Tuesday, September 5, 2023

No Time to Lose: Henry Rollins’ Antidote to Self-Destruction

Photo: Heidi May (www.facebook.com/officialhenryrollins)

If you don’t think there’s a mental health crisis in this country, you’re not paying attention.

Driven by the pandemic, a precarious economy, and the perpetually fractious state of politics, the collective mindset of American citizens is exhausted at best and dangerously depressed at worst.

New Hampshire hasn’t been immune to this trend. With its $7.25 minimum wage, staggering human services backlog, and ongoing opioid crisis, the “Live Free or Die” state serves as a distressing microcosm of where our nation stands in 2023.

According to an August 7 article in New Hampshire’s Union Leader newspaper, “data from American Medical Response (AMR) show the number of suspected overdoses in the state’s two largest cities [Manchester and Nashua] in July are at the highest they’ve been since 2018.”

Is there an antidote to such self-destruction? Henry Rollins thinks so.

At 62, the world-traveling spoken word artist, actor, TV host, and former Black Flag/Rollins Band frontman has seen and survived it all. A journey through his numerous books and recorded speaking shows reveals a life of childhood abuse, depression, financial ups and downs, interpersonal woes, intense personal discipline, and an unwavering will to move forward. Once you get past his stern stare and intimidating musculature, you’ll discover a disarmingly polite, empathetic, straightforward, and goal-focused man who gets things done—the kind of person you can always depend on to come through without a shred of runaround. (Since his first appearance on this site in 2014, Rollins has maintained the fastest interview request response time of the hundreds of artists I’ve dealt with over the years. Respect.)   

Rollins will share some of his hard-earned experiences and worldview with a New Hampshire audience when he brings his spoken word tour to a sold-out show at the Bank of NH Stage in Concord on September 22.

Considering that his performance will occur down the street from many of the city’s behavioral health centers, it’s no surprise that the topic of drug use came up in our recent exchange. Although he had dalliances with drugs in his earlier years (and detailed some of these experiences on a 2017 episode of his Henry & Heidi podcast), he has shunned illicit substances for decades.

“I tried marijuana and LSD—interesting but nothing I wanted to make a career out of. It was never a matter of having to resist any temptation; I just didn’t enjoy the effects. I found it all to be depressing. The more I saw drugs and alcohol do damage to young people around me, I concluded all drugs and alcohol were traps to marginalize those young people and neutralize the masses. Basically, it’s what The Man does to keep the people doped and docile. That alone is enough to keep me away from any and all of those poisons. As soon as you’re high, you’re prey to law enforcement. I will never give them that advantage.”

Rollins’ ability to rise above life’s tribulations comes down to keeping his body healthy and his mind sharp. Not surprisingly, having great tunes at the ready has helped him along the way. 

“For me, music is a great anti-depressant. It’s also great company. I’m an extremely solitary person, and while I don’t feel the need to be with anyone, I do like having music on.”

As for his diet, he keeps things very simple—and avoids the kinds of comfort food that often provide temporary mental relief for many folks but ultimately leave them in even worse physical and mental shape than before they downed that meat lovers pizza or drive-through cheeseburger. 

“I eat a lot of spinach and other vegetables, [along with] Athletic Greens super-food powder and beet extract powder once a day. Post-workout, which is six times a week, I usually take these two with a scoop of vegetable-based protein and then nothing until I’m done with work for the night, which is around 2330 hours. For me at least, diet is perhaps the most important thing I do for my mental health besides going to the gym. You have to stay up on it, and it’s not always easy, but this is what I do—no matter where in the world I am.”

These things sound great, but are they easier said than done? Just look at the arts. It’s no secret that many creative types often lean on questionable habits to help fuel their output. This writer knows plenty of fellow scribes or musicians who are afraid to get sober out of fear of losing their creative thing without the crutch. After all, no writer wants to stare at a blank screen as nothing comes to them. Naturally, Rollins has some no-nonsense advice for anyone who’s holding off on getting clean for this reason.  

“I’d say they’ll probably get a lot more quality work done without the stimulants, and they might find the work they did while under the influence will be inferior to what they’ll achieve without the ingredients. If I write a book, I want to be able to put my name on it, not my name along with ‘and Heroin.’”

With COVID-19 on the rise again and gas prices in New Hampshire nearing $4 a gallon as of this writing, it appears that everyday survival will remain a struggle for many citizens as this country gears up for another presidential election. If the recent Republican debate is any indication, we—especially our young people—are about to experience yet another wild ride. Based on Rollins’ various travels across America, how politically minded would he say people in their late teens/early 20s are these days? How can getting involved in activism locally (or beyond) help a young person channel their stressors in an outward direction as opposed to keeping them inside and burning themselves out?

“In my vision for the U.S.A. being in a better place at the end of this century than it was at the beginning, I would hope all young people who can vote will do so. I would like them to see the truth: It’s their time, their country, and their future. If they don’t get on it, a bunch of pasty old white men are going to do their best to create a world they won’t even be alive long enough to suffer through. The young must take the power from the old at every possible opportunity. There’s no need to ever burn out—you just keep making things better with the understanding that most, if not all, established power structures are money-minded and that your health and happiness are not in their calculations. This is why bad food, drugs, and stupidity are so easily accessible and in such great supply in the U.S.A. Freedom is a tricky thing. You see how many adults obviously can’t handle it.” 

More on Henry Rollins on This Website:

A Life Time Ago: Henry Rollins on Ian Mackaye, New Jersey, and the Birth of the Rollins Band

REVIEW - S.O.A.: First Demo 12/29/80 (Dischord Records) 

Remembering Rock Action: A Tribute to Scott Asheton

EMAIL JOEL at gaustenbooks@gmail.com