Henry Rollins

Punk icon, human op-ed piece

[Ed's note: This interview has been expanded with online bonus content.]

Isn't dubbing your election-themed tour "Recountdown" a little cynical?
It's my last time to be on stage with Bush being around. That doesn't really affect the show, but I didn't want to be sitting at home or at the office with this one last shot to be onstage while he's in office, because he and I have done so much time together. The reason I called the tour "Recountdown" is that I think we're counting down to the next big argument. And I think the election will be pretty close. If it were truly a fair election, it probably wouldn't be, but I think the Republicans, truth be known, cheat. The ACORN thing is a good try on McCain's behalf, but no one's buying it. No one is buying the Ayers thing.... So, I do think that they'll have to resort to cheating to try and win, or at least make it a close election, because I think Barack is pulling away.

What's the first thing you're going to do when Bush leaves office?
Well, for me, it's not one of those "ding-dong, the witch is dead" situations. I know some people are going to feel like that. Imagine coming home to your house and a tornado has gone through it. And you walk around, and all your stuff is broken, and you go, Oh, this sucks, but hey the tornado is gone, so let's party. Well, what's there to party with, everything is broken? Bush and his cronies did a great job of taking your tax money and giving it to their friends...

Didn't he say something in his State of the Union about taking us to Mars? What happened to that?
Well, he took us to Iraq. And that took you to the cleaners. So we're broke. We're in debt to China, to the banks, to ourselves. Not much cause for celebration. In a way, for me, it does not matter whether McCain or Obama wins, because my path is clear. I've got work to do. I'm on the move. It could be that if McCain become President, that there will be a lot of work to do. If Barack Obama becomes President, there will be a whole lot of work to do, because maybe there will be some daylight and some more clay with which to work with. In either case, I cannot sleep on the job, as far as my country is concerned. That is what got us into this mess to begin with, too many people texting when they should've had their hand on the switch. So I'm hopeful to get the person I want into office, but if it doesn't happen, I'm not taking a day off. And so I can't be one of those people cheering when Bush steps down, because he's basically stepping away from a crime scene. He's stepping away from thousands of dead marines and dead Iraqis and disenfranchised Americans. Basically, I just hope Middle America gets ready to start picking up a lot of pieces and moving upfield.

In your upcoming South Africa special on IFC, you talk about Ted Nugent. You're a man who likes to get involved, and he's a rugged individualist. Whose ideology wins out?
He's an odd bird, in that I don't know what he is. Republican, conservative, libertarian, independent. Probably more the last two than anything else. I'm of the opinion that the Democrats have the ideas I agree with more often than not. Reenergizing the middle class and giving people a break. I think the Republicans, conservatives, neoconservatives—there's nothing new. Just like there is nothing new with the Democrats, there's nothing new with the Republicans either. They like big business, they believe in the trickle-down theory, that we are supposedly going to eat the crumbs that fall from Caesar's mouth at the big feast. I would argue that they have very good crumb catchers to make sure you get less and less. And so, I think the good sense falls with the Democrats. Of course, there are a lot of people who would disagree with me on that, fair enough. I think it's going to take America's middle class hitting the ground very hard to snap out of what they've been voting for for the last eight years. And then there are other days when I just think, Screw it, you're that stupid, you like having these kids come home with their legs blown off. Well, why don't you just fuck more and send more bodies into this thing? Like Sarah. Send all five of your kids into the maw of this beast. Some days I go, You like foreclosure, you like obesity, you like Rush Limbaugh? You know what, you think I'm going to get in your way? No, man. Just keep off my lawn and you go have your fun, because I can't afford to not have to suffer the slings and arrows of this wretched, broken government. I can entertain that kind of thought for about a minute, and then I go, Okay, that's not being very responsible. So I have to remember that I'm a team player, and that I like this country very much. So I think the Democrats have the cool ideas. And we'll see what America thinks. What I hope for is that America starts to understand what they're getting, and what it means on a global scale. When it floods here, it means you're getting a desert over there. And you don't have to care about Africa now, but soon you will. You won't have to care about what is happening in Southeast Asia now, but you will. When the aquifers dry up and the hydrologic cycle is broken up so badly that water becomes the new gasoline and wars are fought over the stuff. They have been before. Americans need to realize that every toilet they flush, every light that they turn on and off, has ramifications. So I'm hoping for that to become more of where we're at. Maybe we can get off this intense polarization. I have healthy disagreements with political parties I'm not aligned with, but I don't think it should be to the point where we're cursing and trying to strangle each other. And I think over the last eight years people have been sicced on each other. I can't wait for that to be over. Nothing good comes of it.

