Growing up in the punk and hardcore scene, I always viewed Black Flag frontman Henry Rollins as the father figure for this community that attracted kids with primarily broken homes. By the time I discovered his back catalogs, Black Flag had come and gone, and I was left with Rollins’ current body of work, which mainly consisted of spoken word tours and his popular radio programs. This was an adult who came from the same subculture as me and wasn’t strung out on drugs or using his popularity to springboard to Pepsi or McDonalds ads. Rollins was still speaking for the voiceless with no hesitation, and he certainly wasn’t taking shit from anyone either. His was a brutally honest yet hopeful voice in a time when cynicism wasn’t just popular — it was the norm.
Almost a decade later, as my bottles of black hair dye go unused and my constant unsolicited promotion of Pepsi Zero remains constant, Henry Rollins hasn’t changed at all. Recently embarking on his Capitalism tour, Rollins is on a mission to visit every state capital leading up to the November election and filming it all for YouTube channel TakePart TV. Almost halfway through the tour, I caught up with the veteran activist, and it’s official: Even after all these years, Henry Rollins still isn’t fucking around.
As a public activist and spoken word artist, do you have advice for Obama or Romney to help win this Monday’s final debate?
Henry Rollins: No, in that I am not an undecided voter. I know who I am voting for, and at this point the debates don’t really matter to me. By now, I know who I’ am going with, and there is just no way that Mitt Romney would ever be able to make me see it his way. I know what his way is, I got it, and no debate is going to make me go, “You know what, I am switching my vote.” If you’re voting for the person you’re voting for, does it really matter what the say now?
So come November, you’re punching your ticket for Obama?
If you were running for president, what platform would you run on?
I would be running on a platform of education. It is the only way you are going to keep us with the rest of the world and be secured is to have a smart population. What would make me feel really secure at night would be to have a country that was smart. You don’t have a nation full of idiots certainly, but the more you beef up your military, the dumber your people seem to get and more warlike. Listen to what Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan say. They are all about that big defense-spending budget; they want to give the defense industry more money than they want. War is on their agenda, and that is how they stay secure, by trying to scare the living hell out of the rest of the world.
LBGT rights have been a talking point in this election cycle. As a pivotal supporter in the LBGT community, what is the biggest hurdle members of that community must get over to receive equality in America?
It’s not such a matter of them having to get over anything, you know. They are gay, they are here, and there is nothing they can do about. It is like asking me not to be white or left-handed or asking me not to be heterosexual. I don’t know what to do about my heterosexuality. It’s never been challenged, and it’s never been anything I chose. So, it’s not so much that homosexuals have to do anything as much as it is the people who hate them have to evolve.
How would they evolve?
Well, I think education is the key. And I think things are getting better. I think now that you see gay characters in movies, gay characters in sitcoms where at least people are talking about it. Where a long time ago you didn’t speak of it, and now perhaps there is a healthier view of it in at least America.
Black Flag, Minor Threat, Bad Brains — these are all bands with strong political and social messages. What is it about the punk and hardcore scene that draws in a socially and politically conscious following?
It could be that a lot of these people reject the mindless box-wine music and culture that surrounds them, and they want something else. They think a little differently, and they see things a little differently, and the culture around them doesn’t address their grievances. I think punk rock and those avenues have always attracted people who think against the grain and question authority.
Following this country’s history, both recent and past, many mistakes and injustices have been done. How can people stay positive and hopeful in the face of the United States’, at times, dark history?
All you can do is vote and think clearly and be a person of your time. If you really learn from American history, and it is a brief history, there is not a whole lot to know. It’s not lost in centuries, and it’s incredibly interesting and very violent, and you can learn not to repeat where mistakes were made.
Is that working for the United States?
The mistakes keep getting made because they are profitable. They aren’t mistakes they are calculations. You think America would have learned from a war that slaughtered massive amounts of its population. Well, did we learn? No, we keep wading into wars. Why would you do that? Well, because it is profitable. It’s how America makes a lot of its money; a big part of our economy is war, and if conflict is your profit, then what is your enemy? Peace. It’s not a mystery why we do this stuff. Crime is a business. So, you have a country that doesn’t have equality as much as it has freedom. It’s not equality and freedom; it’s equality in spite of all this freedom. When you talk about that, you’re called a socialist, or when you complain about it, you’re Scott Walker’s problem. Ultimately, some people just want to keep you on the cotton farm, keep your mouth shut and keep you working for cheap and make you feel lucky that you have a job. How do you make it better? Don’t fall for it — racism is a scam, homophobia and misogyny, it’s a distraction. So is alcohol and tobacco and PCP. It’s for the idiots to pacify themselves; so is all that bad food. It is to keep you quiet and stupefied.