Cullen Poythress

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17 February 2011, 20.55 | Posted in Uncategorized | 9 comments »
Internet Party

Henry Rollins On Youth Resistance Then And Now

By Cullen Poythress


The problem with being young is your perspective on life is generally limited to your years. Sure you can read about history and hear about what happened in the past, but only after a lifetime of living through it do you get to look back and attempt to make sense of it all—what you thought, how you felt, what you did or didn’t, and what it all means now.

It’s been thirty years since Henry Rollins and Black Flag swept the youth of the American punk scene with their hard edged messages of angst and non-conformity. Now at age fifty and armed with a social vantage point long in tooth, Rollins has an even more urgent message for young people. Give a fuck or don’t. The future you shape will be your salvation or your undoing.

Independent Truck Company released an ad in 1982 of you doing an acid drop off a ledge. What was the story behind that ad and how involved were you in skateboarding at that time?

I’ve been skating since the 70s. Glen Friedman took that photo I think. Independent Trucks said, “Would you like to do an ad for us?” I said, “Yea.” They said, “Well, what do you have to say about the trucks?” I said, “Yea, I ride em.” [laughs] I had been using those trucks for years. I had been using some of the first independent truck models. I used to work at a skate shop. I was using Tracker Trucks for many years and they would break. You’d never break the axles, but you’d break the housing. All of a sudden I saw these Independent Trucks. I thought I’d give them a try. They gave me some and we did that photo.  That was in Redondo Beach I think. Somewhere around 1982.

TransWorld SKATEboarding did a interview with Jason Jesse in 1988. Jesse ignored every question the interviewer asked and responded only with remarks about Black Flag. Were you aware that Black Flag’s music was resonating so much with skateboarders at the time?

No. It’s been twenty-five years. It’s so in the past. I’m glad the music was doing someone a service, but it’s nothing I paid attention to.

Were you aware that skateboarders were coming to your shows?

I’d just see faces out there. I was busy on stage trying to keep the thing happening and staying in the pocket with the band. I was never looking at the demographic that closely. I can understand that skater types might have enjoyed the music or its point of view. I don’t really know that it’s all that important. I was more focused on the work it took to get the message across.

Was there something shifting culturally that allowed Black Flag’s music to strike a chord with skaters and the youth in general during the 80s?

I think the lyrics very accurately nailed down a certain time period in a young person’s life where there’s lots of uncertainty, a lot of anger, and a lot of confusion. It works itself out however it works itself out, but it’s often with a great deal of vigor. It could be assigned to sports or sometimes letting loose at a show. Black Flag was one of those bands that was able to find that moment that a lot of people could identity with. I think that’s what made the band relevant for a while. You could hear the urgency of the music and listen to the lyrics and say, “Yea, that’s me right now.” A lot of bands captured that moment very well—bands like Minor Threat and Bad Brains. There were many bands that captured that moment. I think Black Flag was definitely one of them, but not the one. That could not possibly be. But definitely one of them. Our shows reflected that. There was a lot of intensity and police intervention. There was a big worry from authority figures. They saw something changing and they were afraid that they weren’t going to be able to control it. Obviously they could control it. If you send enough cops down to any situation they will beat people into submission, which sometimes happened. Sometimes local legislators would stop the show from happening. Usually you knew you weren’t going to play when you saw Channel 7 and some local mayor-type holding a press conference in front of the venue. That happened quite a bit.

Photo courtesy of Independent Truck Company Henry Rollins shot by Glen Friedman August, 1982, Thrasher magazine

Photo courtesy of Independent Truck Company Henry Rollins shot by Glen Friedman August, 1982, Thrasher magazine

What did you make of the Youth Brigade and TSOL show that ended in riots on Sunset Boulevard outside the Key Club a few weeks back?

I read about it. Someone sent me the link and reading the headline I thought I was reading something archival. I thought it was from the last century, but it was from last week. I was like, “damn, that’s intense.” Beyond that I was like, “damn these guys really got up to something.” I haven’t seen either of those bands for a long time.

Was that refreshing to see that type of action happening at a show?

