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Interview: Henry Rollins - Good To See You New Zealand Tour

Interview: Henry Rollins - Good To See You New Zealand Tour

Interview by Finn Johansson / C.C. / Photo credit: Heidi May / Thursday 25th May, 2023 11:41AM

Henry Rollins is making his mighty return to Aotearoa for his first local events since 2016, taking his Good To See You spoken word tour to Devonport, Auckland Central, Ōtautahi and Pōneke in early July. The always outspoken frontman of groundbreaking US punks Black Flag and Rollins Band, author, actor, television host, and helmsman of 2.13.61 imprint recently had a genial chinwag with our own Finn Johansson, who is soon embarking on his What A Way To Make A Living NZ / EU Tour (and is playing with Bryony Matthews at The Wine Cellar tonight). Their conversation touched on such pressing issues as gun violence, alt-right propaganda and Rollins' own relationship with masculinity — read below and don't miss the legendary artist at the following dates...

UnderTheRadar proudly presents...

Henry Rollins Good To See You Tour

Wednesday 5th July - The Vic Theatre, Devonport [sold out]
Thursday 6th July - SkyCity Theatre, Auckland*
Friday 7th July - James Hay Theatre, Christchurch*
Saturday 8th July - Old St Pauls, Wellington [sold out]

*Tickets available HERE

Finn Johansson: You've talked a lot about band tour stories. Like the time someone threw a deer head on stage while you were playing and you gouged its eye out with a drumstick, then you ate the eye, then you spat the eye all over the front row of the crowd. The thing I'm wondering is — what are your crazy talking tour crowd stories? I mean, is it all purely cerebral now? I guess people aren't grabbing your hair and pulling it out when you do a spoken word show. You don't even really have hair right now.

Henry Rollins: Without the intensity of the music, there's not nearly the visceral response. So far, after well over a thousand talking shows, there hasn't been a single stabbing that I'm aware of. Where at music shows, now and then, yeah there'd be a real injury. We've had a couple of people have seizures during shows where we have to stop the show, the ambulance comes in and scoops the poor person up and then the show resumes. Of course in the United States, people have been sitting in their seat and their gun falls out of their pants. Well you know, it's freedom what are you gonna do? The cops have to come and say, "come on man! Leave that under the front seat of your pickup truck". There's been guns taken off people, but I've never been shot at at a show. I've been shot at on the street, but I've never been shot at at a show.

In Ireland, I was just in Dublin at the same venue I'm at every time. Where in the past, people have come up during the show and asked me where the restrooms were. Like "oh just go up that aisle there, you make a left in the lobby". It's good to help them out. But that's about as intense as it gets. Audiences these days, it's probably because I'm old and easy to kill, they're very friendly to me. I don't say things on stage that I think provoke people. In that I'm not trying to. I know there are some comedian types who like to push some imagined edge of some envelope. I think that feels like you're coming in looking for trouble. That's a little bit too calculated for me. The talking tours, I just did like 55 or 56 shows so far this year in Europe and everything was fine. I've never had a problem in New Zealand as far as I can remember.

I saw in a recent YouTube promotional short that you've been to Australia 317 times. But you've been to New Zealand a few times as well. I guess you probably know enough about over here to be excited about something here.

I really like the part of the world that you're presently occupying. The first time I got out anywhere near there was Australia. I begged like please, please, please can I get to New Zealand? It took a couple of tours. I would start getting the band to New Zealand, and myself to New Zealand. Quite often the situation was, you don't sell enough tickets to justify even getting you there. But I just kept going because I wanted it to work. It's like three and a half hours out of Sydney. I just kept showing up and audiences they started showing up. This is many years ago. Now I wouldn't consider being in Australia and not being in New Zealand. To me New Zealand's not like Australia junior or something. They're two very distinct places. But it took quite a while for us to get to Australia and even longer to get the band to New Zealand.

I know what you mean. From a kind of reversed standpoint, touring underground in New Zealand, you've got four major cities around that you can hit and then you're dry for the next six months.

That's it. I don't really care about the money believe it or not. The promoters will say, "if you don't mind basically breaking even and maybe we can add another Auckland show you can go home with something, we can do that". I'll take it! It ended up being fine. That was somewhere in the early nineties and then things just got better. Where fiscally it wasn't such a, oh well there's a week and nothing happens, because 've got bills to pay. Believe it or not, the money really isn't that much of a concern to me, but agents, managers, it's a big concern to them.

As somebody who's seen New Zealand snapshotted since I guess, the nineties, I feel like these days we're getting heaps of leakages into our culture from America. Like very recently, Drag Queen Story Time intimidation from the alt-right. To date we've had one racially motivated mass shooting in Christchurch in 2019. Does it look from the outside like we're Americanised?

