Henry Rollins first gained public attention as the frontman for Black Flag, a position he held from 1981 until the act's 1986 breakup. Though that tenure will probably always turn up in the first line of any Rollins bio, he's spent most of his career refusing to be pigeonholed, and alternately logging time as an actor, spoken-word artist, author, TV host, and social activist. Most recently, Rollins has been working with the USO and serving as host of IFC's The Henry Rollins Show, a talk show/comedy program/political debate that airs each Friday at 11 p.m. ET. Last week, we put out an open call asking A.V. Club readers to pose Rollins some questions about politics. This week, Rollins is back with answers to the 15 we selected.
Question: What's up with your country? I mean really, enough is enough. Just asking. —canada fella
Henry Rollins: My neighbor to the north, I understand your frustration. But to be fair, there are a lot of us who are pushing for something different than what's happening now, and little by little, I think we're making some impact/progress. I know that many aspects of the American way may seem lethal and just downright insane, but there are some good people and good things we have done. Give us another century—if we're still here, you may just congratulate us for turning the whole thing around before it was too late. Be patient.
Q: Did you ever notice how really, every system of government/economics would work in a perfect world containing nothing but skilled, driven, and competent people? People are the flaw in everything from communism and anarchy to democracy and capitalism. So why is it that every single proponent of any given system completely ignores the important fact that incompetent people will always find a way to screw things up? —EMStoveken
HR: I think the power of the individual and the need to separate oneself from the pack has something to do with it. Like Paul Stanley of Kiss once said to a woman who asked him if he was in a band. He said, "Honey, I'm not in a band, I'm in THE band." I think sometimes it's the competent people who do the screwing-up: Those who know better and can do better, those with all the power in any given situation, often go for themselves over the team. It seems as if tyranny is only a matter of time with any society. I would hate to think that's the way people are, but it very well could be.
Q: Okay, I'm pissed off. I'm disturbed about the state of the country, the state of the world, the state of life. I'm sufficiently angry to stop being the lazy ignorant American, and I want to do something. I like your views, I like your attitude. I like that you have a worldly approach to things. I've traveled, I've lived abroad, I educate myself. I hate the things my country does, I hate listening to our elected officials, I've never been more well-informed about politics and the state of the world than I am now—and I feel paralyzed, indecisive. I'm angry, I want to do something, I want to help change things. Do you have any suggestions? Getting directly involved in politics seems as though I'd be making myself part of the problem. I see no solution in sight, no leaders to believe in, no way out of the shitstorm we've all brewed around ourselves. I want to do something, but I haven't any idea what I can do. What do you think? —Kyle Oddson
HR: I have always thought that change you can see and feel is best. If you work locally, then you can really do something. I think politicians get hamstrung by the nature of politics when the private sector can really do great things. I contribute to a local orphanage down the street from the office, and some other organizations I agree with. If everyone who could, did something like that, your country would look very different very quickly. I believe in a lot of people making small amounts of progress. Doing small stuff like some money here or there, a benefit or whatever else. It's part of a good thing that only gets better. The way out of the storm you speak of—there are a lot of people who are invested in that storm. Peace is their enemy.
Q: You've conquered the music, film, and television worlds, so is a run for political office in your future? And if so, would you consider tattoo removal? —Joe1
HR: I have not the smarts or patience for political office. I never thought about getting any tattoos removed.
Q: What's your favorite political movie? —avirguss
HR: All The President's Men.
Q: Do you believe in any of the famous conspiracy theories (second gunman, faked moon landing, rigged voting machines, etc)? If so, which ones, why, and what's your opinion? —Vigeajio
HR: I don't necessarily believe or disbelieve any of that. I do think there was an effort on the Republican side of an election or two to intimidate potential voters and perhaps make it difficult for some people to get their votes in. I don't think at this point, that is up for debate. I think voting machines can be manipulated, from what I have seen. As always, it's up to those in charge to be honest. We can be careful and vigilant, but at the end of the day, you have to count on someone you don't know to do the right thing. Things like the moon landing, I really don't care either way.
