Henry Rollins – Punk Dad For All

By Alice Worley 

To all those punk faithfuls—branded with Black Flag tattoos, a perpetual tattered copy of Black Coffee Blues bedecked on bedside table—I have wonderful news for you. Our muscle-bound, grey-haired wellspring of concisely worded rage and wisdom is coming back to Ngunnawal country to entertain and enlighten. 

I speak, of course, of the one and only, Henry Rollins.

In case I need to tell you, Henry is one of the most iconic figures in punk history; a legend who inspires punk musicians to this day. His ambition to be eternally moulded by new ways of thinking and new points of view, both in the world of punk and outside it, is something to be commended. 

He is known by fans for his relatable and down-to-earth nature, with a genuine want to see talented musicians be recognised, and succeed.

Many punk kids praise Henry for being easy to connect with, with many citing occasions where sent fan mail or sought advice has been met with a reply. And not just any reply: a thorough and encouraging one to boot.

Henry Rollins – a true punk dad to all.  

If you’re not super familiar with how built into the fabric of the punk/rock music world Henry is, I highly recommend his podcast, Henry and Heidi, recorded in LA with long-time friend Heidi May.  

His stories about best friend Ian MacKaye (Minor Threat/Fugazi), getting to know Lemmy Kilmister (Motörhead), being reluctantly dragged by his bandmates to his first KISS concert, and the experience that was putting together Lollapalooza are all utterly captivating, as is every other episode. He is a master storyteller with much to say about his rich and remarkable life.  

Speaking of stretches of time, hard to believe it’s been seven long years since he’s toured this country, with his An Evening With Henry Rollins tour being the previous outing. I, for one, have missed him terribly. By the sounds of it, he’s missed us too. 

I was so incredibly fortunate to get the opportunity to ask him about some of his struggles through lockdown, and his thoughts on modern Australian punk.

Henry is known for extensive travelling, spanning the planet as much as humanly possible. And then some. He very actively strives to be at home as little as possible, sometimes only being in LA for a few weeks a year. 

So, for someone with such an ambitious and unyielding wanderlust, the COVID lockdowns were not an easy thing for him to get his head around. 

“It was depressing,” Henry recalls. “I had conditioned myself for a lot of travel and lost all that during the lockdown. I had to find things to do from a fixed location. 

“I adapted,” he continues, “but it was challenging. Some things are bigger than you are, so you have to figure out a way through. I’d rather do that than waste time just being frustrated.” 

Grateful to be able to return to the big island that is Australia, it seems Henry sure has a soft spot for this place, with some of our capital cities drawing particular praise. 

“It’s a beautiful country, and the audiences are amazing,” he enthuses. “I liked it immediately upon arrival the first time… I always thought Melbourne was really cool. It seems to have the café society thing happening, which I think is aesthetically appealing. 

“Brisbane looks like a postcard. Like, it’s too beautiful to be real; some of the views of the ocean?

“Perth is incredible…

“I guess I like being in Australia,” he concludes. “Anywhere you put me there, I’ll be okay.”

If you’re wondering where you might see Henry out and about when he’s not on the stage, suffice to say, a local punk gig is a hotspot in which to keep your eyes peeled. 

“I go to shows when I’m not onstage myself,” Henry confirms. “I have a fair grip on Australian bands and if there’s something happening on a night off, I’m there.” 

Speaking of Henry and Aussie punk, did you know he’s a massive fan? Well, now you do. 

I discovered this for myself in 2019 when a panel discussion on punk music was put together to promote the release of the docu-series, Punk. On this panel were the likes of Marky Ramone, John Lydon (or Johnny Rotten as you might know him better), and Mr Rollins himself. 

The recording of this event became infamous for the actions of one of the more opinionated and dominating participants.  

“It was “heated” on account of a very drunk and sad Johnny Lydon [feeling] compelled to ruin the event. I don’t know the guy but it was a bad time.”

Bad time it may have been, Henry did manage to sweet talk the microphone away from Johnny to give a shoutout to Australian punk, citing bands like BB and The Blips (Gadigal) and Cable Ties (Naarm) as some of the groups that had caught his attention. 

He’s quite partial to the punk movement in Australia, as it ticks a lot of boxes when it comes to his impression of what modern day punk looks like.

“At this point, it’s a moral/civic idea,” Henry states. “You see a lot of groups targeted for abuse like LGBTQ, women, non-white, etc. I think a true punk rock person would be standing up for these people. 

“For me, at this point, it’s more than music. It’s a way of thinking; a set of values. I think it’s fair that if you ask different people, you’ll get different answers as to what punk rock means. I think all those answers would be correct and personally definitive.”

To all those punk rock bands out there that are starting to gain some traction, Henry has some insight into why fame and success can sometimes tarnish a group on their way to stardom, and why it’s not usually any fault of the musicians. 

“As a band grows in popularity, more people become involved,” Henry says. “That’s where things can potentially start to go bad. It very well might not be the band but those people and the mechanism of the higher altitudes. A beer company becomes involved, and so on. It’s compromised by a lot of very small decisions. 

“It’s probably a confusing thing for a band,” Henry continues. “They want to play in front of a lot of people, get paid, all the good stuff. There’s nothing wrong with any of that. But it seems to come with downsides. 

“Fame and popularity are very tricky things. I think it’s easier to get it wrong than otherwise.”

As always, I’m very interested to see what the now 62 year-old spoken word artist wants to rant to us about at this point in time. Something infuriating, no doubt. But hopefully something inspiring as well. Guess we’ll just have to wait and see. 

And, dear reader, if there are any questions you have for him that weren’t answered here, he has a reputation for hanging around after his shows for as long as people want to talk to him. He may be built like a brick s**thouse and have a resting kill face, but he’s deceptively inviting and loves a thought-provoking question or two.

So go have a chat! I know I will. 

Henry Rollins takes his Good To See You tour across Australia in June/July, visiting Canberra/Ngunnawal country on Tuesday, 20 June at Llewellyn Hall, ANU School of Music. Show kicks off at 8pm, and tickets are $68.50 on sale now via Ticketek

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