“I think Americans are exceptional in that in America you can be functionally illiterate, you can be semi-illiterate, and get through and have a pretty good life.”
Clocking more than 100 shows per year for multiple decades now, Henry Rollins is a clean-living, world-traveling, rapid fireball of neurosis. At 50, the former Black Flag frontman has become less of a punk-rock pundit and more of a genuinely funny orator at large. Seated in his concrete-floored, soundproofed office and flanked by Macs and framed punk-rock posters, Rollins unleashes a pack of iambic run-on sentences on the Phoenix more ferocious than a Juárez gang of feral Chihuahuas.
YOU SAY THAT THERE ARE COOL PEOPLE EVERYWHERE. YOU WERE RECENTLY IN NORTH KOREA. DID YOU MEET ANY COOL PEOPLE?
No! They didn't let me meet anybody! I met cool Norwegians, cool Australians and Kiwis, two interesting tour guides, the driver and a man that sold me a Nescafe coffee for a Euro at a roadside stop. And that's the entirety of the North Korean people that I met. And maybe the nice lady who gave me a cup of hot water at the hotel, and I said thank you, and she kind of nodded and averted her eyes. I've walked on the streets of countries with oppressive regimes before, and there's a similarity in that everyone has a tight smile on their face. "Havin' a great time! Tell anyone that might be spying on me that I'm loving it! I'm loving life!"
A LOT OF AMERICAN LIFE CONSISTS OF GOING THROUGH THE MOTIONS AT WORK AND THEN SAYING, 'I JUST WANT TO CHILL OUT, I'M BUSY.' PEOPLE WANT TO ESCAPE FROM A LIFE THAT'S ALREADY AN ESCAPE. DO YOU AGREE?
I think Americans are exceptional in that in America you can be functionally illiterate, you can be semi-illiterate, and get through and have a pretty good life. America is so dialed in that you can not aspire to much and have a pretty well-fed, "my roof doesn't leak" ride through the American experience, and you're gonna get by — much to the chagrin of some Republican types that are the "pull yourself up by your own bootstraps" crowd. I can understand the anger. I'm all about those bootstraps. But I never once thought that I invented the bootstraps.
HOW WOULD YOU COMPARE WHAT YOUNG PEOPLE ARE EXPERIENCING WITH WHAT YOU EXPERIENCED IN THE REAGAN ERA?
I think that delivery systems of distraction are much more efficient now, where the youth have been bought off with iPods, iPads, iTunes — and I'm not indicting Mac. Americans are given really ample opportunity to cocoon ourselves away from that which is looking to potentially disenfranchise us or hurtle us into another war. I think that started when I first started hearing the word "yuppie" — and I started seeing designer clothing, designer food places. Those with money can isolate themselves from the teeming masses. I think they do that with earplugs, they do it with these amazing lifelike video games, and all the things you can kind of waste your time on via the internet. Things that are funny, easily available, porn shot in high definition, there are lots of things to take you away from reading, asking questions, going places.