Henry Rollins at Rock Fight Opening
The music-meets-sports exhibition Rock/Fight opened last night at Project Gallery in Los Angeles and our buddy
was on hand to interview the legendary Henry Rollins, who is featured in the show. The exhibition includes work from well-known photographers like Theo Ehret, Janette Beckman, Bob Gruen, Edward Colver, and Danny Clinch, who are known for capturing iconic moments in boxing, wrestling, hip hop and punk rock history. Project Gallery was packed with both photographers and fans alike--artist Shepard Fairey even showed up. Check out the interview below as
talks to Rollins about the story behind Black Flag's
album cover, broken noses, and Muhammed Ali. And if you're lucky enough to be in LA, stop by and see the exhibit.
is located at 1553 North Cahuenga Boulevard in Hollywood. The exhibition will be open to the general public September 13 through October 6.
NYLON Guys: So you know what the question is that no one has the answer to, was it a real punch?
Henry Rollins: Yes and no.
I don't know where we got the mirror from, but we got it. And in order to make it really photogenic, Chuck Dukowski of Black Flag, the bass player, took his scuba knife which he would like open cans of food with. He's quite the Neitzschean Huxleyan alpha. And he took the butt of it and hit that, BAM! Because he goes I'll hit it, they went yea you'll hit they'll be we can't afford the stitches. And so we hit it and then I hit it after it just to kind of I don't know humanize it. And that's all real blood.
It is all read blood.
Yea so that's all real, but the initial bam was Chuck, but I followed up and I hit it too.
And just right over your shoulder? Was it one take, two takes?
He took several photos, I mean he's given me the alternates. Oh no like any photographer he took probably a few rolls. But it was basically just like this, you just hold it…was it a right, it looks like a right?
No it was a left. Um that's how that went down and that went down on a in a squat. If you ever remember the first Penelope Spheeris film um about a squat down the road from here called the TC House, or the connected TC. It was on Oxford, it's called the Oxford House and the people who lived in it were the TC people. They had TC tattooed on their hand. And we were living there, well they rented the place, Melissa rented the place and she let everyone kind of couch and floor surf. And we, Black Flag was without a home, cause the cops came and busted our little hovel while we were on tour. So we came back to nothing. And so we camped out on the floor of this place, we said "hey can we do an album cover in your living room?" And she went, "whatever" and that's taken on a house on Oxford directly east of us, about a five minute drive.
So the next question that kind of relates right to this, about this awesome parallel between the violence and the rock and roll.
But you are exceptional in the sense that not many people, especially today, or even back then, fought with their fans.
Yea, they started it.
They always started it. You know there's like only one video that still exists. You had a full beard and guys just punching at you.
Summer '82 the whole band stopped cutting their hair cause we were somewhere and Chuck Dukowski, our bass player, had some Mardi Gras beads someone had thrown on stage, he was wearing them and someone said "what are you a hippie?" And we went, "yea, we're hippies, come and get the hippie, if you see a hippie, slap a hippie." Like yea shut up. Cause that was, I rejected that idea that elitism, "oh you're a hippie, can't come in." Like really? Shut up man I got into punk rock to get away from people like you. Like you can't go here, I got told that all through high school, "you can't come to a party you're a geek." I'm like "thanks." And now punk rockers are telling you that your hair's long, come on. Anyway, none of us cut our hair again, I didn't cut my hair from summer '82 'til summer '86. It came down to here.
Yea I remember.
I'm like, yea I'm a hippie. I'm a hippie. Your girlfriend likes hippies, check it out.
But eventually you hit so many people that they would start to fear you and revere you.
Well, just so we could be clear, I am not a tough guy, and I am not a good fighter. A spazz. These guys start, they come on, they're swingin' at you, I was into neutralizing. Cause I, if you if you. I would miss trying to hit the broad side of a barn. I'm just, I, the only fighting I've really done is street fighting and I'm no good. But there was a time probably around '84, I'd be in 0 to 3 fights a week. And I'm talking about, and I'm not trying to impress you.
No, it's crazy.
But I've broken more noses, of men, never hit a woman. But I've broken more men's noses than I can remember. And some guys would tell you that in order to impress you. I tell you that cause it's just, it's kinda a sad fact.
A sad thing.
And I got, you know I didn't win 'em all, so you know it's easy to kick my ass and so I lost a few. But it was mostly like "wham wham wham, get off me man!" And that thing that just that one famous video that's around, that fight started in the dressing room. That guy came in and started winding us up way before show time.
Just antagonizing you because he was a fan or because he thought he had something to prove.
Who knows. You know we're all young idiots. I was 21, I'm 52 now. So you know, grown up a little bit, but that was them days.
Them days man.
And things are you know better now cause I wouldn't want to engage. If someone would say "hey I want to fight you now." I'm like, "really, go talk to my lawyer." I mean I don't want to, this is stupid. In those days man, it was just. Those days are so much different than now. And I may be old, old men say that about young people. But those days, this kind of music was subtle. What is now an eight lane, two-way highway with rest stops and Starbucks every three miles, was deep dense underbrush and bands had machetes to get from gig to gig. It was the wild frontier, and you made up the rules as you went. We'll get on stage and jump off, that's a ritual now. In those days it's like I'm such a freak, I'm gonna get on stage, hit the singer, and jump off, and that's how those days were. Every night was like this wild thing, that resembled a show. And now they're very professional, we're screened, security, barricades, don't touch the singer or you'll have your arm broken.
