Henry Rollins made his name as the lead singer of Black Flag and the Rollins Band, but these days he’s invested in the written and the spoken word: radio, books, a recently canceled IFC talk show (where he hosted everyone from Arianna Huffington to Marilyn Manson), a Vanity Fair column, a role in FX's cult hit The Sons of Anarchy, and his current gig, the Frequent Flyer tour, which lands at Irving Plaza tonight and tomorrow. We recently spoke to Rollins about his latest travels, bringing information to his audience, and being a judge on Drag Race.
You don't like the term "spoken word" — you prefer "talking," right?
I just think the term is just pretentious.
But you won a Grammy for it.
Yeah, but I gave it away.
Where is it?
I gave it to a guy who has a fireplace. I said, “Here, it would look good on your mantle.’ He said, ‘That’s your Grammy,’ and I said ‘Yeah.’ I saw it a little while ago, I was over there. It’s all kind of tarnished now. I didn’t want it. They give you a key fob. I kept the key fob.
What kind of responsibility do you feel when you’re onstage?
When you're holding people’s attention, I feel you must give them high-quality ingredients. They deserve nothing but your best. And if they need information, get it, cross-check it, and try to be right. Do not waste their time; do not enjoy the ego trip of being onstage. You have to bring yourself into it, but not stamp out information by putting too much of yourself in.
How do you go about imparting information?
After I wrapped Sons of Anarchy, I traveled by myself for ten weeks. I started in Jordan and finished in Mali, in Timbuktu. So I’ve been traveling since October 16 all over the world, just to see and learn. But please never think that I think that I’m important or that I’m teaching you something or that I’m some professor. I’m a high-school graduate who wants to be Johnny Quest: I’m just curious. I understand that I’m really lucky to be able to do it. I don’t have bragging rights; I’m just grateful.
You were recently a judge on RuPaul’s Drag Race. How did that come about?
In the nineties, my band and RuPaul got together and we did a version of “Funkytown” that so far hasn’t been released. He’s a wonderful guy — funny, smart, articulate — and so he called me weeks ago and said, ‘Would you be a judge on my show?’ I said, “Hang out with a bunch of men who dress as women? Why, sure.” And so I was a judge on the show. And there’s a funny story that I tell onstage about it.
Can you tell us?
To have these men, dressed as women, dancing, lip-synching in front of you, looking at you, coming onto you really hard — they don’t want to go home — and I kept forgetting that they were men. I’m a heterosexual male, but I don’t care what it is — if it’s wearing hot pants, I’ll look at it. But I’m not a pig, I'm just someone with a pulse. So I’m trying to be a good judge, trying to be impartial — very good kick, nice pirouette — but at the same time I’m like, ‘Wow, look at her,’ and ‘Wait a minute, Henry, that’s a guy.’ And it made me see that I’m like a trilobite. I am spore. And so I tell a funny story about how simple men are and how frustrated women must be because men will not get a systems upgrade. We will stay on tadpole 1.0 until our dying day.