Henry Rollins on National Geographic gig and other adventures in work
Henry Rollins (appearing at the Soiled Dove Underground this Sunday, April 3) began his career fronting Black Flag, an endeavor he won a Grammy for chronicling in the audio book Get in The Van. He went on to front The Rollins Band and appeared in numerous films.
In recent years, he's become more known as a talented spoken word artist who does voiceover work in cartoons, documentaries and the like. As a performer, Rollins is generous with his time, making audiences laugh and think as he discusses various adventures he's had in his ongoing travels both here and abroad. We spoke with Rollins shortly before his fiftieth birthday, commemorated in part by his current spoken word tour, about his stints with National Geographic and some of the projects he's worked on in recent years as part of his ongoing efforts to stave off boredom and stagnation.
Westword: This is going back several years, but who was the guy you were about to talk about but didn't when you elaborated on your dislike of Edie Brickell on "Hating Someone's Guts Part 1" from Talking from the Box? Do you still feel that way about anyone making music?
Henry Rollins: I don't remember who that was. That was an idea I had, in reference to the Edie Brickell thing, who I'm sure is a wonderful woman. It's that I found that kind of music unbelievably unessential and just gratuitous. Someone would probably say the same thing about everything I've ever done. It's kind of like, what are you turning youth into? What is this bullshit? It became college rock. And she, like I said, very nice, but I just saw that and came up with that idea. I had nothing against her, but [rather] what her music represented. "No, no, no, don't lose the will to fight."
So many of those bands around that time became kind of safe music, and I didn't think it was the time for safe music. There's always a place for it, but it seemed like really what everyone wanted. I like to eat macaroni and cheese, too, but you can't do it too often. That was kind of like comfy music, and I thought, "No, we're not in a comfy time," and I still kind of feel that way.
You've been involved in some recent National Geographic documentaries?
I've been working with National Geographic for quite a while now doing voiceovers, and now I'm in front of the camera. In December we released a documentary which we shot last July about the Monoamine Oxidase A gene [Born to Rage ], otherwise known as the "warrior gene" or the MAO-A gene, which is found in thirty percent of the male population and skews for violent or aggressive behavior.
It didn't light me up, but NatGeo asked if I wanted to be part of it, and I said, "Yeah sure!" because it's interesting enough. I always felt myself to be an angry person, and I found out they were going to test me, and I wanted to find out. I think the nature versus nurture discussion is of complete interest to me, in that, I think, we, homo sapiens, are a product of our environment.
I think it's interesting what that environment engenders in someone later on. Like the guy getting the crap kicked out of him by mom and his alcoholic dad and ends of being Dad of the Year just because he said, "Not on my watch. It happened to me, and there's no way I'm going to do that to someone else."
That's usually what happened to me, where people were abusive to me when I was young, and it made me understand being abused. It was very easy for me to go there because I was so well-versed in it and having had to run from it. When I see other fellow weirdos, I never hold any rancor toward them because I'm like, "Yeah, they're always stepping on you for being different." I was the guy sticking up for the gay guy getting shoved around, "Man, leave him alone, or you've got big problems with me." It was interesting thing being involved with that documentary, and I think it came out pretty good.
There's a new one we got the week after about snakes for National Geographic Wild. I'm not afraid of snakes, and I've been handling them since I was eleven. They asked if I could handle snakes, and they didn't know that about me. It's an interesting bit of work in general.