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Rollins With the Punches

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In defending himself against this implied charge, Rollins makes several of his own. "Oh boy, Greg hates my guts," he notes, laughing. "He's also very nuts. He's really weird. He smokes a lot of pot. And you could never be his friend; that was never going to happen. I don't know him any better now than when I had to pay eight bucks to get into the show. I swear, I don't know him any better." He adds, "I never said it was my band. I published my journals from the days I was in Black Flag [the book is titled Get in the Van], and it says right in there that I was the fourth singer and that it was Greg's band. And actually, I never felt like a bandmember; I always felt like the fourth singer. Nobody else felt like they were a member, either. Ask anybody. And as far as being bigger before, no--the band got much bigger after I joined. But it wasn't because of me. It was because music changed.

"The reason people might think it was my band is because I was the singer when they started snapping all the photos. And any singer in any band is going to get all the photos, you know. But it didn't matter to me. I even proposed one day that we put Greg at center stage and I would sing behind the drums, so they would take all the photos of him. I didn't care, because I don't get off on getting my photo taken. I don't collect magazines I'm in. All that stuff's a hassle, really. All recognition means is that you have to wait longer to go places because people want to talk to you all the time." As he puts it, "I'm sorry that Greg is all wrapped up like that. Maybe he's a little insecure or something. But he sure can play a gee-tar."

Indeed--but in spite of Ginn's talents, his star fell in the years subsequent to Black Flag's demise, while Rollins's rose. The Rollins Band, formed mere months after the Flag was lowered, bowed with 1987's Hot Animal Machine, gained indie cred with 1988's Life Time and Do It, both produced by MacKaye, and stepped closer to the mainstream after being chosen to fill the opening slot in the inaugural Lollapalooza festival, in 1991. Weight, issued on Imago in 1994, even scored something of an MTV hit with "Liar." On other fronts, Rollins posed for print ads (America learned about the information he stored on his PowerBook), made innumerable speaking engagements at colleges all over the country, earned raves for the vivid postmodern stand-up routines captured on Rollins: A Boxed Life, and began making appearances in high-profile movies like the dreadful 1994 Charlie Sheen vehicle The Chase, 1995's far better Heat and the latest David Lynch-directed opus, Lost Highway. Still, Rollins insists that he has no interest in going Hollywood permanently--and uses his experiences on the Keanu Reeves catastrophe Johnny Mnemonic to explain why.

"I think the producers and the studio wanted one thing, and the director [artist turned filmmaker Robert Longo] and the writer [sci-fi author William Gibson] wanted something else," he says. "And they all compromised. Tri-Star thought it was getting Speed, Part 2, and Longo and Gibson were going for this super-intense cyber-thriller--but it wound up being neither. I remember going to see the rough cut and walking out with Longo and Gibson, and they were just furious. They were cursing: 'Goddamn it, I've been working on this film since 1988! Goddamn it! Motherfuckers!' They were freaking.

"The movie business is just so full of heartbreak. Entertainment in general is rough, but the film industry is way more cutthroat, because there's way more money involved on all levels. Our album didn't cost even a quarter of a million dollars, but Titanic is costing $200 million. Think of all the people who are involved in that much dough. And the press--if anyone slips, they just love to rip them. Look at Entertainment Weekly; they'll go after anyone. I mean, they take me out to lunch any chance they get, and I'm not even in their world."

Punk purists have been going after Rollins, too, taking him to task for supposed sins such as his signing with DreamWorks, the music arm of the massive conglomerate founded by David Geffen, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Time cover boy Steven Spielberg. But Rollins rejects any suggestion of a sellout. "I passed Spielberg in the hallway at Dreamworks one day and I said, 'How do you do? My name is Henry Rollins.' I've never seen him again, and I doubt if I ever will. I met David Geffen for ten minutes, twenty minutes, something like that. And I've never met Katzenberg. I don't even know what he looks like, and I don't really know what he does. So it's not as if these people are involved in the writing process, nor are they in the studio with us, nor did they tell us what to do. I did everything. I picked the photographer for the record. I came up with the cover for the record; that's an X-ray of my skull on the cover. I wrote all the lyrics. I picked the producer. And the only thing the people at the record company did was say 'Okay.' We gave them a demo and said, 'This is what we do. It's not going to change that much from the demo to the album. I'm not going to bring in a string section, and I'm not going to turn into some chick. Can you deal with that?' And they said, 'Yeah.' So if you don't like it, don't blame them. Blame me."

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts

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