When Henry Rollins is asked what drives him — whether he’s fronting iconic punk band Black Flag, authoring books and columns, acting in films and television, or performing spoken word — he has a simple answer: anger and curiosity.
In the run-up to the presidential election, the outspoken Rollins is in the midst of a speaking tour, “Capitalism,” that will take him to the capital city of every state in the Union — including, this week, ours. Along the way, he’s sharing stories and insights from his extensive travels at home and abroad. As anyone who has followed the man’s lengthy and varied career would imagine, these are stories brimming with Rollins’ signature wit, perspective, and, yes, anger and curiosity.
Seven Days caught up with Rollins by phone the morning after the second presidential debate. Rollins performs at the Vermont College of Fine Arts this Friday, October 26.
(Note: Henry Rollins has a lot to say. Too much for this little space in our print edition. For the unabridged interview, visit Seven Days’ politics blog, Off Message.)
SEVEN DAYS: So, any thoughts on the debate last night?
HENRY ROLLINS: Yes and no. I’m not one who is swayed by debates. That is to say, I’m not an undecided voter. My candidate could have come onstage naked with just a bow tie and juggled, and I’m still going to vote for him.
SD: [Laughs] Um … Romney?
HR: No. In the first debate, in my small opinion, Romney just hurled talking points but never really fleshed anything out. His five-point plan, which he mentions incessantly, is so vague. “We’re gonna make things better, and we’re gonna do different stuff and we’re not going to spend as much money over here.” Pal, you haven’t drilled down into it. Then [in the second debate], I guess to energize his base, the president mentions “47 percent” to make Rachel Maddow and company get off his back for a while. But he’s been the president for four years, so he can say, “Here’s what we did about this. And here’s why we did this.” I like all that stuff. I’m voting for Barack Obama, and there is nothing Mitt Romney can say or do to change my mind. [Romney] struck me the way he did the first time I saw him speak: Oh, that guy again. It’s the poor rich guy running for president because there is nothing else to do. And he comes off that way.
SD: What does it say about the state of conservatism in the U.S. that he’s the best option Republicans could field?
HR: Their idea has fired on all its cylinders, and everyone has seen what it does. You had years of it. Yet they keep saying, “Trust us and we’ll make it better.” We’ve seen what you do when you have nothing holding you down, and look at your America. You have a culture of ignorance, a culture of violence where people are marginalized and ghettoized. We’ve seen their ideas. And maybe some Americans like what they got. There are some people who aren’t affected either way. As Clinton said, some people don’t mind being strong and wrong.
SD: Are you surprised the race is so close?
HR: I’m astonished. I think it’s so obvious who isn’t the guy for the job. I think they should have just rerun McCain.
SD: Wow … seriously?
HR: I think he’d be doing better. I think what you have in America are people who just don’t like Barack Obama. So you have a lot of “anyone but him” voters. I did one of those morning radio shows where you have, like, eight people with funny names, Jerry and Dog Man or whatever, and half of them were undecided. The other half were for Romney. And I don’t understand either position. I’ve never been undecided on anything. But that’s your America. You can do whatever you want.
SD: Given the speed of news cycles and that your show is so topical, how much do you change your performances from night to night to keep up?
HR: Ever so slightly. I’m not gonna go onstage and bore an audience with my political opinion. It doesn’t matter who I vote for. It matters that I’m voting. If you’ve noticed, I haven’t asked you who you’re voting for. That’s because I don’t care who you’re voting for. It’s not my business. But I care that you do vote. I think democracy is begging you to jump in. So I ask my audiences that they vote, but who they vote for isn’t my concern. And I leave it at that. I think people have made their minds up. Unless they’re on a morning show in New Hampshire.
SD: Right. So the bulk of the show centers on your experiences traveling?
HR: My travels inform most of my show. I meet a lot of people in America, and I tell a lot of those stories. I’ll hear stuff that is so intense, people who have lost siblings in Afghanistan, body ailments, incredibly tough things. And it’s good for me to hear this stuff. It’s easy to be cynical: “Oh, my fellow Americans are a bunch of idiots.” Which is not true. Overworked and underappreciated. But we’re not a nation of stupid people. So to hear what Americans are going through is good to know. We’re living amongst a group of hardworking, kick-ass people. So I tell those stories onstage because sometimes I hear those stories that day. It’s breaking news in my little world.
SD: You also travel the world, often to places most people won’t go: Iran, Afghanistan, Syria. Do you find it difficult to reconcile what you see in those places with what is reported in the news?
HR: Sometimes, yes. The American media sometimes tells me I should be frightened of these people and places. And certainly, you have to be careful when you walk around Kabul or certain parts of the world. But I have found that people around the world, by and large, are exceedingly friendly. They’re very curious about America. It’s true in Pakistan, Iran, Syria, Lebanon — all over the world. It doesn’t mean you can’t turn a corner and have a bad night. But that also describes Cleveland. But the world is not to be feared.
Henry Rollins performs “Capitalism” on Friday, October 26, 8 p.m. at Alumni Hall at the Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier. $25-28.
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