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Henry Rollins: Marathon Man

Apr. 6, 2010
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Henry Rollins first hit the road with seminal punk rock band Black Flag in the early ’80s, an experience he details in his memoir, Get in the Van. He gained a new audience in the ’90s with the Rollins Band, and has since toured for spoken-word shows, written and self-published several books, done some acting, and hosted “The Henry Rollins Show” on the Independent Film Channel. While touring, he also DJs a weekly radio show and blogs for Vanity Fair, where he rants against conservatives.

Rollins talked with the Shepherd Express about music, constant touring and why America would vote for him over Ann Coulter.

Like your tour name (“Frequent Flyer”) suggests, you’ve been traveling almost constantly for years. What has inspired traveling to be such an important part of your life?

It’s where I get my information from. I’ve been touring since I was 20 and I’m almost 50 now, so it’s kind of what I do and how I live and how I prefer to be moving. The world is an interesting place and I try to stay out in it as much as I can.

Get in the Van depicted Black Flag as having the guts to wing it, to hit the road with little money or band equipment—not much but a love of music and a sense of adventure. Do you think this exists today, or is it something we’ve lost?

I have no idea. You’d have to ask the bands. I can’t make any sweeping statements as far as why any band does what they do. In those days, things were a bit less organized; it was more like a frontier time. And now, touring avenues have more efficiency. Those trails that were blazed by early bands were deep woods and now it is kind of a four-lane highway. I think to survive back in those days you had to have a certain sense of gusto, whereas that is not necessarily required as much now. But again, I am sure there are bands that go out and tour very hard and get put through the paces quite a bit.

What did music mean to you in the early ’80s, when you were in Black Flag, and what does it mean to you now? Has it changed much or is it the same?

It’s a thing that I was much more involved in as a player. In those days, it was pretty much the purpose of my existence. And now there are a lot of other things going on—there’s acting stuff, radio, and a lot of writing and different projects. And there are a lot of different locations, destinations that don’t necessarily have to do with the show; sometimes I just travel. Music is a part of it, but when I was younger it was kind of the “it.” I still like it; it just doesn’t comprise so much of my plate as it used to.

Let’s say we’re in an alternate bizarro world and you’re in a presidential race against Ann Coulter. Why will you win? Who would you choose as running mate?

I would win because I would be stressing all the good stuff—inclusion, and a unified America—and she would be telling people how wrong they are, how stupid they are, how cowardly they are. So where she would seek to divide, I would seek to do something else. But who would my running mate be? That’s a good question … I’d pick Rachel Maddow.

How do you keep up with such a rigorous touring schedule?

There are measures I take to try to alleviate stress. I try for restorative sleep. I tend to stay up late, because my 9 to 5 ends around midnight, so I want a few hours to wind down and that eases into the next morning. One of the things I do is try to get some sleep to recover the brain and the voice, and I try fairly often during the week to get to the gym. I run on the elliptical treadmill for an hour, and lift weights for 20 or 30 minutes, and I do that four to six days a week. That’s proven to be beneficial in keeping things focused.

I try to keep things going at a medium pace; a marathon is what I’m going for, so there’s no need to sprint. You have to get your head around the idea that you’re going to be doing this the next nine months. The shows are very long, and if I meet everyone after the show, that takes a long time, so everything is kind of in a long-range mind-set and that’s how I keep doing it. The job is to get up there every night and connect and get it across. Who wants to see a bad show? Not me.

Henry Rollins’ “Frequent Flyer” tour stops at the Turner Hall Ballroom on Thursday, April 8, at 8 p.m.


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