Images by Matt Ross
In this second part of our interview with the intellectual badass, Henry talks about online community, isolation and his audiences, both physical and implied.
This is the second part of an interview in three segments. You’ll also want to look at Part One (Henry Rollins talks: Girls). Part Three (Bands Henry Rollins Thinks You Oughta Hear) will be published in the next few days.
This will be published on the internet, which I know you’re a big consumer of…
… and contributor to, obviously. Do you think the internet makes it easier for people to be alone?
I think the internet provides a lot of isolation, a lot of disconnectedness, a lot of disunion, a lot of anonymity and a lot of cowardice.
I’m a big fan of the internet. It’s working for me. I’m on it every day, but I think that with all of that information, with all of that access, there’s a resultant fallout of feeling very alone.
Perhaps one does not need to go to the internet for some kind of feeling of community or consensus.
In America (and globally, obviously), there’s a thing called The Huffington Post: a left-leaning, intensely popular blog and online newspaper that I look at every day. People post their opinions, and there’ll be, like, 5000 postings underneath a big thing on Romney or President Obama, or some hot issue like gay rights and same-sex marriage (these are things that are hotly contested).
It’s interesting, reading the opinions back and forth, and perhaps it bucks you up slightly to read 500 opinions that somehow match your own. I mean, me and all these other people think these right-wing people are just out of their minds. You read, every 500 or so, [a post that says] “You libs suck”, and you’re like, “Wow,” but then of course that guy gets pounded on by the next 80 posts, which is funny!
I don’t necessarily feel these people are my friends, and that ‘I’ve got people, I’ve got traction’, or that there’s any kind of consensus being reached. It’s just a bunch of people making content.
I use the internet in a certain way. I’m not looking for online friends.
I get a lot of incoming email from people, especially on tour. I leave it for an hour and I come back, and [illustrates emails piling up with his hands], it’s like mowing a lawn. I keep answering – they keep comin’ up. It’s like a battle. I just try and keep the incoming email on my site below 200. I’ll get it to about 190-something, and then I’ll come back after doing something and it’s back up to 220. I answer the best I can. [Laughs]
Anyway, I think that a lot of people use the internet rather than going out into the world and having analogue relationships – getting bumped into, going to the coffeehouse, going to the subway/the library/the park, vous le vous-ing with other people and getting the real deal: Real substantive, human input and contact and feedback. They will switch out their internet life for that, and that’s too bad because they’re vastly different. One, to me, is hugely nutritious and restorative (real world interaction) and then there’s the internet which is…
I get a lot of intense mail. Like, “Dear Henry, I want to kill myself, can you help me?” Well, maybe that guy’s just winding me up. Maybe that person thinks it’s funny to get me to write some intense letter. I answer mail as best I can, but then someone’ll say “So, why’d you say that to that guy?” and I’ll realise that my answer got put on some chat room and everyone’s reading it.
So, I have to write back thinking that maybe thousands of people might read that answer. This happens quite often to me. I live in a glass house with all of that, so I answer very carefully.
Do you think that makes you speak differently, knowing that thousands of people might hear your words rather than one?
It does not make me censor myself. It does make me choose my words carefully.
I’ve been getting listened to for quite a long time. In 31 years, I’ve done more interviews than anyone I’ve ever met because I say yes to all of them, pretty much.
As I get older, I realise I’m listened to by more and more people with a bit more gravity, and more seriousness. Now, the real plot loss would be if I took myself more seriously, which I don’t. I take the information seriously, and I take what I’m going to say very seriously knowing that someone is listening with sincerity. I can’t betray that honesty.
I’ll look out to an audience, and they’re sitting there, and they’ve paid money to sit and listen to me. There’s a wonderful pressure I feel every night to tell them (as best I can) what I know, and to choose my words so carefully that I worry about semi-colons and commas later. You cannot betray the trust of these people.
I don’t know how some politicians sleep at night, knowing that they have just walked out there and lied to all of those people, that they are grifting those people, that they are perpetrating a fraud upon those people. I don’t know how you’d live with yourself. I guess you’d have to be a sociopath. It would eat me up. I would be unable to deal with it.
So, I love my audience, but my affection for them they’ll never really understand. My fear of them eclipses my affection for them. [Laughs] I’ve been saying that a lot on this tour – almost every night. I fear disappointing them. I fear letting them down. I fear misleading them. I choose words very, very carefully.
Some people have their “What Would Jesus Do?” thing. For me, it’s “What would Abraham Lincoln do?” He is my go-to. I always default to what I think Lincoln might do.
Henry Rollins follows his spectacular Johannesburg show with a live performance tonight at Cape Town’s Baxter Theatre. Tickets are available at the venue and on Computicket.
Remaining SA tour dates
Sat 19 May – The SunZone, Suncoast, Durban