You’ll have to forgive me if I get all Gonzo here for a little bit, but I consider interviewing Henry Rollins to be not only a highlight of my relatively short professional career, but the chance to speak with a great personal idol and someone from whom I’ve garnered much inspiration as I’ve slowly but surely come into adulthood.
Three years ago I was stuck, miserable in business school, halfway through college, working full-time retail and just hating life. Like all too many other people, horrified of change and complacent, I sat and watched days pass over me like someone on their back at the bottom of a riverbed. And it wasn’t a miraculous cliche thing like a televangelist, but it was right around this time that I heard the audio version of Get In The Van: On The Road With Black Flag.
I know, it’s corny and lame, but Rollins’ road stories hit home. Here was a guy shoveling ice cream in DC to fat suburbanites who went on to front one of the greatest punk bands of all time. The lesson: fuck it. Do what you’re gonna do. There might be consequences, but if you have to do it, do it.
I left business school and quit my job. I spent the next two years essentially restarting and finishing college and trying to figure out just what it was I wanted to do with my life. Well, I won’t bore you with the rest, and I know the story’s nowhere near over, but suffice it to say that I’m here, and in a world where words don’t mean shit most of the time, it’s still possible to for some of them to hit home in ways that you don’t generally think they can.
The craziest part was recognizing his voice when he picked up the phone.
You were in Siberia?
Yes, I just got back Sunday.
No no no. Just a journey. It’s not comfortable so it’s not like a vacation. There’s no waterskiing. I loved being on the Trans-Siberian Express. I took a train across Russia for a week.
For a week I lived alone in a train compartment with the snow and ice for a view. It was intense and that’s why I went for it because it was a different trip than I’d ever taken. I was always curious about the Trans-Siberian Express, it was really cool.
So what did you find out?
It’s interesting how you kind of adjust to doing time, and it made me wonder about incarceration. And Siberia’s just kind of vast and full of snow. It just kind of keeps going, it’s wild. It’s endless.
It took a week to traverse in a train. From Vladivostock to Moscow, to fly back, took nine and a half hours. From Frankfurt to LA took 10 and a half. So you can kind of imagine the size of Russia. You could hide America in Siberia. You could put America in Siberia’s pocket. It’s wild.
There’s a whole lot of closed cities because, you know, nuclear reprocessing. They’ve really screwed up a lot of their country.
You went to Afghanistan, you went to Iraq for the USO. Where else?
I’ve been to Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Qatar, Kurdistan, Abu-Dabi, Honduras. Yeah, many places with the USO.
How’d you get started with that?
They called me. Yeah, they called me here at the office and said, ‘Would you ever consider a USO tour?’ I went, ‘Wow, I never would have thought someone would ask me. Yeah, I’d consider that, it sounds interesting.’
And so, I took them up on it, because while I may have a problem with George W. Bush, I have no problem with the troops. I mean, they go where they’re told, so I don’t have a beef with them necessarily. And so the ones I’ve met have been exceptionally good people doing a really utterly insane job.
It’s just such a weird gig they have.You know, ‘Go out and get shot at today.’ ‘Okay.’ I have enjoyed these tours—well, I don’t know if you enjoy them, but I always ask for another every time I finish one of them.
So you’re going again?
Oh yeah, we’re just trying to find the right time. Apparently it’s June and it’s South Korea and Japan. I keep asking to go back to Iraq but they have to wait till there’s another troop rotation, so we’ll see when. And there might be an Egypt/Jordan one later in the year.