Yea! It was kind of cool to see that those bands can still get a reaction like that. I hope nobody got hurt. I never like reading about some youth getting his head cracked open by some cop or getting arrested for just walking down the street. That would often happen. They would just arrest you for standing near the venue. A lot of cops tried to make it easy for you to understand that they didn’t like you, they didn’t like what was happening and they were going to do their best to ruin your night. When I saw that headline the other day I was like, “damn, that’s kinda cool.”

If you were to take the temperature of the youth of America right now—hot being pissed off and mobile and cold being bored and apathetic what would you say it would be?

The youth have been satiated. They have ipads, ipods, iphones, and everything is a point and a click away. The format that used to raise the parents’ ire, it being music or whatever, it’s all kind of okay now. The Internet gives you a great deal of access and a great deal of privacy. You can view your online porn and you can make your own porn with your girlfriend and post it to the delight of all your class mates. There’s not a lot of people saying, “No”, at this point. If they do say, “No”, they just work around it very easily with social networking. I don’t know that there’s a lot to rebel against. They didn’t seem to be all that resistant to the Iraq War— the invasion and occupation of Iraq. They let that one slide. I didn’t see hundreds of thousands of youth in the streets saying no to George W. Bush. I don’t see them saying no to Barak Obama and his drone strikes against innocent Afghan people. I don’t see them on the streets protesting the brutality of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. I see a lot of opportunity for young people to spend money, get naked, and have a lot of fun. It looks like it’s cool. I’m fifty. I’m not young, so it’s not really a part of my life.

Do you see any kind of youth resistance out there?

I don’t see a whole lot of resistance and rebellion happening. As far as contact at shows goes, it’s kind of ancient history. It’s a right. It’s a ritual. Security knows what they’re in for. Some kid will fly over a barricade and he’s gently caught by security and gently ushered off to the side. But back then, these Westwood security guys would swarm some kid and beat the daylights out of them. At a Circle Jerks show in 81’ or 82’ security cleared the show out one person at a time and through them out the back door of The Whiskey. They hated the audience. Nowadays there’s security people that are ex-audience members. They know what the deal is. I’m not really sure where a young person bucks his or her head into anything in society these days. It’s easier for people to make a buck off these kids than to beat the hell out of them. I’m not trying to put anyone in the pejorative, but as far as rebellion, I’m just not really seeing any signs of it. The show you mentioned was just a situation. As far as a movement, I don’t really see it.

In the song, TV Party, the lyrics talk about the youth being satiated and distracted. The video describes teenagers glued to their sets, beers in their hands, either blindly believing what they’re told on the news or not thinking at all because they’re consumed by bullshit programs. How much of this still holds true today? How much of a danger is this to our culture?

It’s perhaps more true. More people are distracted by their thumbs, their communication devices and their social networking. I’m not saying that all young people are a bunch of apathetic layabouts. That’s not the case. But there’s certainly more opportunity for them to be comfortable and to be distanced from what’s going on—the things that are going on right under their noses. Their country’s employment is being sent to India and Cambodia while their country no longer makes things but imports them. These people will one day have to go into the work force and earn a living. What’s been going on as they’ve been digging the scene has been pretty underhanded. They will be directly affected by the outsourcing of labor and by the gross misuse of natural resources. Hopefully they’re all paying attention to what’s being done in their name. If you have your eyes off that ball you’re going to get hit in the head. I don’t know how many young people are dealing with that inevitability.

What do you think of the Internet?

I’m a great fan of the Internet. I’m on the Internet all the time. I’ve got multiple computers. At least one or two of them are on twenty four seven. I’m usually working at one. The Internet is a huge part of my life and I honestly don’t remember what information acquisition was like for me before it. I have a lot of books, but I don’t know if I referenced them like I reference the Internet. The Internet has changed the way I think about information, render information, and the way I do my thinking. For young people who have no knowledge of life before the Internet, I wonder how they’re going to handle this century. The century we’re in now is going to be the most trans formative century since the one that contained the industrial revolution. You’re dealing with peak oil, peak water and a lot of other resources are at their zenith as far as giving. Young people are walking right into their father’s and grandfather’s largess or miscalculation or willful neglect of the resources of the planet and of foreign policy. It will be interesting to see how they wrangle 30 years of trickle down economics. I’m kind of a downer when it comes to this stuff. I don’t think I’m pessimistic. I think I’m realistic. It’s going to be really rough.