It seems to me that if you make humans, if you make our species desperate. If you give them financial uncertainty, get breeding age adults looking to have some kids then all of a sudden say — "You know what? I don't know man. Might be pretty rough for you looking ahead". Don't always expect a person in Spain or a person in New Zealand or a person in the United States to go, "it'll be cool and my neighbours will be cool". Don't be surprised if people get tribal. If their default is stereotyping ignorance, racism, homophobia and you are the other.

There's always someone to capitalise on that ignorance and make money. A guy like Donald Trump, he's not that smart but he's not that dumb either. He really understands how to get people whipped up and once they're whipped up, man you could pour 'em into any shape. It's like molten metal. You can pour 'em into any cast you want and they'll stay there. I wouldn't necessarily say that when you have an anti-trans or anti-drag or anti-gay thing happening in New Zealand, that's necessarily an American thing, although that happens in every square inch of America every day. I wonder if it's part and parcel of this century, and part of natural resources not being what they used to be, and dumb not necessarily losing all the time. Maybe it's a slight value shift.

Certainly in America, where it's always been about consumerism and capitalism, it's a screwed game. The game was built to favour like five white men and everyone else can go pound sand. If you're not a white, heterosexual male, you got a pretty rough road in the United States of America. I wouldn't necessarily say the rest of the world is becoming Americanised. I think America maybe got to this kind of tribal, intensely belligerent thing first. I think our version of capitalism is so nakedly craven, and our version of democracy at this point is so bought and sold. It always was, but now the quiet parts are said out loud as they say. What was in the back rooms is now on main street. When you have American politics which plays out on the news like a reality show, you basically infantilize the consumer. I call Americans the 'Consermerati'. Or the 'Incarcerati'. Because, either we're buying something or we're gonna steal something to buy something. I think the Western world is gonna get more of that. It might be a combination of an Americanisation, or a little of this and a little of that. It's probably all those things mixed together in a wonderful puree of hatred.

I guess we only know it as Americanisation because America was the first to race to the bottom like that.

Exactly. You watch the news and you'll see forty people killed in something and you're like, oh that's India... oh no that was Indiana. You walk into the room and you catch half the story about some awful thing, that must be Pakistan, that must be in Afghanistan. Oh no no no. That's in Mississippi. More and more of these, quote, third world events, where a bunch of people died for no good reason — more and more of that's happening at a frickin night club in Florida. Or a school. Or a church. Or a shopping mall. That's the new United States of America and it's brutal. I keep up to date on things and mass shooting events, mass casualty events, is what I pay the most attention to.

More than one a day right now right?

More mass casualty events than days of the year so far this year. I often test myself. I'm in the supermarket, I'm buying my spinach, how many people around me are armed? Concealed weapons, you can conceal them pretty well. These days, there's so much accoutrement one can get from to hide your gun. I just try and read body language to see if I can tell who's packing. It's not like I can walk up, "excuse me sir, do you have a nine millimetre in your pocket?" Because before the guy reaches, I want to be running for the frozen food section to go hide. Just because, look how random. It doesn't seem like any state or city is all that safe and it seems like someone going off with a gun in multiple magazines seems to be able to happen anywhere. Like an outlet mall, a cheap mall where people shop all the time. It seems like anytime, anywhere. I live in a place where there's a bunch of adult men who often have gun bumper stickers and all kinds of things against democratic politicians. There'll be some obscenity and a logo of a gun. That's the part of the country I live in. I walk by men with Trump hats on a regular basis. Who knows if one of those guys is gonna jump off?

That is actually quite a good segue into the masculinity of it all. I think it's an important balance to have, say if you're a man or a masc person, being critical of the toxic parts of masculinity whilst embracing the parts that feel right to you. Also there are things that are hard to escape from and things that turn out to be not as valid a way of doing a thing that seemed in the past. For you over the years, what's come and gone about your masculinity? What's been shared? What's stuck around? And I guess, what's next for your masculinity?

When I was younger, I was a hyperactive child. I was given Ritalin. I'm not coordinated so I couldn't throw the ball. No one wanted me on the team. The real pecking order, the very Darwinian, the two team captains pick the two sides for the gym class. or whatever the game is. It was me and the guy with the thick glasses, we were like the last two. They called me and people like me on the soccer team 'lumberjacks', because we'd sit and accumulate wood on our butts from being on the bench. I never had an idea of myself as a tough guy. Then I get into music, where it's just like, you're a street fighting man. I'm not even good at fighting, but man it happened all the time. I got not necessarily masculine, but I just got into gladiator sport. Where the music is this thing trying to kill me and so is the audience, so I have to go out there ready to draw blood. I don't know if that was masculine or if that was just being feral. Maybe I just went to the head of the class and went wolverine.

Because I learned by street fighting, you don't talk about fighting with another man. You just hit him as hard as you can. You don't say, "I'm gonna beat you up". Nobody who really fights ever talks about it. They just walk up and punch your lights out and you wake up with a gentle beeping sound in intensive care. For many years, I thought that I have to be physically and mentally strong at all times. I still believe that, but I'm not so panicked about getting overrun on the street because my touring environment is not as such. Basically they backed off and so I could back off. But was I ever like a macho tool? Probably! But not to where I'm grabbing women and saying "hey bitch". That's just never made sense to me.

