In fact, he’d love to take on the Food and Drug Administration’s reproductive advisery committee and show all those invisible appointees that “you just don’t get to tell a woman what to do with her ovaries.” The chances of that happening are pretty slim. Since The Henry Rollins Show launched on IFC in 2005, he’s sat down with subjects diverse as Werner Herzog, Russell Simmons, Gore Vidal, Larry Flynt, Arianna Huffington, Joan Jett and Christopher Walken. He’s even entertained Kiss leader Gene Simmons, a notorious misogynist and arrogant rock star whose favorite conversation topic is himself. How did he not lose his cool? “I just let Gene be Gene,” Rollins says, adding that Simmons isn’t exactly Mussolini. “I don’t have any real bones to pick with him. He doesn’t harmfully impact my life. He didn’t invade Iraq.”
That would be Bush. Cheney. People who won’t give Rollins the time of day. He’d love to sit down and debate the hell out them, but “I don’t think they would be foolish enough to go on camera where we own the footage and can cut it any way we want,” he says. Ditto for Christian fundamentalists. They’re too busy telling homosexuals how much God hates them: “I don’t know anything about religion, but what I have gleaned about Christ—if he was a person—is that he was just a character who embodies all of these pretty cool ideas. I can get with that. What pisses me off is the people who espouse his word [then start attacking minorities]. It’s like, ‘Start acting like it, you homophobe.’”
Rollins doesn’t have much respect for cowards. He does, however, recognize that there’s a time and place for certain discussions. His work with the United Service Organizations, for example, doesn’t involve berating the troops about justification for the U.S. occupation of Iraq.
“I’m not onstage speaking to soldiers in Iraq saying the war is bogus,” he says. “What they’re dealing with every day and what we read about is quite a different conflict. They wake up, they’ve got a 12-hour shift and the job is Don’t Get Blown Up.” Overseas, Rollins keeps things light and sticks to more humorous topics: dating, driving, Los Angeles. When he hosted two Iraq veterans on his talk show, he gave them the floor.
“They were very respectful, but they said ‘This is an unsustainable conflict—we’ve been there and this thing sucked,’” he says. “You should have seen the hate mail I got for that. I thought ‘What? I just let these people say what they wanted to say—and they’re patriots!’”
Rollins gets a lot of letters from soldiers telling him what they’ve done. They send photographs of bodies on fire, torture victims they’ve found—visions of hell. It sends chills down his spine and gives him great concern for how this generation of war veterans will be met by folks back home.
“What do you do with well over a million people coming back in various states of trauma? Who pays for it? Well, the government doesn’t seem to want to,” he says. “That’s going to be a very visible part of the American landscape—the man with that interesting walk because he has a missing leg.”
Rollins manages to keep other things on his mind. He’s watching the presidential campaigns, waiting to see which Democrat takes the primary. No way is he voting Republican. Politics are always on his mind. He wishes people were more cynical, hopes they’ll wake up and take back their country from the corporations and warmongers who ripped it away.
Of course, he’s not cynical about everything. Rollins is excited about today’s music. No, not the kids on MTV, but the more obscure bands, such as Dax Riggs, who in a just world would be on everyone’s radar. People who claim great music is dead aren’t paying enough attention. “Music doesn’t suck at my house nor does it on my radio show,” he says. “There are bands putting out records this week who are completely happening. Music is in a really good place, and I think that’s partly due to major labels hitting this critical mass.” One of the main reasons he’s on TV—to tune people in to true talent.
The Internet’s a bright spot, too. Black Flag and DOA could have used the Web to further their careers. With MySpace and YouTube “you’re seeing the indie network become what it should have been in the ’80s and basically saying fuck you to the man—which is always the right thing to do.”
HENRY ROLLINS “PROVOKED” @ The Depot, 400 W. South Temple, Wednesday Oct. 24, 7 p.m., DepotSLC.com