Penthouse Retrospective

by Chauncé Hayden Originally Published: July, 2000

Henry Rollins | 20 Years Ago This Month

Now, I’m not some totally straight guy slapping drugs out of people’s hands, but [his death was] just horrible. I mean, he had a kid. What the fuck is up with that? It’s just very depressing. I always think that when we lose somebody to drugs or alcohol that we lose them to the evil machine. You know, that dark force that cranks out this stuff year after year. It’s just such a waste.

Not to dwell on solemn subjects, but in your book See a Grown Man Cry: Now Watch Him Die, you relive the tragic murder of your best friend, Joe Cole [who was fatally shot in Rollins’s presence when the two were mugged in 1991]. Have you ever come to terms with Joe’s death?

Yeah. I mean, he’s dead. I don’t really talk about it anymore. When it first happened, I talked about it a lot in my spoken-word shows. But I only like to talk about things that are happening currently. If I cranked out the same stuff every year, I would fall asleep up there. But I do think about him all the time. Sometimes it’s very frustrating because these strangers just came in and fucked with somebody’s life. On a bigger picture, when I think about him I always think about his mother. She didn’t need this. She’s a very good person and she lost her son. I lost a friend, but she lost her son. And I have no idea what that’s like.

Did the police ever catch the guys who killed Joe?

No.

Do you think about who the killers are and what they could be doing now?

Oh, yeah, I always think about them. I think that they are breathing somewhere around here.

Many of the punk-rock heroes of the 1970s and 1980s are in their late thirties and forties. How difficult is it to grow up yet still remain instrumental in an industry that is so youth-oriented?

Well, I don’t consider myself part of the industry. I just do my own thing. If you want to go to the gig, go. If you don’t, don’t. I’m 39; in ten years I’ll be 49, if I’m still alive. Age doesn’t matter to me. Most of the musicians that I admire weren’t even interesting until they were thirtysomething.

You’ve released many bodies of work in many different forms. Do you consider yourself a poet, a singer, a philosopher, or an actor?

I just kind of do my thing. It just comes out of me, and I use different forms of media to get it out. I don’t really consider myself anything. I’m a jackass of all trades.

I remember I once read somewhere that you admire Oliver Stone. What is it about him you admire?

I like him, and I’ve hung out with him a few times, but even though I don’t agree with everything he says, I still admire his fury. I like his rage. He’s a very angry man.

The nineties are likely to be remembered for their many shocking scandals and tragedies. What does that say for modern-day society?

We are attracted to that which is infamous. Bonnie and Clyde were folk heroes because they said “fuck you” to the man. While they were robbing banks, people applauded them as they left. People loved Al Capone because he hated the government and the government hated and feared him. That’s why people who would never join a militia unit are secret fans of the militia, because they love the idea of a federal agent going on someone’s property and getting his ass shot off. Even I think there is something in that. “You think you are going to come on my property? I don’t think so. I’ll shoot your ass. Get the fuck out of here, government man!” To me there is something very attractive about that.

A rumor surfaced a few years ago that a particular muscle-bound and tattooed singer was gay Although many fingers were pointed in your direction, you denied that the singer was you. Does it upset you that some people might think you’re gay?

I called up my press agent about it because all my friends were calling. I asked, “So what’s up with this press conference that I’m doing where I announce that I’m coming out of the closet?” and my press agent said, “Isn’t this great!” And I went, “What’s great about it?” She said, “It means you’re getting famous. All famous people are gay for six to 12 months.”

What bugged me about it was that I know it was aimed at me to be insulting and to try to hurt me, and I don’t think that I’m anyone that you would want to hurt. I’m one of the good guys. But as far as people thinking I’m gay, well, I’m not, if that’s any help.

You remind me of that Seinfeld episode in which a college-newspaper reporter accuses Jerry’s character of being gay.

I saw that show. I had to laugh when he said after each time he denied being gay, “Not that there’s anything wrong with it!” I really felt that way. I mean, you should be able to stick your dick into anything you want. The topic really bores me, because everybody is just trying to get off. Some guys like guys, and some like girls. Whatever the combination is, it all works. But as far as somebody saying, “Oh, your style is the bad style,’’ I have a problem with that.

Finally, everybody has a vice. What’s yours?

I sometimes procrastinate, and I like coffee.

When you start out being the lead singer for a band with the same name as roach killer, you might foresee a limited future, yet Henry Rollins thrives.

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