Interviews

Henry Rollins Has a Message For Millennials: Shut Up And Listen!

The former lead singer of Black Flag has been to over 100 countries, and he has a few stories to tell.

Henry Rollins
Heidi May

Henry Rollins is a fervent workaholic who has been addicted to achievement since the first time he picked up a weight. And he’s carried those lessons into all facets of his life, consistently defining and redefining himself with every new project he takes on. Best known as the lead singer of ’80s punk band Black Flag, Rollins also pens a weekly column for LA Weekly; hosts a podcast, Henry & Heidi; boasts more than 50 film credits to his name; and tours the country relaying tales of his travels and the lessons he’s learned along the way. Or, as he puts it, “I’m just a monkey looking for the next vine to swing from.”

M&F: How did you get into weight training?

Rollins: My high school teacher Mr. Pepperman told me, “You’re skinny. I’m going to teach you how to lift weights, and you’re going to do everything I say.” So, I went to Sears and bought a sand-filled weight set. I did everything he told me to do—compound lifts, curls, and stuff like that. Eventually, I could take that weight set and throw it around the room. That was a huge deal for me because I felt such a sense of achievement. Ever since then, I’ve been applying that lesson to everything I do.

You recently turned 56. How do you approach the gym nowadays?

At this point, my goal is longevity. I want to keep my body in shape, which—hopefully—will keep my mind limber, so I can continue doing stuff five, even seven years after my “use-by date.” It’s not about lifting heavy. My general rule for selecting weight is if I can’t lift it 10 times, then I take it down.

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Do you still run eight miles before your performances?

No. My knees left the building years ago. But on tour I still like to keep my mind hard and get my heart rate up, so I’ll get on the elliptical and stationary bike for 30 minutes each. Hours later it’s showtime, and, man, I’m not afraid of anything. That’s why the workout is so important on the road, to combat depression and a feeling of nonachievement.

Listen Up: Rollins opines about current events and reflects on his experiences that helped develop his character in his weekly column for LA Weekly.

Back when you trained in powerlifting, what was your best lift?

I could always pull up a lot of weight, way up to the high 500s. I think my best was 565, and I did it for two. I could have done more. I pulled that very easily.

What one piece of advice would you give the 20-year-old you?

Listen more, talk less. Don’t be so judgmental. Be as patient as possible. And be careful not to burn any bridges, because you might have to walk back across one day.

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You’re involved in so many professions—music, spoken-word tours, radio. How would you define yourself?

I’m an output machine; I like to make stuff. I don’t do it for the money or the fame or the applause; I like to get it done, to be in motion. I like to bite off more than I can chew. That’s why I try to maintain a schedule that I can barely keep up with.

At what moment in your career did you suddenly feel as though you’d really made it?

The first time I got enough money to pay my rent for a year in advance. Not having that Damocles sword hanging over my head was a big deal.

Any big regrets?

I’ll always be mad I didn’t use my ticket to see Thin Lizzy open for Queen in 1976. I had a ticket, but I stayed home instead—I had so much homework to do that night.

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You’ve been to more than 100 countries and all seven continents. What’s your biggest takeaway from all that travel?

I remember the first time I went to India. Nothing in my life prepared me for that. I saw a man on a pile of burning wood. My mind was so blown by the end of a day there that I was unable to write in my journal. I couldn’t form words. I was so mentally exhausted; all I could do was collapse into bed. If I were president, I’d be signing up young people to get passports and go work in programs outside of America. It would be great for a 19-year-old to, say, go help build a bridge in Guatemala.

What do you hope people get out of your work?

By talking about your own life, you pump people up, maybe end up inspiring them to make more of theirs. I like hearing that I helped someone get up off his ass and get over his fear, or whatever it might be that kept him from doing something amazing. That’s the best payoff for any of this stuff.

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