Q: I'm interested in hearing your thoughts on celebrity involvement in charities, especially these major benefit concerts, Live AID, the thing Al Gore is setting up, etc. How much of it do you think is the result of genuine intentions, rather than just grandstanding by the public figure in question? And if they are just doing it for the attention, given how much money they are capable of raising, do their intentions really matter? —Coyote
HR: I think it would be wrong to generalize and paint all known people who raise money for causes, etc., with one brush. I am sure there are all kinds of motivations out there. I was able to raise, with the help of my bandmates, office staff, and a whole lot of other people, a large sum of money which we donated to help pay for the DNA testing of crime-scene evidence for three young men who didn't have the means to get the evidence tested on their own. For myself, I don't need a thank-you from anyone or to take a bow, I just did what I thought was right. That being said, if they are capable of raising the money, what their motivations are might not be the primary concern.
Q: The underrated A. Whitney Brown once said that our voting process has stopped being about voting for the candidate you like the most, and become about voting for the candidate you dislike the least. Is there any way around this problem? Our two-party system has such a stranglehold on the voting process (the higher the level of government, the tighter its grip) that anyone supporting a third-party candidate runs the risk of splitting the vote in favor of their least desirable choice.
I'm not a political-science expert (no, really!), but for the life of me, I can't find a solution short of massive changes in the electoral process and the structure of the government itself.
I suppose at this point, it's time to start shouting "Anarchy! Anarchy!", or something similar. Is that really what it'll take to effect change on such a scale? —LePenguin
HR: I am willing to bet that there will not be a third-party president in our lifetime. I do think that at this point, a lot of people vote protectively. I know I do. I never thought Kerry was the man for the job, but he was the most powerful anti-Bush statement I could make at the time. I think government is fine, it's been temporarily hijacked, but I think things will get better.
Q: Two questions: 1) What the fuck is going on? 2) What the fuck do we do now? —ChappySinclair
HR: Those are two very good and very huge questions. I think one needs to want change, and as soon as you start moving on toward that, soon you're up to your ears in possibilities and potential. In America, the many are controlled, more than ever, by the few. It's amazing what they get away with in the light of day.
Q: Okay, you've been all over the world. What country do you think has the most messed-up political system? —blackgoatofhades
HR: The most messed-up political systems are the ones supported by those who say their system is the fairest and the best, to the point where they feel the need to spread that system to other countries without asking said countries what they think. These are the ones who seem to have no problem ignoring the hypocrisy and shortcomings of their system, but demand that others use it anyway. It's like only selling damaged goods to people, then robbing them of the cost if they don't want to buy the product. If you dare to point out the parts of the product that could be improved upon, you are told that you hate the product. That is pretty messed-up.
Q: Acting to end the U.S. war in Iraq is the morally correct action. Yet if the Democrats in Congress succeed in ending the war by forcing Bush to pull out the troops, the Republicans will be able to point to the ensuing bloodbath and hang it on the Democrats. The thing is, there will be a bloodbath in Iraq if we pull out today, tomorrow, in three months, or in three years. Yet the Republicans will score huge political points if the Democrats do the right thing and end it earlier rather than later. What should the Democrats do? —Spiff
HR: I do not agree that they will score any points of any number or size. Democrats should get the kids out of Iraq, that's what I think. I don't know how many times you can ask them to go in before they lose their minds, legs, wives, etc.
Q: Do you give credit to George W. in any area, or do you feel (as most in this A.V. Club demographic seem to) that every single thing he has done in seven years has been sinister, self-serving, and/or stupid? —Pete Deeble
HR: I think the Bush administration has done almost, if not all, the things they set out to do, and in record time. I am sure they are well impressed with themselves. I think that all the peace and prosperity we enjoy now, our surplus of cash, and good standing in the world is a testament to Oh, wait, that was the other guy. Yes, I guess that I am one of those people who would probably be going with that whole "sinister and stupid" thing. I guess I am part of that "A.V. Club demographic," the one that comprises more than 60 percent of America. It's strange to be in the majority, I'm not used to it.
