Spoken word artist and punk rock icon Henry Rollins will lecture in Indianapolis this Friday as part of his Capitalism tour. This tour, one of several Rollins has launched in the last several years, stops in each capital city across the nation. And it ends Monday, Nov. 5 in Washington, D.C. —— Election Day eve. NUVO asked him about his political standpoint and was quick to learn he isn’t one to stand behind a particular political party; Rollins is confident that what matters most in this upcoming election is that Americans recognize the power and voice we have as a nation. We didn’t get many words in edgewise, but we get the feeling Rollins had much, much more to say —— and he’ll get his chance in Indy this Friday.
Henry Rollins: I will be reminding Americans at my show that we probably have more commonalities and similarities than dissimilarities. We have more common dreams than we have common goals and common needs. I go into America in what I’d like to think is a very Lincoln-esque manner. In that, we’re using the same words. I want all the people I vote with and do not vote with all to be literate, rational, safe, well-fed, employed and free of fear. Truly — I’m not a fan of Rush Limbaugh, but if his car goes off the road and into a ditch, I’m going to be running as fast as anyone toward the vehicle to get him out of it. I’m not going to stand there and go, “Well I don’t agree with you, therefore you should die.” That’s not how I’m wired. It’s not the kind of country I want to live in as far as the values. If I was in the ditch I would hope he would want to get me out.
I realize that I might be in a position where I will have to depend on that guy. I don’t believe in karma, but I would like to think that guy would be able to depend on me. And so I have to be that guy and hope that he’ll be that guy for me. And that is a social compact, and that to me is bigger than how we vote. It’s bigger than what we believe religiously — or not. There’s bigger fish to fry, there are bigger commonalities and that to me is my America. That’s my belief system.
NUVO: I was really interested in the fact that you worked with Shepard Fairey on the art for your posters; it reminded me of the mass media, and then the sort of underground zine-graffiti-sticker culture.
Rollins: Shepard is interesting in that he exists in both worlds. He has massive corporate accounts and he’s still making stickers and getting busted for graffiti. He just had a big art opening in Los Angeles and I went. He’s an interesting guy. He exists very functionally on the underground, and in the great, well-lit overground —— and he gets slack from both sides.
NUVO: You’ve been traveling all across the world —— are you interested in comparing and contrasting the cultures in other countries with ours in relation to how people treat each other, how their government works, etc.?
Rollins: I’m not interested in compare and contrast as much as I’m into reporting to you what I saw. As far as comparison, I can make big sweeping comparisons in very few words —— Americans have it really good. We’re super lucky to get to have what we have. When you spend a day walking around Bangladesh or parts of India or parts of Madagascar, you’ll see how good you have it. You live in a temperate climate. The sun is probably not going to kill you like it could in Mali. The Sahara Desert, you just can’t believe there’s a place so anti-life. The sun will kill you. Two days in that, and you’re done without proper cover.
You see what people have put up with, on all levels — geographically, geopolitically, etc. You go to southern Sudan and you look at people that have dealt with a multi-decade war and you see farms that are fertilizing their corn with dead soldiers. Literally. There’s corn growing up through shallow graves of these soldiers. Their farmers ask if you would like a piece of bone or tooth as a souvenir. That’s a reality in southern Sudan. Try that in your state. People would react in horror, as well as they should. I mean if you showed me a shallow grave with a human body in it on my property, small as it is, here in Los Angeles, I wouldn’t say, “Yeah, war is hell ...” I’d say, “Whoa, whoa, we got to call a cop, man.”
We Americans exist in a relative level of food and water security in that I bet in the last 24 hours you have bathed your body. Hot water in your life is a given. You have not given it a thought today, or this week — “I hope there’s hot water tomorrow.” It’s not on my radar — it really isn’t. I took a shower this morning, of course I did. It’s a given. In the parts of Africa I’ve been to, your water is a muddy jerry can full of water that a woman in the village walked five miles each way to go get. And you can widen your lens — the Europeans have it good, the Australians have it good, the Scandinavians have it good. The people in the West are fairly blessed in a lot of ways.
NUVO: As I listen to you speak, I keep thinking about the “punk rock” ideal of unity, and how important it is to educate each other. Is there any major goal or idea you want to leave with people on this tour?
Rollins: I think that’s up to the person sitting in front of me being subjected to two hours of this. My objective is to be clear. I aim for clear reportage — that’s what I’m going for. I’m trying to get to you clearly, and as succinctly as possible. I’m just going to assume that you can draw your own conclusions, and come up with what you’re going to come up with. I’m not going to tell you what to take away. I’m going to leave you to do that figuring. You’re a human with a brain, you’re awake and you’ve got this. I just try and lay out my thoughts very clearly so you and I hopefully have a high contrast understanding. In that, there’s no subtly or gray area. And that is a very careful use of language, that’s a lot of preparation. And that’s valuing your time as much as I value my own. In fact I value the audience’s time more than I value my own.
[Music] Jazz + Blues + R&B
[Music] Rock, Punk + Metal
[Music] Punk + Metal, Rock