Who's Afraid of Henry Rollins?

He doesn't hit women. His band doesn't drown puppies. But the anger is real.

Yes, Henry Rollins, former singer for Black Flag and present leader of the Rollins Band, does come off as an angry young man. It's a description that sounds trite and calculated, doesn't it? Consider some of the events in Rollins's life, which he freely reveals: He remembers a man in Greece who pulled Rollins into his truck and sexually molested him; Rollins was ten years old at the time. It was, unfortunately, not an isolated incident. Last December, on the way home from the market, Rollins and his best friend, Joe Cole, were ambushed by two gunmen outside the Venice house they shared. The robbers forced the two men inside. Rollins heard four shots fired behind him, two of them missing him completely. The other two hit Cole directly in the face. Later, as Cole lay dead in his own living room, Rollins sat in the back of a squad car -- his hands cuffed behind him, the prime suspect in his best friend's murder.

Anger, it seems, is the healthiest choice for Henry Rollins.
While another person might have used incidents like these to become "a weakened victim of our widespread American city-sickness" (Rollins's description of the murderer in the obituary he wrote for Cole), he chose a different outlet. Though he calls himself "insane," Rollins has channeled his anger and nearly ceaseless energy into a stream of successful projects.

First there is the Rollins Band, which has recently released The End of Silence (the title refers to the broader exposure the band will get on a major label, Imago). After the breakup of punk legends Black Flag, Rollins formed his band with a friend of fourteen-odd years, guitarist Chris Haskett, and "the best rhythm section I had ever seen," drummer Sim Cain and bassist Andrew Weiss. The Rollins Band counts its soundman, Theo Van Rock, as a full member.

The End of Silence is impressive not just for its raw, bare-bones rock, but for the interwoven elements of jazz (yes, jazz). In complementary contrast to this hybrid are Rollins's typically pissed-off vocals. "Rollins has said we essentially play the blues, and I would agree with that," says Haskett. "For the people who can't relate to it, I think there's a strong voyeuristic quality. They come to watch the beast unleashed." No wonder so many bands on last year's Lollapalooza tour were worried about following the Rollins Band, though they were the very first act on the bill. Their music possesses all the subtlety of uranium, and on-stage Rollins seems a likely candidate for spontaneous combustion.

Another Rollins project is 2.13.61, the publishing company named for his birthdate. Rollins originally started 2.13 because he had a stack of essays, tour diaries, and poetry, but nowhere to take them. "I try to take as little shit as possible from the powers that be," he writes in his biography sheet. "I know that we all have to eat some in life's rich pageant. I figured that I could minimize the intake if I could control the release of my work...and it wasn't as if any publisher was beating my door down looking to do it."

"This company started in my bedroom," Rollins says, not pridefully, merely stating a fact. "Now it's a full-on production." 2.13.61 has published a dozen books by Rollins and other nonmainstream offerings from Nick Cave, former Gun Club leader Jeffrey Lee Pierce, as well as nonmusicians Don Bajema (short stories) and Bill Shields (the author's experiences in Vietnam). Though the company was called "an ego trip," 2.13.61 has sold more than 40,000 copies of its titles, and Rollins now has to put some of them into reprint.

Like musicians, authors go on tour, too. Back in 1983, Rollins was asked if he would like one night out of a string of readings by writers and poets in Los Angeles. "I had never done anything like this," Rollins wrote, "so I asked to be put on all of them." Since this intrepid outing, when he has time between publishing, writing books and lyrics, recording, and touring with his band, Rollins performs spoken-word engagements across the nation. He reads some of his poetry and goes off on whatever is on his mind, most recently the Los Angeles riots and the death of his friend Joe Cole.

In between these projects, Rollins will do something for fun, like appearing in a Gap ad or impersonating Vanilla Ice in 3rd Bass's "Pop Goes the Weasel" video. There is also talk of films in the future, either his own or starring in someone else's. Oh yes, and Rollins works out. A lot. And he drinks a ton of coffee. The only things Henry Rollins doesn't do are smoke, drink, take drugs, and waste time.

"People always ask me where I get my energy from, how I keep doing all this stuff, what I do to relax, and if I ever take time off," sighs Rollins, sounding weary at the 2.13 office. At the risk of being redundant, these are good questions. How is it that Henry Rollins can do all these things, when other people have trouble getting out of bed in the morning? "Oh, I don't know," he demurs, not a fan of self-congratulatory statements. "I just like what I do."

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