Henry Rollins, travel addict

The punk pioneer shares stories from his adventures around the world.

click to enlarge HOW ROLLINS ROLLS: “There’s moments where there’s maybe a little too much excitement.” - Heidi May
Heidi May
HOW ROLLINS ROLLS: “There’s moments where there’s maybe a little too much excitement.”

He used to spend hours in a van, scouring for meals and playing unruly punk shows. Now Henry Rollins finds excitement traveling to Africa, Southeast Asia and the Middle East — and living to talk about it.

Clearwater is the next stop on his itinerary, when he brings his spoken word show to the Capitol Theatre March 10.

The punk historian and former vocalist for Black Flag and Rollins Band primarily tours as a spoken word artist, telling stories about his life and travel experiences. He’s even had a travel show on Nat Geo Wild called Animal Underworld, and has published an acclaimed book of travel photos called Occupants.

Rollins told CL that his first visit to Africa was a life-altering experience.

“You feel like you might’ve been on a spaceship and you’ve landed on another planet,” he said of his first exposure to Nairobi. “You’re just standing there, it’s hot, you can hear birds, and there’s animals. Like, you look around and there’s an elephant.”

His first trip to India was revelatory in a similar way, he said. In one instance, he asked someone about the smell in the air and was told it was an old man burning on a pile of wood at a local funeral home.

“And you go, ‘Oh,’” Rollins said. “Then you walk over and that’s what you’re watching. And people are looking at you like, ‘What are you looking at?’ For a Westerner, it’s kind of a mind-blowing thing. But the rest, everyone’s just going to market. It’s just life and death.”

Rollins said he continues to travel, trying to find similar epiphanies.

“I travel kind of like a cocaine addict,” he said, “looking to get that first high again by doing $8 million worth of coke.”

Yet sometimes he gets more thrills than he asked for — like the time he was stranded in Pakistan after Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s assassination.

“You look out the window, and you see columns of smoke — Islamabad’s on fire,” he said. “There’s moments where there’s maybe a little too much excitement and you’re like, ‘Whoa, man, I’m stuck in this country now.’ And I was, for several days. So these things, if you can get in and get out with all your fingers and still breathing, you have a story to tell.”

When asked what lessons he learned from his time with Black Flag, Rollins said that playing punk rock and taking minimum-wage jobs instilled in him the value of hard work.

“I enjoy financial security, which I didn’t in the Black Flag days,” he said. “I’m not exactly worried about dinner tonight — I think I got that wired. Be that as it may, I kind of go about everything like it’s the first day of work and I’m trying not to get fired.”

Yet Rollins said he doesn’t dwell much on his past with Black Flag. He has never watched Reality 86, the documentary about the band’s 1986 “In My Head” tour recently released online before being taken down by former Black Flag member Greg Ginn — although he has multiple versions on videocassette.

“I have no real fond memories of those times,” Rollins said. “I’m interested in the past like a record or a book.”

Rollins is an avid archivist, acquiring records, correspondences and other collections. He said this habit started when he was part of the ’80s punk scene, which he thought would become important history down the road.

“I heard all this music — Bad Brains, Teen Idles, Minor Threat — and I thought this was very important. I thought immediately that this is life-changing material. It certainly changed mine.”

With the money he wasn’t using for food, he bought audio cassettes and recorded bands. He started collecting flyers and other papers, including his entire written correspondence with best friend and Minor Threat/Fugazi singer Ian MacKaye.

“I’ve been Ian MacKaye’s best friend since we were 12,” he said. “Every piece of paper he’s ever written on to me, within one or two sheets of paper, I have it. We’re talking seventh and eighth grade up until now.”

Beyond touring with his speaking dates, Rollins said he is currently working on five different books. One of them will be a collection of sarcastic political essays, while another will be his second photograph collection. Rollins said he was even approached by Rolling Stone Australia to write for them recently.

“They went to my press agent and said they wanted me to work for them,” he said. “I said, ‘You know me, I work for a living.’”

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