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FROM HIS BEGINNINGS AS FRONTMAN FOR SEMINAL PUNK PIONEERS BLACK FLAG, TO THE EIGHTEEN BOOKS HE HAS WRITTEN AND PUBLISHED THROUGH HIS OWN BOOK COMPANY, 2.13.61 PUBLICATIONS, HENRY ROLLINS IS NOT AN EASY MAN TO PIN DOWN. BUT WHETHER IT IS HIS BOOKS, HIS SPOKEN WORD ALBUMS AND TOURS, OR HIS WORK WITH ROLLINS BAND, THERE IS ONE THING THAT REMAINS CONSTANT: HIS HONESTY. WITH A MACHINE-LIKE FOCUS ON GETTING THE JOB DONE, HENRY HAS ACCOMPLISHED MORE IN THE LAST TWENTY-FIVE YEARS THAN MOST PEOPLE DO IN THEIR LIVES. LONGTIME ROLLINS ADMIRER NIGHT WATCHMAN GOT THE CHANCE TO GO STRAIGHT TO THE SOURCE AND FIND OUT WHAT DRIVES A MAN TO CREATE "25 YEARS OF BULLSHIT".
Night Watchman: I've read that most writers create their work with one particular person in mind as their audience. Is there a particular person you see as your audience?
Henry Rollins: Not really. Sometimes I've found that when I'm writing lyrics I think of a white male in a car driving through an industrial town going to work at an oppressive job. To that person you must be very honest because they'll see through your bullshit. That is this weird image-- I just see the grey sky and the dashboard and the hands on the wheel.
NW: Is that because of something you experienced based on your upbringing?
HR: I have no idea, but that is a reoccurring thing that happens. I just flash to it. I've been doing that on and off for well over a decade or two. It's weird. But past that I just try and be very clear so that I come across to anybody who is in the same room with that sound.
NW: You really seem to be able to express yourself and let your inner thoughts out on so many different levels, with your music, your books, and your spoken word engagements. How do you consistently do that? How do you maintain that level of honesty?
HR: Well, you hold the truth at a premium and try not to shirk it and try not to avoid it. And it gets more difficult, for me at least, as I go in. I don't feel like lying now, more often than not. If you've written a bunch of songs, the first fifty are easier than the next 300, because you sometimes don't know if you're writing.... Like how critics sometimes accuse Lou Reed of writing Lou Reed music, and of being a parody or a caricature of himself. It's very easy to do that if you spend a lot of time at the wheel of doing that. Because you don't know. "Is this me, or is this me doing an imitation of me?" And if you've spent any time seriously writing, you battle that a lot. Unless you're doing a journalistic thing, where it's just the facts and nothing but the facts. But if you're doing anything emotional or trying to take the truth and bang it into a fictional thing-- which is more truthful than a lot of the truth sometimes-- some of it is very painful and exposes you. Sometimes you try to get out of that, you try and dodge that bullet. And sometimes you have to really catch yourself and go, "Uh-uh. Nope. That's not the job. Get back in there." And I've rewritten stuff knowing I kind of sawed at myself with the dull side of the knife instead of doing the thing that makes you bleed. And sometimes you do it just to be real, because it hurts so much. Especially when you get older. You've got to dig deeper and-- well, at least in my case-- attack all those idiosyncrasies and things that you are ashamed of, and those things that you've been avoiding that all become alarmingly clear when you hit your mid-forties, you know? Parental relationships, how you are in the world... whatever. To write about that stuff can often be really hard, but that is the job. That's why artists that I've met who are really friendly and well-adjusted, usually their art isn't very interesting. Too many well-adjusted, nice people hold guitars these days, in my opinion.
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