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Henry Rollins: “I have to impress myself, and I’m not easily impressed”

Ahead of his UK tour, Rollins discusses the intricacies of being on stage – and worms.

Henry Rollins: “I have to impress myself, and I’m not easily impressed”

The nature of the spoken word tour is pretty simple: you must speak. But it’s not as easy as it sounds, even for the chatterboxes among us. There must be stories and points that keep people interested, a life lived where people want to hear about experiences they themselves may never have, expressions of opinions that will make them chuckle knowingly. Hello, Henry Rollins.

The key to Rollins’ success in the forum is that his experience is so vast and constant, it seems natural that as a break from his many creative outlets and adventures, he’d take it on the road and give people a snapshot into his life.


Let’s take 2015 as an isolated example. Ask Henry about his year, and his list goes from gore to ice-covered metropolis. “I did some really interesting film work,” he begins. “I was in a crazy horror film. It was absolutely mad, just blood everywhere – crazy, completely insane. That was really fun.

”I did some really interesting travel that was very informative. I just got back from Antarctica a few days ago and that was incredibly moving, moving in that it’s beautiful but also it’s a fragile and endangered environment, so what you’re seeing is an environment that is being invaded upon. I learned a lot.

”I also spent quite a bit of time in the jungles of Ecuador on different rivers on a riverboat. I learned about biodiversity. I spent some time on Easter island, again learning about the history of the island, biodiversity, climate change. 

“I did a lot of cool voiceovers for cartoons and stuff this year, so it’s been kinda work, but also interesting travel put in.”


You’d think that with such a varied year, it couldn’t get any wilder from an outsider’s point of view. But in what is probably one of the more unique accolades one can earn in life, the fossil of a worm has been named after Rollins after being dubbed “a very buff little worm”, the Rollinschaeta myoplena.

”I found out about that when I was in Antarctica where the internet is not so great,” explains Henry. “I couldn’t open up any of the sites that explained this and so I came back to the office a few days ago to finally get some stronger internet signal, so I read this thing that people had been sending me apparently some fossilised worm has been named after me and I really don’t know what to say about that – except, I never saw that coming!”

It’s easy to see why Rollins is a master of the spoken form. But rather than visit somewhere, write a bit about it and then take it on the road, he’s rigorous with what makes the grade, and is conscious to keep fan experience and enjoyment at the forefront. “The material has to be able to survive waterboarding, be dropped from a building and not break,” he explains. “It has to be able to be repeated over and over again in my mind and not occur to me as dull or not as good as it sounded a week ago. 

“What I want to do is talk about places where you might not have gone, or places you have gone and put a different light on it. Or a situation that has happened in the world – I’ll talk about the last time I was there and what I saw, like Syria blowing up; I’m no expert on Syria but I have been there and so I would not hesitate to find some great aspect about my trip. What I want is for the audience to get something that they didn’t have before that was really interesting, fun to sit through and endure, funny at times when it’s warranted. To understand that the person who is throwing this stuff at them has put in an incredible amount of work into the preparation and the delivery of said information out of an unconditional affection for the audience. A top shelf respect for them and an overriding fear of letting them down.

”That’s how the material makes it to the stage, but basically I beat the hell out of it and if it doesn’t bleed out I take it to the stage. You can’t. An audience trusts you. It’s not a financial thing – an audience trusts you with their time, how could you not want to give them the very best?

”I work on material for months, for a year, and I will actually walk around and say the material out loud. I just find like a room, a hallway, an expanse of sidewalk, a treadmill and I just run through these stories out loud. It’s band practice but I’m on my own. I have to impress myself and I’m not easily impressed, I’m not a big fan of myself. I fear letting down my audience, so if it’s disingenuous, if it’s self-aggrandising without being hilarious, without a great punchline, like ‘fall in the mud’, I do not dare bring it to a live audience. 

“I show up to be with them and they show up to meet, which is a miracle I can’t understand why they do it but I fear my life without them.”


In balancing such a hectic schedule, it’s about compartmentalising. “I try not to do two things at once,” he notes. “I’m not good at multi-tasking; some people are, I’m not. So, one day I have to write my article for the LA Weekly, I finish that and then prepare the next thing. I have to go on tour so I’m prepared for that. I make a lot of lists and try not to overwhelm myself with anything. I just go ‘here’s a thing, let’s do it’. I go at it kinda like a fighter pilot: here’s the coordinates, let’s go. But you have to be at a high rate of speed; where you lose your cool, you just calmly go at it and don’t leave anything out. That’s how you can get a whole lot of stuff done, that’s the metabolic rate I operate at. I need to be doing things all the time. I don’t like sitting around – I hate it.”

It’s a new year, his spoken word tour, Charmingly Obstinate, is touring the UK across the rest of the month. But what next, for a man who does so much? “I have lists of countries I’d like to get to and get back to so I can learn more. Basically, the things I haven’t done are just geographical points I haven’t reached yet. I have no burning desire to direct or have kids or do anything life changing like that – I just want to be out in the world more and get to more places I haven’t been to before.”

Henry Rollins is on tour from Sunday 10th January. Click here for dates and tickets.

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