Q: How do you feel about celebrities who say things that are distinctly anti-military and/or government, then follow it up with "But I support the troops"? Being one of said troops, I can tell you that it sure doesn't feel that way to me or most of my friends. However, aren't a lot of these Hollywood types doing the same thing, oddly enough, by saying the opposite? What the fuck does Sean Penn know about the military and war? I realize he was in The Thin Red Line, but some of us actually walk that line for real. When did Charlie Sheen become an expert in the engineering of the largest buildings in NYC? Did that clown Rosie actually say, "Fire has never melted steel"? I'm pretty sure steel doesn't come into existence shaped as a girder. Do we shape them using ice? I'm confused. Many of these people are your counterparts, and I just want to know what you think about them, and why more celebrities who have opposing, more pro-military viewpoints don't come out and say something. —Sailor E
HR: I don't know if I agree that these people are "anti-military and/or government" at all. Have you ever heard any of these people say they hope the troops get killed? I have not. So you are saying that to be "pro-troop" would be to be glad soldiers are in Iraq getting their legs blown off? It seems like they are saying the opposite.
What does Sean Penn know about the military? I don't know. Do you ask the same question of Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, and Ann Coulter as well? They fly in corporate jets all the time. Talk about fancy! Those guys are not only fancy, they are fancy-schmancy. When did any of these people become experts on stem-cell research? I only ask because they seem to know more than the doctors they bring on their shows. I have always admired a well-rounded person, I must say. Rosie O'Donnell got a fact wrong? Probably listening to Rush Limbaugh too much, and some rubbed off. I hope you call him out on his errors as well as you no doubt got back to Rosie, unless you know that you are pulling what she said out of context and think no one will call you on it. Ahoy! It is time to grow up.
Sailor E, I hope you have the courage and intellectual fortitude to engage the real questions instead of hiding behind the silliness of saying that people are "anti-military" because they see through the workings of the Bush administration's move to Iraq, because that's just not the real issue. Besides, no one is falling for it any more. You said you were confused, and that's obvious, but I think you will pull through and not do too much harm until that time. Also, I must say how much I enjoyed spending time with members of the Navy at the Lemonier Base in Djibouti recently, and I wanted to thank you for utilizing the Marines for force protection, because their presence at the base made myself and everyone else feel really safe. Thanks for your service, and all you do and when the president says, "Oceans no longer protect us," don't take it personally.
Q: It seems like the political and economic landscape is in a similar place (better or worse, it's subjective) as it was when the hardcore movement took place. Why isn't there a similar movement taking place now? Is it there and just too underground to see, or is the ease of communication (YouTube, MySpace, the Internet in general) taken for granted by my generation? —Vinegar E
HR: I disagree—there's a similar underground now, more connective than ever. Internet trumps the fanzine, and I think during the Reagan administration, you would have never seen a youth presence like the ones you see now at protest events in America. I could be very wrong about that, but that's the sense I get.
Q: Now that you seem to be becoming more of an elder statesman and showcasing quite a bit of (gasp!) contemplation and pragmatism when it comes to political issues, do you ever regret being part of a movement that frequently reduced social and governmental concerns to simplistic slogans and nihilistic anger? Do you ever wish that your band, and others, might have approached these topics in a less hyperbolic way and engaged discussion instead of gut reactions? Do you even agree that this was the case in the first place? —Lil Danzig
HR: I don't think we had the luxury of any other thing to go on but our gut at that time, and I have no regrets at all besides letting some people walk away from situations they should have crawled away from. Things happen when you do a few decades of living, you change your mind, you see other possibilities, you become secure enough to entertain other points of view. For instance, I wonder if you will call yourself "Lil Danzig" for the rest of your life. It's up to you, of course.