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All journalists and critics are ants at the picnic," Henry Rollins declares from the offices of his vanity publishing company, 2.13.61, in Los Angeles. "I'm not curious to see what you write about me. Not curious about any review about anything I do. I don't care. And I defy you to stop me. I would be loath to read anything about me by someone who wasn't there. I'm not gonna see it their particular way -- me, having been there."
With clear boundaries established out of the gate, Rollins settles in for the duration of yet another niggling phone call from a reporter. For a guy who currently makes his living talking -- rambling on about everything from Baywatch to the death camps at Auschwitz to how world peace might best be realized if political leaders would only give each other an occasional hand job -- Rollins sounds downright irritated to be speaking to me.
"I like communication, and I like the idea of the interview," Rollins says. "But I don't enjoy being taken out of context. Usually people are cool with me. 'Cause I think you get what you give. I'm always respectful and try to give good, clear answers and basically write your article for you. I do every interview that's put in front of me. I'm doing five hours of phone press today."
No stranger to venting his personal unease upon the world, Rollins, 41, seems to do every project that's put in front of him, as well. He was the ferocious mouthpiece for pioneering hardcore outfit Black Flag as its fourth, and final, frontman; he also founded the decade-old Rollins Band and has sat confidently behind the wheel of his own company truck since 1986, the year he launched a successful solo career as a spoken-word artist.
Since then, Rollins has parlayed his menacing presence into films both notable (1996's Lost Highway) and stinky (1998's Jack Frost). When Nikki Sixx of Mötley Crüe passed on the chance to make a cameo in the box-office hit, Jackass: The Movie, Rollins filled in by recklessly driving a Hummer through a motocross track while stuntman Steve-O bounced around in the back seat, getting a messy tattoo of a smiley face jabbed into his deltoid. In a similarly themed spectacle, Rollins currently co-hosts the Learning Channel's Full Metal Challenge, a program that pits 27 homemade high-endurance vehicles against one another in rugged terrain. ("I'm the color man, the wiseguy," Rollins notes.)
Plenty of commercial voice-over work (a far cry from his days making porn with Lydia Lunch) also keeps the tattooed colossus busy year-round: Rollins mouths car commercials and spots for Life cereal and SPC Specific Broadband; he even does "an on-camera thing" for the Partnership for a Drug-Free America.
"I've always been against drugs," Rollins says. "That's how you destroy yourself: You take drugs." (Rollins debunks the popular notion that he's an over-caffeinated coffee achiever: "A cup a day: That's about all I've ever drunk.")
As one of the founding fathers of America's hardcore-punk movement, today's version of Rollins poses more than a contradiction for rabid fans from the days of yore, when news of a warehouse show complete with circling police helicopters was spread by word of mouth, or by spray paint on a highway overpass. Now you're more likely to see Henroid making a guest appearance on The Drew Carey Show (joining the cabal of the "TV Party" that he once mocked so effectively) than rattling the cage of a world that he can't stand. But work is work, consarnit. Rollins has certainly paid his dues, having lived out of vans, scrambled for pennies on the gig and clawed his way to get where he is.
Exuding hypermacho excess and something he calls "the courage to allow myself to be stuffed and mounted," Hank certainly knows the value of a good zinger. And like so many celebrities from the smog-choked City of Angels, Rollins can drop names with the best of 'em: The late Joe Strummer, Johnny Cash, June Carter Cash, Tom Petty, Rick Rubin and Robert Stack are a sampling of the monikers that roll off his tongue with little prompting in conversation and performance.
"If you've ever seen the first seven minutes of The Dennis Miller Show, where he just goes off, that's what I do," Rollins says of his current stand-up routine. "It's everything from the last movie I was in to the thing that happened to me in traffic the other day to my theory that Donald Rumsfeld is the new Henny Youngman.
"[Rumsfield] has these great one-liners," Rollins continues. "I've never seen anybody at a press conference be so blunt and just shut reporters down. He just blows them away with the shit he says: 'How can you justify having all those prisoners in Guantanamo Bay behind chain-link fences and in prison?' And [Rumsfeld] says 'What? They're in shorts on a sandy island in the summer. I wish I could be so lucky. Next question.' He needs a rim-shot man."
Rollins's own past is, perhaps, less of a joking matter. Well before his current incarnation as a paid social commentator, he cut off contact from his divorced parents and reinvented himself as a punk legend. Following a hardass upbringing at the all-boys Bullis Academy for problem kids (an institution that favored corporal punishment over slam dancing), a Ritalin-addled only child born with the name Henry Garfield discovered rigorous self-discipline on military time.