Chris Catania of PopMatters.com recently conducted an interview with punk rock icon Henry Rollins. A couple of excerpts from the chat follow:
Q: So how was your recent trip to Iran?
Henry: Well, I had gone to Iraq with the USO and that was very ... (hesitates) ... interesting, then I took a trip on my own to Iran just to look around and that was a really good time. It's a lot more peaceful in Iran than in Iraq in the present time. I met a lot of interesting people and I was able to walk around the city without feeling like I was in any kind of danger. That was really cool. I went because all I hear in the U.S. media about Iran is that they're going to kill us all and our lives are all in grave danger. And that may be true but I'd like to think there is more than one story out there. So that's why I went.
Q: Were there any misconceptions challenged by what you saw or heard during you trip?
Henry: I think the Bush Administration really wants a war with Iran or something that ends ultimately with us against them and with America's safety at stake. And the media seems to be going along with that. It very well may be true that Iran has a plan for us all to die. I'm not a fan of (Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran's president), but I know that usually the government is one way and the people are another and the last time Bush said a country — Iraq — was a threat, it turned out not to be true. Now when he says another country with oil that is right next to Iraq is a grave danger, I just can't go along with that so willingly, so easily. So that's why I went to check it out. I went just as a tourist on the street. I have no great intelligence or in-depth knowledge of a classified nature. But I saw a bunch of people with their kids and I met a lot of people who like America very much but are also scared of America and its president. And I hope I get a chance to go back there.
But again — it's always the same thing. You meet these great people in these places and you wonder if there can be an alternative to speaking about people in other countries with such ignorance and to creating a sense of fear because you don't know anything about the culture. And this administration is really putting this country — well, at least the media seems to cave into this — and its people on an interesting perception of other countries that is really not very healthy. I just don't think we know the whole story and end up being very insulting, and for America that is very dangerous.
Q: Since you went as a tourist, did anyone know your background?
Henry: The guy who got me my visa understood who I was and what I've done. When you're an American you need a tour guide and you have to pay for it, but if you're from Holland or France you can just go to Iran. But as an American you need a government tour guide. Basically the guy just keeps his eye on you and the guy who got me the visa said, "Look, I know who you are and that's fine, but you cannot tell the tour guide what you do, that you've written books, have a TV show, do movies and music, 'cause he'll ask you too many questions. So as far as he's concerned, just be a very boring American tourist. And the less questions the better ... and don't say you're going to meet anybody in their homes because he's going to want to investigate them too. Just say you're going to visit places and go back to your room and you'll see him tomorrow."
And that's basically what I did. I would do a couple of hours looking at a palace or a museum and then I would say, "OK, I'm really tired and gotta go." Then I would go and visit these people whose addresses I got from someone I know in America. Visiting with those people, I got some interesting home-cooked food and conversation. And that's where I got to really talk with Iranians about Iran and what they think about America and our involvement in Iraq. It was interesting to hear it from them and not from the news.
Q: With BLACK FLAG you went to extremes to express your dissatisfaction with what the culture back then was feeding you. Do you get any kind of sense that the youth culture today is using music to express the same sort of feelings you did with BLACK FLAG?
Henry: When I was in that band we were at odds with contemporary culture. We had religious groups protesting the shows and sometimes the city legislature would come down to do a press op and tell the Channel Seven News why this person was bravely closing down the show for the good of the city. And then the news guy would have the club owner say, "Oh, I'm the mucky muck in Wherever, Ohio, and I'm closing this show down." He'd then point to us and our gear and that would mean for us to get the hell out. That kind of thing would happen up to a day a week.
And so now I see what I was doing back then — and getting a great amount of grief for it — on a T-shirt that you can buy at an extraordinarily high price being consumed by 15,000 people a night at the Megadome. So times do change. What does change is when the major industries smell a buck on the same thing that was once wrong and make it OK. And that is the bottom line. Anything in this culture that stands still long enough eventually becomes okay if a person can derive an income from it. Eventually pay-per-view public execution will happen and it will be half-time entertainment. We'll take the next Timothy McVeigh and (broadcast) his execution during the Super Bowl or an inauguration or some other major event or maybe Tiger Woods' birthday — some other kinds of National Day of Concern or Importance.
Q: What's the biggest change in how you viewed the world back then to how you view the world now?
Henry: I see it as a smaller place now because I've been across more of it. As young person not getting fed all the time I was concerned with the next meal, the next show, meeting a girl if I could — the basic young man's concerns in a starving, hard-working music band. Now as an older guy who's sailed the seas, I kind of look around at everything in a perspective of places being seven to 30 hours away from me. I view it as I can get to Calcutta in 30 hours. All the travel and study of other cultures has made the world much smaller and my role in it much smaller as well, which has given rise to a feeling of civic responsibility, an idea of doing something for someone other than yourself. That never would have really occurred to me when I was broke or to a young person who is missing meals. When I was young it was "me, me, me" and as an older person it's become "us, us, us."
Read the entire interview at this location.