Be it touring America in a van while fronting Black Flag or traveling through the Middle East on six USO tours, Henry Rollins has never taken the comfortable route through life. Following his early-'80s tenure with one of punk's most seminal outfits, he easily transitioned from rocker to author, public speaker and political activist. These days Rollins hosts his own film and culture show on the Independent Film Channel (IFC), and he continues to travel the world-both on vacation and on spoken-word tours. For a quarter-century he has been a punk philosopher and the social conscience of the underground, and we get to hear all about it when he comes to Missoula on his IFC-sponsored "25 Years of Bullshit" tour on Saturday, Nov. 19.
But before embarking on his silver anniversary spoken-word road trip, Rollins took another tour of the Middle East,
this time entertaining American troops in Egypt. Rollins' travels overseas will figure prominently in his new show, in particular recent trips to Iraq and Afghanistan and one curious night spent in the bedroom of the notorious Uday Hussein.
"I slept in Uday's bedroom, in his bed, with the hooks in the ceiling for chaining the chicks up," says Rollins in a phone interview. "It's just a weird scene. A week later I'm back in traffic in L.A. going, 'That was really strange.'"
Rollins says the most memorable part of his recent travels has been visiting with the troops themselves.
"The thing that stays with me the most is what I saw in America when I visited the military hospitals. A lot of limbs gone and mutilation on 20-something-year-olds is hard to forget," he says. "Some of the good parts of all of it is the morale of the guys and the girls. Their focus and their youth and their strength is really intense."
Most uplifting, he says, was the work of the troops to improve the living conditions in Iraq.
"In every territory and region that we're in, the allied forces do a lot of humanitarian work-dental, medical, helping farmers irrigate, digging ditches, opening literacy programs, building schools. That's a big part of some of the soldiers' day, teaching kids how to brush their teeth," says Rollins. "The people in these places, all they want is what you and I want: We want to go and do our thing and not get shot at. We want to eat. We want the water to be clean."
But while Rollins has nothing but kind words for the troops, his feelings for the government are a different matter.
"The war in Iraq-no one has made sense of that to me," he says. "If I'm to believe my president, he said Iraq was a threat with weapons of mass destruction-an imminent threat, in his words. Then we find out that's not true, yet we still invade. The invasion went through, yet the focus of the war was just re-spun into
freeing Iraq. I say the freedom of Iraq,
if it's not an imminent threat-and I'm not trying to be mean-but it's not worth the scraped elbow of an American serviceman or woman, much less the 2,000-plus dead
and 8,000 catastrophic injuries. It's just not worth it. You can't fight every fight. You have to pick your battles.
"If America is going to be the clearinghouse for whoop-ass, then we have to go to North Korea, Iraq and most of Africa and take out all the bad guys there," he continues. "If that's our job, presumably wouldn't we be doing that? Zimbabwe is not a threat to America, but they've got bad things happening. North Korea definitely has a guy who is starving millions of good North Koreans who will probably never know how much they were lied to. Aren't we supposed to go get him? No one-no conservative, no Republican, no Democrat-has made this thing sing for me...All I see on Fox News is, 'This president is going to stay the course in Iraq.' He doesn't have to stay anything. He's not out there. Send your daughters in, that's what I say."
Following the "25 Years of Bullshit" tour, Rollins will begin working on the second season of his IFC show. Fans of "Henry's Film Corner" will notice many changes in the second season. First off, the show has been re-christened "The Henry Rollins Show," allowing the outspoken Rollins to address cultural issues beyond the silver screen. And whereas "Henry's Film Corner" appeared once a month, "The Henry Rollins Show" will broadcast weekly.
The second season debuts in early 2006. Until then, fans can get their Rollins fix at The Wilma on Saturday night.
Henry Rollins speaks at 8 PM, Saturday, Nov. 19, at the Wilma Theatre. $19.50.