Henry Rollins has never been short on opinions or ways to express himself.
Whether the punk-rock icon, actor and publisher is on the road or working on one of his many projects, he is always a vocal advocate for issues like gay rights, the West Memphis Three and supporting U.S. troops fighting in the Iraq War.
Rollins is usually at his most political, and gut-wrenching funniest, during one of his spoken-word performances. Prior to the launch of his “Frequent Flier Tour,” which pulls into Philadelphia on March 11, the LGBT ally took a few minutes out of his busy schedule to answer a few of PGN’s questions.
PGN: What inspired you to be so outspoken for LGBT rights? HR: Because being gay is nothing anyone can help, no matter how much someone says otherwise. That someone is denied human rights over this will not stand. It’s as simple as that for me.
PGN: Having done a number of tours with the USO, do you have a sense of whether the politicians who oppose “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” on the grounds that it would “affect soldier morale” have ever discussed the issue with any soldiers — or actually care about soldier morale at all? HR: My opinion is that they really don’t care if there are gay soldiers. It’s a good talking point for them to fundraise with and to energize their dumb-ass base. You want to have an effect on a soldier’s morale? Send him/her in for four rotations through Iraq. Believe me, a gay person next to them is the last thing they are worrying about.
PGN: You were once reported to a National Security Hotline for reading a book about the rise of militant Islam on a plane. Does it make it more irksome for you when, years later, a man who is on a no-fly list and has ties to al-Qaida is allowed to get on a plane with a bomb in his underwear? HR: It’s not surprising on either side of that one. It was interesting, that whole thing. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of ego in intelligence. FBI won’t share with CIA, etc. It’s been that way for decades. It’s how you get a thing like this idiot with the bomb in his pants.
PGN: Recently, we interviewed RuPaul and were surprised to see you in the trailer for the second season of “Drag Race.” She said the two of you go way back. How did you end up guest-judging on the show and how much street cred do you have in the drag world? HR: RuPaul is great and we have been friends for many years. I ended up as a judge because she asked me to, that’s all. How much street cred do I have in the drag world, well damn, I never thought about it. Do I need to? Is it something I should do some polling on?
PGN: Which of your books or albums would you recommend to someone who knows little or nothing about you or your work, and why? HR: I would definitely recommend they check out someone else’s work.
PGN: What books are you reading right now? HR: I just finished “In the Jaws of the Dragon” by Eamon Fingleton. I liked it. I am reading “Blood’s a Rover” by James Ellroy. He’s one of the only fiction writers I read.
PGN: Is has been reported that you might be giving up on making music. If that is true, what are your reasons for that decision? HR: I will hopefully be working on a project later this year. I don’t want to go out and play old music, though. It’s too depressing to relive the past in that way.
PGN: If you do give up making music, will you be able to sleep at night knowing that Sting is still out there recording solo albums with total impunity, and probably has the ability to sell said records to people waiting in line for coffee at Starbucks? HR: I am just happy knowing that I will never be mature enough to get through one of his records. He donates a lot of money to an orphanage that I donate money to, so perhaps his continual releases are for the greater good. No one’s making me listen to them, that’s the real good part.
PGN: We are both of a generation that had to spend money/time/energy to figure out whether or not we liked a band or musician. Do you think something vital is lost today when you are able to know everything about an artist and own three or four of their songs (sometimes for free) within 2 minutes of hearing their name? HR: I don’t know. That’s a good question. Sometimes the best part of a show was going to it — the music was not the real item. I think there are good parts of having a ton of information at your command, [but] it also removes the music-discovery-as-journey element that was interesting to me at least. On the other hand, you are able to check out a lot of music you might not get your hands on otherwise. PGN: The picture you paint of Los Angeles in your spoken-word performances is never flattering. Why do you continue to call it home? HR: Because it’s always great to leave and it keeps me motivated. There are many good people in L.A. It’s just a tough place and not always easy to deal with. I think in the last several years, the place has started to get a pulse, though.
PGN: Are we witnessing the last days of the empire? HR: Since Reagan’s two failed terms, absolutely.
Henry Rollins performs a spoken-word show at 8 p.m. March 11 at First Unitarian Church, 2125 Chestnut St. For more information, visit www.henryrollins.com or call (215) 563-3980.