It's a lot of the time more subtle than that aye?

I think a lot of it's just rooted in plain and simple insecurity. Not trying to excuse bad behaviour. Men routinely, your country my country, are sold a bill of goods. You've gotta be this you gotta be that. Like my father, was a fistical and intellectual coward, and a moral coward as well. A guy with a PHD and he's also a tremendous racist. He was, as they say, all hat and no cattle. I went the other way, where I'm all cattle and leave the hat at home. That way you never have to do anything, because you just are the thing that you want to be. As far as masculinity, at this point as a 62 year old man who walks with a limp, I'm not really sure how in touch I am with it, as like "I'm a man!" That's not a value set for me. Believe it or not, I work out six days a week, I work out alone. I'm not like looking at myself in the mirror. I'm just in there trying to get ready for tours. I go to the gym mainly for my mental strength. Say that masculinity is a wave — for the most part, it went over my head and kept on going, and some people got on and surfed it. Me, not as much. But Henry, what about the tattoos? I don't know I was really into customising my body. Would I get any more tattoos? No.

I don't know if tattoos are inherently masculine, but I understand that people would ask that.

Right and that's why I'm saying — if you aren't mister macho, then why all the tattoos? One of my main pursuits of getting tattooed believe it or not, was I didn't want to look like my father. I wanted to customise my body. If I could've grown a horn and wings, I would have done that to get away from him. As it is now, I'm only concerned with what I can think and do. I'm more concerned with speaking clearly and thinking bravely and going forth with my ideas and trying to realise them. How I look in a pair of Speedo trunks, are you kidding? Probably the more clothes on me is better for everyone concerned.

But I look at a lot of younger people, a lot of young hot heads. I'm like, you go to the wrong neighbourhood man, someone will shut your mouth. Only the coroner will open it to check to see if there's bullet fragments. You're going off a little bit half-informed about the real world. So I think we men, they want to sell us guns and meat products and jeans and Jeeps and whatever. I think it's just a lot of smart guys just trying to get your money. I would abandon those pursuits as much as possible. If you think you need to be macho to meet a woman? I would never dare to tell you what a woman wants, but I bet they're not nearly as impressed with muscles as they are with kindness and honesty, and a sense of humour.

I feel that. Are you in the mood for some rapid fire questions?

I'll do the best I can to keep up with you.

Fantastic. What is your grossest habit that no-one knows about?

I sleep at inopportune times during the day and don't get work done that I should. It's awful. Horrible.

If you lost your voice permanently, what would you do for a living?


If you had to wear something that wasn't low key, like your usual Dickies or those shirts. Has got to be high key, gotta wear it everyday, what would it be?

If I had to wear something every single day?

Yeah, that was a bit more flamboyant should we say.

Oh, a leather jacket!

We've both written a song called 'Six Pack'. I saw that you had when I was doing my research and so I listened to it, freakin great song. It also reminds me of 'Liar', in that it's from the point of view of not Henry. So what is it about inhabiting a character when you wrote those songs? What appealed?

I'll have to take a technical on that one. It was written by the great Greg Ginn of Black Flag who was looking at Keith Morris, the original singer of Black Flag, and also the best singer of Black Flag. He was looking at a six pack, and the rest of his paycheck, this happened. He said basically, I got 35 dollars and a six pack. Greg took that and he made a song out of it. The song is basically about Keith.

Just before this final one, thank you so much. I feel like when you give your attention to something, you give it one hundred percent and I do appreciate that.

You're very welcome sir.

What is something about your new show 'Good To See You' — what does it have that none of your other spoken word shows have had?

A profound lack of travel stories. Because all of this material, I had to come up with being unable to travel the world. Usually I've got a big travel story, it's my big middle piece story. Henry goes to Iran, North Korea, Afghanistan, Antarctica, etcetera, etcetera. Well, preparing for this tour, here comes Covid. Luckily for me, I had enough crazy events happen to me while being relatively locked in America, to make hopefully a pretty gripping two hour show. That is the biggest difference, because every other tour I've ever done, travel informs it big time.

That's really cool! I am looking forward to indulging in it and I hope that you have a good time in New Zealand, when you do come.

I always do. It's good to meet ya and hopefully I'll see you down the road.


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Henry Rollins
Wed 5th Jul 8:00pm
The Vic Theatre Devonport, Auckland
Henry Rollins
Thu 6th Jul 8:00pm
Sky City Theatre, Auckland
Henry Rollins
Fri 7th Jul 8:00pm
The James Hay Theatre, Christchurch
Henry Rollins
Sat 8th Jul 8:00pm
Old St Paul's, Wellington