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Thursday, 23 February 2012 15:35

Inside the Work Ethic of Henry Rollins

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Henry Rollins doesn't take vacations.

"I'm always kind of doing something — there's never really any downtime," he said. "And I'm not trying to impress you with my workload."

The last downtime the 51-year-old punk rock Renaissance man can recall was over Christmas. His staff left for the holiday and he had two days to himself.

"For two days I didn't really bother to look at a clock. I just stayed up as late as I wanted, listened to music until five in the morning, did a lot of writing and then slept until I woke up."

After that, it was back to work. Mostly because Rollins felt like he was wasting time.

"A couple of days of staying up until the sun came up ... you feel like such a failure," he said.

For 31 years, Rollins has been working nonstop, ever since he started fronting legendary punk band Black Flag in 1981, when he was 20. Rollins was with the band until 1986, when Black Flag broke up. The band's last show was in Detroit.

But the band's breakup didn't stop Rollins. He formed Rollins Band and released a second spoken-word album in 1987. Around that time, he created 2.13.61 (the numbers represent Rollins' birthday), his own label and publishing company. In the ‘90s, his empire grew. He started publishing books based on his travel journals and making more TV and movie appearances, including MTV's "Alternative Nation" in 1993, which gave him mainstream exposure. Most recently, he had a role in season two of FX's "Sons of Anarchy," where he played AJ Weston, a white supremacist.

"He's a killer, he's a psychopath. He basically has drunk the Kool-Aid, he wants a white America and there's nothing more to discuss," Rollins said of his character. "Like those people who think the president was born in Kenya. There's nothing you can show those people that can convince them."

Currently, Rollins is in the middle of a 150-date spoken-word tour. In addition to his touring, Rollins hosts a weekly radio show on KCRW public radio, writes a weekly music column for the LA Weekly and has a few books in the works. He takes them all seriously.

"I have a great love of my audience, but mainly I fear them. I fear failing them," he says of his hard work.

When it comes to his live shows, Rollins says the most important thing to delivering a solid performance is being prepared. His trick to having energy and being alert onstage is making sure he is well-hydrated and getting a workout in a few hours before the show. He also walks around on the street and talks to himself.

"I do that for hours at a time — just run through a whole show's worth of ideas out loud," he said. "It might look a little odd watching some guy walking down the street mumbling to himself, but I don't care. Hearing myself say these words really helps."

Those ideas could be anything from current events to the many travels Rollins has had in the recent years. Not your typical travels, however. The ones Rollins takes are the antithesis of what one would consider a vacation. Africa, Cuba, Haiti, China, Mongolia, Vietnam, India and North Korea are all included on his list of countries visited.

"One day in Africa is like three days anywhere else, I guarantee it ... It just ages you," he said. "You come out and everything you own is trashed on the way out. Everything gets so hammered because life there is so hard. A good part of your day can be spent finding clean bottles of water. You come out of there with stories that are very moving. I go on with heavy material. I don't go on with fluff — I go on with densely packed material."

And it's that heavy material that fuels his stage show each night.

"Basically, my bottom line is I feel the need to justify my existence onstage," he said. "‘Why should we go see you?' Well, that's a good question. Because I've got these cool stories and I've worked hard to get them."

Photos: (Top) Rollins in Uganda, photo by Kevin Morra.

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