The mouth that roared

Since the breakup of Black Flag, singer Henry Rollins has had an interesting and lengthy career rocking hard with the Rollins Band, releasing several spoken-word albums/videos/DVDs and writing and publishing poetry and essay books through his award-winning 2-13-61 imprint. Rollins is also a regular on both the big and small screens, guesting on ABC-TV's "Politically Incorrect," narrating FOX's new creep show "Night Visions" and filling small roles in feature films like "Lost Highway" and "Jack Frost." The unstoppable mouth has even become a key figure in VH1's world domination effort. Who would have predicted?

Behind all that muscle is a man who, at 40 years of age, has worked hard for every penny he has earned (which he calculates to about eight bucks an hour).The tough guy is genuinely fascinated by his star status and realizes that fame is merely generated by the media machine. And boy, does Henry hate machines, as evidenced by the raw nature of his new CD, "Nice," due in stores later this month.

We caught up with Rollins -- always charismatic and sometimes brutally honest -- via telephone at his L.A. office in mid-June.

OW: You once held on dearly to your underground status; now you are a cultural icon. How have you changed?

Henry Rollins: I keep to myself very much, much more than I used to. You see very isolated, crystallized moments of my existence. You see a TV thing, a magazine thing and a show. For example, this weekend I have nothing to do.

Your new CD, "Nice," is very raw ...

That is the way I have always done it ... go into a studio, put on good new two-inch tape, get good sound on the instruments and go play. I don't have a problem doing it a different way; if sequencer boy wants to make his record on a Macintosh, that's cool, but that's not the way I'm swinging. ... We play music for people, not machines.

You seem to have a realistic, almost cynical view point of Hollywood ...

Fame is generated only somewhat by what you do, but it's mostly generated by a media machine, a fame machine and a glamour machine around you. So, to take any of that seriously is to basically put a lot of your emotional investment into something that is out of your control and is dictated by people who are looking at statistics and looking to further their own ends by riding on your back. Those people aren't your friends; they are businessmen. I don't discuss poetry or music with my lawyer.

The thing that keeps me going is my work. The idea that you are somewhat better than other people because they recognize you is silly to me. I never had the platinum record where I'm being chased by a bunch of women and all this money just falls into my bank account. All my money has come very hard fought.

I did three films last year. I get small to medium parts in small to medium movies. ... You don't make a lot of money at it. I get scale.

You have always maintained a very funny and sarcastic sense of humor; who do you find funny?

I listen to a lot of comedy records; I like Bill Hicks, Derek & Clive. They are brutal, what they do, but they are incredibly funny. I grew up with guys like George Carlin, Lenny Bruce and Bill Cosby.

Will you be guesting on Politically Incorrect again? You've been on like 10 times!

I love doing that show. I will be doing another show sometime soon. Whenever I'm in L.A. they call me. They need four guests per show, so they are always looking for people who have an opinion and who can speak.

You narrated The Doors and Queen documentaries on VH1.

VH1 are fans of mine. They showed me The Doors script. There were a couple things I disagreed with; they were kind of making fun of Jim Morrison. I called Ray Manzarek `Doors keyboardist` and told him: If you have a problem with these lines, A, I didn't write them and, B, I am going to push against it. But with your blessing I will go forward and do this project. So VH1 wound up doing my version.

What are your opinions of Napster?

I get letters from kids all the time telling me they really love my new talking record that they downloaded from Napster. I'm glad the guy `at Napster` is listening to me and checking it out, but I don't think he should have gotten it for free. It's the principle. Just the fact that this Napster guy ... gets to mess with me. And believe me when I tell you this, there is no way this guy would survive me if he were alone in the room with me.

Tell us about narrating for "Night Visions?"

It's basically like "The Twilight Zone." It's two half-hour shows and I am the guy who does the introduction and ending monologue to each segment. How I got the job I still don't know.


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