Interview: with Henry Rollins singer of Black Flag – Writer – and prolific Punk rock thinker
January 4, 2013
Interview by: Jo Problems
Big Wheel Journalist
There are few names more iconic than Henry Rollins, and few names in Punk rock more polarizing. Ruthlessly outspoken, Henry spent the months before the election touring America, delivering his special brand of insight and experiences to audiences in every capital city of the country. We at Big Wheel Magazine managed to catch up with him briefly for a few questions about some of the issues facing the country today.
Big Wheel Magazine: The dust of the election campaigns has settled, but the divide in America has not; with individuals filing petitions for the cession of heavily "red" states, and others filing counter petitions to deport those who wish to cede. You have frequently called upon people to get to work on the important issues, how do you think the nation can move forward from this ridiculously polarized position?
Henry Rollins: I think America has never recovered from the Civil War. In many ways, things have not changed all that much since 1865. It can be argued that the Reconstruction era America had more failure than success. We got the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution. The Fourteenth is an extremely important one for all Americans. However, America still largely votes on the same lines drawn up during the Civil War. There are at least two Americas. The Tenth Amendment keeps the level of friction at flashpoint. I think we do, eventually get on with things. Americans don’t like change, so things take awhile. There was a time, less than one hundred years ago, when women couldn’t vote. Years from now, marriage equality will be one of those things that’s not a thing. It will just be marriage. I think a lot of America’s woes are generational. I also think things are getting better.
If the Tenth Amendment contributes so much to partisan friction, is there a good argument for retaining individual state identity? In modern times when information can be shared almost instantaneously, and physical distances spanned in a small number of hours, is there a benefit greater than the cost of maintaining both states and inter-state rivalries?
HR: You will never dissolve state lines. State versus Fed will always be a functional friction and a money maker. In the American identity, there needs to be adversarial relationships. It sells football tickets. I think the tension, for the most part is good. It's a large land mass. The problem is that some of the states are now becoming more like countries.
This holiday season has seen a large number of tragedies related to gun violence here in America. You have traveled broadly. Is there a fundamental difference in how Americans perceive violence and violence control measures from the way other cultures or nations do? Is this responsible for the high rates of gun violence in this country?
HR: I think that in other parts of the world, they have a history of loss that is in their culture. In a place like Vietnam, it is a country still emerging from a conflict decades ago. American forces left a lot of chemicals and ordinance in that country. They know all about loss. A lot of European countries didn’t let the lessons of WWII go unlearned. America by comparison, has no real history of loss. Our sense or idea of freedom is often accompanied with a lack of responsibility. Americans act out. We do a lot of things in large, high contrast fashion. We have a gun culture and there are a lot of tough guys out there. They seem to me more loudmouthed weekend warrior types. I think those who have really been out into to territory and seen some real death are not nearly so loud. Americans are not always tested that much but are often quick to buy all the accessories.
So can some of American machismo in public policy be attributed to what amounts to a lack of context?
HR: I think all machismo, the self aware version at least is mere insecurity. "I am rich because I am strong. You are poor because you are weak and lazy." that kind of fake toughness, it costs America quite a bit. It's why the country isn't leading the world in everything.
You have said many times that in your travels the most common thing you find that people want is access to clean water, and that that's something you work on. Is there a particular group you support for that cause? How can other people also get involved?
HR: Dropinthebucket.org is the NGO I work with. What they can really use is money. They don’t need you to drill for water, they have all the teams in place. They need money to keep it happening.
Does music still have a role in changing the world? How? Or is the old light bulb joke about Punk rockers not being able to change anything more accurate?
HR: I don't think it ever had anything to do with changing the world. If a song could stop a war, then Dylan and Marley would have already stopped them all.
What's coming up for you? What's one thing you wish everyone knew about? One thing you wish everyone would forget already?
HR: I will be traveling a lot in 2013. I have some employment set up and am looking for more. Past that, I have two or three books slated for release in 2013. One thing that I wish everyone knew? I guess I wish more people would take the time to check out the facts and figures on more things before they say stupid things about guns, taxes and foreign policy. I read a lot of heated words online from people but they seem to only go with their emotions and not the facts. There is a lot to know and I certainly don’t know it all but I try to get my head around the facts and not be too angry at anything, lest I lose clarity. One thing that want people to forget? I don’t think one can forget. Perhaps I wish some people would get over some things like the fact that even with Citizens United, the Koch brothers, Karl Rove and Sheldon Adelson, they still lost.
So there you have it. Some thoughts from a prolific Punk rock thinker. You can always keep up with what Henry is doing here: www.henryrollins.com
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