Pretty counterproductive.
Well, yeah. At the end of the day. All these Ann Coulters... Listen, if poor Ann was hungry and I had a sandwich, I'd give her half of it, because I'm not going to let people starve on my watch. But she makes it really hard to be cool. And I just don't think we need to be in that gutter-level cesspool of thought. And it's not like I'm Einstein, but this stuff just wears me out. The vitriol. When you see how low McCain is swinging, it's just like, "Pal, you look really bad." I've done a lot of research on this, that Rolling Stone piece was pretty eye-opening;the more you learn about McCain, the less there is to like. He was a guy who didn't ruffle my feathers years ago. Like Joe Biden probably has a lot of Republican friends, because he seems like a good guy. Even if they disagree with him, they probably like him. He's a Jimmy Stewart character. He's pretty solid. I think John McCain occurs to a lot of people like that, hence his longevity with the Jon Stewarts and Jay Lenos of the world. The more you read, the more he seems like a petty, average political insider with a lot of friends. And the press is sort of his biggest fan base. He's losing a little bit of that. His veneer is coming off. He doesn't take a whuppin' too well. He gets angry very quickly. He's got a mean streak and isn't a guy you want in any kind of position of power, and when you see who his No. 2 is, it becomes all the more alarming. I really don't like the idea of that person having any kind of grip on the big wheel. I'm not a fan.

Politics aside, she seems terrifyingly underqualified...
Yeah. And with an alarming amount of self-confidence. I wish I had a teaspoon of that. I don't know where she gets it from, but whoa. She's high on her own fumes.

I'm curious to see what kind of books she reads. Speaking of children's literature, what books would you recommend to the youngsters?
The Grapes of Wrath, believe it or not. I had a really fascinating conversation with Tom Steinbeck, his son, last week. Steinbeck basically got pushed out of his beloved home, California, because he was bring truth to power, in the form of his books. And his standing up for the workingman. You can see the rise of neoconservatism in the resistance he faced. People who hated the New Deal on Day One. Roosevelt got his ass kicked over the New Deal. People hated the idea of some of those reforms, much like Rush Limbaugh hates them now. The Grapes of Wrath was one of the most poignant reads of my young life, where I fell in love with literature. As a kid I got the humanity of it, and as an adult I now understand the political ramifications of the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression.

You strike me as a man who is always learning. Who has been your most influential teacher?
My friend Ian. Ian MacKaye, who you may know from Fugazi. A guy I grew up with.

Not Crazy Paul?
No, he was an interesting and tragic homeless man in my neighborhood, but Ian was a guy I've known since I was 12. I'm now 47. In my opinion, he always does the right thing. And he's basically my older younger brother, and if there is any decency and fairness in me, it is basically what has rubbed off on me from him.

So last question: You seem to keep in pretty good shape for an older guy. What's the secret?
Well, I have no secrets, in that I'll tell you what I eat. When I'm off the road and I can really control my diet down to the calorie, I juice seven days a week. Every afternoon, whatever I have at hand, beets, carrots, ginger, whatever. I juice, literally, every single day. And on the road, I try to find fresh juice wherever I can. I don't eat red meat. I don't eat pork, lamb or chicken. I eat fish and a lot of soy protein. Fish is the only kind of respirating thing that I consume. Everything else I don't want any part of. Low sugar. Every once in a while ice cream. I'd live on it if I could, but you can't do that. Past that, common sense and a vigorous workout schedule four to six days a week, even on the road. Like, within ten minutes of hanging up with you, I will be in a car going to a gym. I'll run five to seven miles, then train with weights, and then take a 20-minute nap and then go on stage at 8:15. On nights off from lifting I'll still run about ten miles on a treadmill or an elliptical. It keeps a guy my age lean and kind of on point. And for me it's stress relief. My life is fairly stressful in that I have the Damoclean obligation of a show every night.

Rollins performs his spoken word at Town Hall on Thu 30. To read his thoughts on his most influential teacher, childr

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