Flagging down Henry Rollins


D.C. native Henry Rollins has taken a disheveled path to his own definition of success. 

He’s never trained as a musician but he was a significant contributor to the hardcore punk movement in D.C. He’s never trained as a standup comic but he’s raunchily funny. He’s never trained well he hasn’t had formal training for any of his successes, really, but that hasn’t stopped him from earning his keep as a spoken word artist-comedian-actor-writer-activist-hardcore punk rocker over the years.

Rollins became frontman of State of Alert, the short-lived but significant hardcore punk band out of the District in 1980, helping to define its own scene. He joined Black Flag, one of the first-ever hardcore punk bands, in 1981 and moved to California before starting his own Rollins Band later in the decade.

Since his formative years in the region, Rollins has produced several spoken word albums, made countless cameos on records (Tool, IggyPop) and on the big and small screen (Jackass The Movie, Sons of Anarchy). At 49, he’s a regular blogger for Vanity Fair and an involved activist.

Rollins will release the two-disc Spoken Word Guy, 11-3-08 Alexandria, VA, a recording from his last Birchmere gig, later this year. This Tuesday and Wednesday he brings his dauntless opinions and charged, curt stage presence to the Birchmere for his spoken word and comedy “Frequent Flyer Tour.” He spoke with the Times in anticipation of the two-day booking.

Alexandria Times: When you come back to D.C., do you see it as a homecoming because of your childhood roots and immersion into punk that started here? Or is it just another stop on the tour?

Henry Rollins: It’s both. It’s always great to be back in the old neighborhood but there is a show that night and it has to be good so at some point, it has to be another show on the road. It’s not difficult. Around 4 p.m. it’s all about the show.

How did D.C. shape your career and life? 

It definitely politicized me. It’s an intense city with a lot of racial tension and some very rough parts. It made me pretty wound up. I went to as many shows as I could in those days. I saw some great ones and missed some great ones. I had no talent to be fostered but the scene allowed people with little to give an opportunity to contribute nonetheless.

Have you been to Alexandria? I ask because you are probably not a household name among many residents here in the suburbs, yet you have two dates booked. 

I’ve done at least four or five shows at the Birchmere. The shows did well so I guess I do OK. It is basically my D.C.-area show so all of those people show up.

What are your goals for your new tour, other than entertainment? I’m sure it is heavily opinionated. Is it heavily political? 

There are some travel stories for sure as I have been doing a lot of travel. Things are very interesting politically at the moment in America, with everything from the Blair House summit to the Jim Bunning Experience, but these things don’t usually find themselves in the show.

What was it like to play a white supremacist a character far removed from yourself on Sons of Anarchy? I would imagine it’s pretty interesting to jump that far out of your skin and into a completely different worldview.

The guy was pretty extreme, not the kind of bad guy you root for. It wasn’t all that interesting per se, it was good work that I was happy to get. Playing parts that are nothing like me doesn’t really have any effect on me, I have found. I figure the guy out, take the information to the set, work inside of it and leave it there pretty much. I don’t know if that’s what you’re supposed to do or if there’s any one way to approach that kind of thing. I have not taken any acting lessons so I go about things in a probably less-than-efficient way but it was interesting to be that guy for sure.

Do you plan on participating in any form of activism while you’re here? Check out a Tea Party rally or two? Do you consider your tour activism?

I wouldn’t consider the tour activism although it might inspire someone to take a look around, that’s always a good thing.


Henry Rollins performs at the Birchmere Tuesday and Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.