How do you feel about hardcore now?
Yeah and that's good cause less people get hurt.
But doesn't that kind of deter from the whole idea of hardcore, keeping with the punk and like. You know cause we see a little bit of backlash, the straightedge kids are trying to come up against these EDM heads.
I'd rather a bunch of kids get together and see some rock and roll and no one get their ass kicked, than four kids get their noses broken. And some places gets some real rough customers. We had stabbings. We had you know in hearts of Texas, the one Chicano kid, the one Hispanic kid comes to the show and you see this like flurry of activity. Well there goes the Skinheads and there goes the brown-skinned fellow out on his back. And you're like really at our shows? You have all these bone-heads in Florida sig heiling you. And you're like man, you know what, this sucks where you have to fear your own fans. And from about '82 to the end, when Greg Ginn, our guitar player, you know guy writes five new songs a day. And we didn't play old material. If we had like 18 new songs, we're playing those. "Play the hits!" Eh, moving on. Which is just what he wanted to do cause you know that's moving on. But our fans want to hear the old stuff, they want to hear the songs they know from this album and by '83 we're no loner player them? Fans, they did not take that in the spirit in which we were not playing those other like "hey we're all moving on." They're like "nooo, we want the songs we know, not the 15 we've never heard because Ginn wrote 'em two months ago. And by '86 that had turned into where Black Flag was kind of a sport. You'd go to the show, antagonize the band, spit on the singer, put cigarette butts out on the singer's legs, light the singers nut sack on fire with a butane lighter, and you know see if you can beat the living hell out of them because you don't like the songs that he wrote. Whatever.
So what's punk now?
It's what you make it. As they say about someone who asks what is jazz, if you have to ask, you'll never know.
I don't know cause to me The Who is punk rock, The Velvet Underground is punk rock, Iggy, come on man. And so what's punk rock, what's Mike Ness for sure. But it's also Muhammed Ali, in that forget the fighting for a second, the stuff he was saying in the 60s, it's amazing no one shot him. It's amazing he's alive.
And I bring that up because like we're in this age of tension right now where a lot of artists don't really stand up from anything.
And he knew, he knew he had the mic.
His finger was on the pulse.
Yea and he had the moment and he took it and like I'm such a fan of his. And then he lost his career cause he said "you know I'm not going to Vietnam, I'm not doing it." And they went, "okay, we're going to make an example out of you." I remember being a little boy riding on the public bus in D.C. and some guy was talking about Muhammad Ali, some black guy, and some white guy got up in the bus and went like "you talking about Clay, you mean Clay?" And he's trying to like touch this thing off on a bus. And I'm like "wow" and everyone on the bus is like "where are we going?" And it made me understand what a hot-button this dude was. And of all the interviews I've ever watched, I've tried to watch everything he's ever done like 80 times. I'm fascinated. I never saw any glimpse of fear. He always had that look like "why don't you agree with me you know I'm right?" He always had that like confused look like "how dumb are you that you're not getting this?" I love that. And then he'd g0 into the ring and like you know all four limbs going at four different rhythms. You're like Half ballet and half pugilist, and this amazing civil rights activist. And when he speaks, as a white guy coming from Washington D.C. in a very racially wooo intense. He liberated me, as a little kid, gave me courage.
To walk into those go-go bars.
Yea and wanting to push for that equality knowing that he's right. It's a no-brainer, but when he would say it like "Yea". And I don't know, that's what heroes do, they inspire the rest of us who aren't heroic, and I'm not. But like when someone like that talks, all of a sudden you feel a little braver, you're like "yea man, like he says." And you go out there, and that's why I like rock and roll. Because these people they do their thing, and you're like "I'm buying that shirt." And you know, why do you wear a Black Sabbath shirt in high school? This is my shield. I'm in 10th grade, I am going into battle and Ozzy will protect me. I used to, the school I went to in D.C. was a naval prep school for boys, completely oppressive these jack-off uniforms and a bunch of teachers telling you to shove it. And I would play Nugent and Zeppelin before I'd go to school to get myself pumped just to face it. And then punk rock hit and I would listen to The Clash and The Sex Pistols and The Monks, like this music marathon in the morning and just give me the fury to walk into that place with my dumb suit and have a bunch of people call me names. They'd be like "what's up with you asshole?" And I'm like "thanks thanks." And um it was the music that gave me the bravery, the music that gave me the bravery to walk up to girls and go "Hi, I'm Henry, let's dance." You know, whatever it was. It was the music that was like yeah man.
You just pointed out something really really thematically sound is that there's so much courage in both sides.
Oh rock and roll takes guts. Yeah I mean all of this, I don't know that kind of bravery this I don't fight for anything, I can't get in that head, but um this took guts too.
Thanks so much. Always good.