When you have at least six full-time jobs and one is trying to change the world, do you sleep? “Yeah,” Henry Rollins says. “At least five hours. That’s kind of what you get during the workweek. But if you keep the nutrition up, you can get by on that.”
Oh, and he has time to eat right? It’s no big deal, on top of being a publisher, writing books/blogs/articles, doing spoken-word tours, acting, hosting a radio show and fighting for civil rights. And that list once included hosting his own IFC talk show and fronting Black Flag and The Rollins Band. He more than gets by—he’s a machine.
“I’d rather sleep longer,” Rollins says via phone from his office. Given his druthers, he’d sleep in. But he likes working late; creativity hits between midnight and four. And when he’s off the road, he mans the office, which opens at 8:45 a.m. “There are a lot of obligations.”
It’s not much different than the average grind; he’s just working for the weekend. “Friday is my big night to howl ... my big, adult kickass night. But I’m an incredibly boring person. I go out and get coffee and write in my notebook, then I listen to records at home. It’s not a bad way to spend the night.”
As for boring? Riiiight. Ripped, with hair shorn tight and the penetrating gaze of a drill sergeant, Rollins is an intense and imposing presence. When he speaks, you listen; he commands respect and doesn’t rant aimlessly. The well-read autodidact speaks with a deep-seated conviction he’s honed since grade school in Washington, D.C.
Born in D.C. in 1961, by the late 1960s, he was neck-deep in racial turmoil on his grade school playground, where he was routinely shoved around for being white. “I was fairly terrified; it doesn’t take much for a 7-year-old kid to cry. When you don’t understand racism, you don’t understand what you’ve done to deserve that.
“It never made me want to be racist; it made me want to push against it. What politicized me was seeing the disparity between classes of people up close.”
Feeling obliged to destroy disparity is what drives Rollins in his endeavors. His current spoken-word tour, Capitalism, confronts similar inequities—but it’s not a diatribe against capitalism. “I don’t think capitalism is bullshit. It’s out of control. It’s unregulated. People won’t play on a level playing field. They hire lobbyists to go in and regulate and screw people. Like the Koch brothers—that’s the kind of capitalism that gets people killed.”
He says we need capitalism, but it has to be equitable. “You don’t have to be a bastard about it. Capitalism is a weapon you have to use very carefully. It’s rope; you can build a bridge with it or you can hang yourself. I live in a capitalist society, a consumer-driven economy. People buy my books, and I can pay my bills. So I don’t have a problem with capitalism until these sons of bitches come in and rip people’s heads off with it.
“There’s something to be said for moral rectitude,” Rollins continues, “having a civic and a moral compass. I’m talking to you from California. You’re in Utah. I consider your state my neighbor. If something happens there, I can’t go, ‘Oh, sucks to be you.’ I have a responsibility to help you; we’re fellow Americans. So that is how I go at capitalism: morality.”
It’s how Rollins goes about everything. When his call waiting beeps, announcing his next interview, he has to go. Now. No final question; he has an obligation. He’s already given a meaty interview, so it’s totally cool. But 30 minutes later, his manager e-mails, “Henry just shot me an e-mail asking me to let you know that he’d be happy to answer a few questions if you had more.”
His compass is true.
AN EVENING WITH HENRY ROLLINS: CAPITALISM
The State Room
638 S. State
Sunday, Sept. 16, 8 p.m.