Punk always seemed to have a dualistic element to it. It always seemed to have an “Us Vs. Them” charge. Who are “They” or who were “They”? Are “They” still around?

I’m a democratic left leaning type. They are the conservatives. They are the right wing. The them in the us and them thing isn’t necessarily a political proposition. A lot of it is corporations. The government is there to deregulate and grease the rails so corporations can take their profits over seas and store them in the Cayman Islands or so they can take employment opportunities and send them to some part of India or wherever else—Thailand, Guatemala, Honduras. The them is your Chevrons and your other major multinational corporations who really do decide who gets to eat and who gets to drink the water and at this point, dictate foreign policy. As far as the invasion and occupation of Iraq, agencies like Blackwater, Haliburton, and Kellogg Brown and Root had as much to do with the posturing of that policy as the Bush administration did. They were complicit in telling you how it was going to be. That to me is the the them. America is working itself toward a two tier system of the very rich and everyone else. That’s the real struggle. It’s not a race thing. We the people, the plebs, the citizens of the republic are given issues like, “gay marriage” and “Is Barak Obama from Kenya?”. This is all just crap. These are non-issues. They’re distracting. We get sold out and the ground underneath us gets pulled while we get to argue about gays being in the military. There’s gays already in the military, thousands of them. They’ve always been there. There’s gays in every family tree. There’s gays in every conservative state. South Carolina and Arkansas are crawling with gay people. That’s the thing to be railing against. That’s the them. Democrats and republicans will serve the same master if they’re not careful.

In the 60s the music scene was very much an arm of political activism in which people were mobilized by musical messages denouncing the war in Vietnam and advocating civil rights. Here we are in 2011, ten years deep into another foreign war, and nobody seems to really care, let alone use music as a weapon of social protest. What is the difference between those case studies of the 60s and what’s happening with modern music in our culture today?

There’s a huge difference between those times, the Vietnam war, and now. The main thing is the draft. There’s no draft. There’s no compulsory military service. If you had to take good Christian sons and daughters from their homes now, you’d have a different foreign policy immediately. Now the military is for those who can’t go somewhere else. If you join the army now you’re guaranteed a trip to Kabul or a trip to Baghdad. Many years ago, the Army meant going to Germany for four years and the Navy meant going to the Philippines. It meant going back and forth from San Diego to Manila. It meant marching in line at Ramstein Airbase in Germany. It didn’t mean being in theatre. It didn’t mean being in combat. It didn’t mean my friends are going to get blown up next to me. These days, that’s what you sign up for. The person who tries to enlist you might not tell you that, but that’s where you’re going. As the economy in this country stays in a dire state, the military becomes a more and more viable option for someone who might not have ever considered service.

Approximately 60,000 American soldiers died in Vietnam. More than 300,000 were injured.  On the Vietnamese side, it's estimated that more than half a million soldiers were killed. Millions were left wounded. Photo: Courtesy BBC.

Approximately 60,000 American soldiers died in Vietnam. More than 300,000 were injured. On the Vietnamese side, it's estimated that more than half a million people were killed. Millions were left wounded. Photo: Courtesy BBC.

What’s the cultural fallout then?

Change comes hard to this country. Now you have your civil rights to a certain degree and now you don’t have to go to war if you don’t want to. So there’s not a real tangible thing to rail against. You’re not being threatened with conscription. That makes a lot of people say, “Well, I’m against this war, but it’s not really my problem because nobody is tapping me on the shoulder.” If you were talk to people like Wayne Kramer from The MC5 you’d get a different story. He used to tell me how he would watch his friends get summoned to war and not come home. Vietnam took your friends away and never gave them back. Or they’d come back in a box. Whatever they could find of your friends was sent home in a box. There’s your difference. It doesn’t hit you personally. You can tune them out. It doesn’t have to be part of your life. If you really want to see something change, you bring back the draft. I’m not in favor of that. The war in Iraq was not necessary and illegal.

