times.
For which cause would you die, if any?
If it were a choice between me getting killed or one of my friend’s kids, I would happily take the shot.
You’ve travelled extensively around the world for work, but also by choice. What motivates you to travel so much, so often? And do you consider your carbon footprint when you travel?
I travel because I want to know. Books and documentaries will only get you so far. If you want to know, you will have to go. When I have a tour bus, I purchase those carbon, I forget what they’re called. They are not cheap but you can help neutralise your footprint. My road manager found out about this from another band. I’ve been doing this for years.
Many companies–particularly those in transport and fashion–are now producing products they claim are eco-friendly. Do you think capitalism will be able to help save the planet in this way, or are environmentalism and capitalism naturally oppositional?
At this time, I believe that capitalism, at least how it’s used by major corporations, and environmental concerns are in opposition. To be ecologically aware, productivity of many things would slow down at least for awhile. Stockholders don’t want to hear about the saving of the whales or some stream in Kentucky. They want a return on their investment. They are used to a certain kind of global capitalism. This version is very hard on the environment and very hard on people below a certain fiscal level. It is a calculated, systematic weakening of people. Many labour, a few benefit. Try talking about cleaning up the place with these people. The hostility is incredible.
Looking back, what about 2014 stands out for you the most? And what do you hope to see in 2015?
What stands out to me in America was all the police vs. citizens turmoil. It’s decades of bad policing, bad schooling, racism, bigotry and other factors finally spilling into mainstream culture. The Ferguson protests and all the others, the appalling behaviour of the NYPD recently after the two policemen were sadly assassinated….this is the thing that stood out to me the most. 2015? I would like to see the American Congress get some damn work done. I would like to see America evolve on how the laws are enforced on the streets.