With all of the violence happening over seas carried out on our behalf, do you or have you ever believed in violence as a tool for revolution?

No, but it becomes part of it. I’ve been watching this film about the Bader Meinholf Group. They were the radical group in Germany. They were young Germans who were angry at the Vietnam war and imperialism and all of that so they took guns and started blowing people up. It seems so negative. How are you inspiring people? You’re just killing people and everyone else is afraid of you. You’re not really fostering change. You’re just slaughtering people. As far as violent revolution in America, what would that look like? It would look like a few Tea Party enthusiasts shooting a few congress people in the head. We’re living through that now. Did any revolution come from that? No. Just a bunch of talking heads blaming each other.

What’s the solution then?

The kind of revolution I favor is intellectual. It’s policy driven. It’s negotiation. It’s policy change. Its looking at a situation and looking at things differently. I don’t think you need rifles. I don’t think that leads to anything that’s lasting.

What would you say to young people today?

I would urge them to vote and see the importance of their voice. I would urge them to realize that democracy needs them and at some point they’re going to have to take some responsibility for what goes on in their country. I would want them to realize that with democracy being the wonderful social experiment it is that they’re all potential leaders. All of them should try to foster some leadership qualities. That sounds kind of up tight and straight laced, but there’s something about that that’s really valuable. At some point they’re going to be running this place. It’s easy to say screw it all now, but at some point you might want to take a riskier position and say, “Hey, I want to change all of this.” I would want them to realize that they might actually mean something to someone and that somebody might actually take what they say seriously.


What are the consequences of passivity?

You’ll get the government and the environment that you deserve. If you’re passive in the face of all this, you create a vacuum. In a vacuum really awful people and awful forces come to the floor and you’ll get sold out. All of a sudden you’re wondering why everything sucks. It sucks because good people didn’t become active. You have to inspire people and you have to have some leadership quality.

What about youth having a voice?

Anybody in a band should realize that even if they have eight people showing up to their show that they are in some way influencing that audience. They should be very careful and know they have open ears in front of them and that everything they say is to a certain degree uploaded. It took me a long time as a young person to realize, after doing so many interviews, that somebody was actually reading this stuff. I don’t censor what I say, but I take a great deal of care with what I say in knowing that it’s being read or heard. I take ideas and messages very seriously because somebody somewhere is listening. Eventually all this is yours. Whether you want to deal with it our not. You should become a good steward of how it works. Otherwise someone is going to do it for you and they’re going to take a piece of your action. They always do.

What’s the scariest social trend you see happening?

I think a knee jerk reaction by a lot of people is that government is bad and that the government can’t get anything right. That to me is a shirking of responsibility. You are the government. By the people for the people. If the government sucks, you suck. Deal with that. If people don’t want to be part of the system and don’t want to be part of change, that’s scary. I know that sounds all grown up and adult, but it does concern me. I’ve seen what happens when people don’t see the bigger picture.

  1. [...] Rad Collector via @JennGoodman] 0 Comments Published in Celebrity, Music, [...]

  2. [...] Cullen Poythress di RadCollector ha realizzato una bella intervista a Henry Rollins, leggendario cantante dei Black Flag, su skateboarding, media e cultura. Non perdetevela. Qui il link. [...]

  3. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by 110specialblack and Julio C. Battistelli, fat ape . fat ape said: henry rollins. read. Internet Party [...]

  4. Gomez:

    Great stuff Cullen.

  5. [...] Henry Rollins talks skateboarding and the current state of youth at RadCollector. [...]

  6. I will recommend not to hold off until you get enough cash to buy all you need! You should get the loan or car loan and feel fine

  7. Hi there,

    We’re looking to feature this post in our next issue of the Protein Journal. It’ll be printed in a magazine format and we’d need a hi-res image for it. Please get in touch!


  8. [...] Great read, read it here. [...]

  9. You are my role models. Thanks for the article

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