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Interview: Henry Rollins -Record Nerd Extraordinaire

Originally Published: Wednesday, July 6, 2005
Written by: Sarah De Borre

Two Homes for a Massive Record Collection

Record nerd to record nerd, Henry Rollins admits to Sarah De Borre that he now has two homes in LA to house his record collection – meet the analogue house, the digital house, and record nerd extraordinaire – Henry Rollins.

The Many Facets of Henry Rollins

I admit straight-up that when I hear the name Henry Rollins a few images instantly spring to mind. Has anyone here watched the movie Jackass? I see a Henry Rollins laughing; every rippling muscle of his torso flexing as he drives a Hummer like a madman over terrain suitable only – minus the snow – for mogul skiers while one ‘jackass’ Steve-O bounces around in the back of the vehicle getting a not-so-smiley-faced tattoo; or rather has his skin pierced into a bloody mess while Henry clutches the steering wheel like a fighter pilot going into battle, all the while laughing like a madman-come-hyena on a fucked up acid trip. To me, Henry is one of those Iconic, intimidating figures – hell, he fronted one of the world’s greatest hardcore bands Black Flag, then brought the world Rollins Band, has rallied support for various causes such as the West Memphis Three, released a plethora of books and DVDs, done numerous spoken word tours and I’m not even scraping the surface. At 44 Henry Rollins is one of the most passionate and self-motivated people I’ve ever come across and underneath that tough exterior lies a lovable little record nerd.

The Ultimate Record Nerd Dream

It’s every record nerds’ perpetual wet dream to lure the unsuspecting fly into their record-nerd web. Upon capture the fly can be held for hours while the record nerd explains the various merits of ‘that’ limited edition, hand-numbered, marble-multi-color-swirled seven-inch from ’83. If and when the record nerd is presented the opportunity to play those records for anyone with a set of working ears – they turn into the proverbial kid in a candy store. To be presented with an audience of potential thousands has the record nerd in semi-life-threatening convulsions of excitement

Celebrity Presenters on Indie 103.1

An LA radio station known as Indie 103.1 turns all those record nerd dreams into reality for a swag of ‘celebrity’ presenters. You can tune in to hear everyone from Dicky Barrett of The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, to Rob Zombie, to Steve Jones of Sex Pistols fame; then there’s the Crystal Method and even those sassy Suicide Girls get in on a piece of the action.

Henry Rollins’ Radio Stint

Late last year Henry Rollins’ six-month stint as an announcer on Indie 103.1 came to a close. He’s currently gearing to release an “expanded edition of the annotated notes” from his radio show Harmony In My Head. According to Henry, “the book is full of information on the songs and bands played on the show as well as anecdotes, website addresses and thousands of word’s worth of self-indulgent music-fan-boy screed”.

Henry’s Eclectic Musical Journey

“It kinda just happened, I had a radio show last year for about six months and [it] was hugely fun for me coz I got to flex my record collection and kind of geek out and talk about the bands I love.

“I think I was the first person to play Béla Bartók synched up to Motorhead on a Clear Channel station…Billie Holiday into The Pixies…Iannis Xenakis (an avant composer)…the prerequisite Buzzcocks, Damned, Birthday Party, I played a lot of Australian music.

“After 27 broadcasts I got through pretty much every genre there is and a lotta stuff people were somewhat familiar with; hopefully a lotta stuff they weren’t, that they dug. But um, tons of bands, everything from obscure punk rock to obscure African music – I played like King Sunny Adé and Hamsa El Din the Nubian oud player, uh Stan Kenton, Miles Davis, uh Mingus, Coltrane, Dolphy, Albert Ayler as far as jazz stuff, Sun Ra, Sabbath – all kinds of stuff, it was so much fun. If I could do it five days a week and didn’t have a ton of other stuff to do I would, it was really fun.”

Inherited Musical Diversity

Henry inherits his diverse taste in music from his mother, whom he tells me has an extremely eclectic taste in music, “I lived with her as a boy, and her place is kinda how my place looks now: there are lots of books, lots of music, not much on the TV y’ know and so we read a lot, we listened to a lot growing up.

“I heard Miles Davis and Monk and Coltrane and people like that coz my mum used to go see Miles and Coltrane when she was younger, I think before she had me. But I got more into jazz as just a record buyer, y’know, like someone who sits down and listens to a jazz record. In the late 80s…Thurston Moore from Sonic Youth said y’ know have you checked out this record, this record, this record?’ I went ‘No’ he goes ‘Well you oughta’ so I said ‘Okay’ so I went and got Ascension and Interstellar Space by Coltrane coz he recommended it to me and I heard it and went  ‘wow…where have I been? This is really great’ and that kinda set me off and I became kind of a rabid bebop fanatic and read every book and listened to every record I could and um, so it’s been a wonderful ride, I mean Bebop is, y’ know, it’s food, it’s really great.”

A Completist’s Dream Collection

A wide taste in music and a damn wide record collection, Henry puts many a record nerd to shame, “uh, I have two houses in LA, I’ve got the digital house and the analogue house and uh, the office space that I work in a lot, that’s all the cds, and where I am at home, that’s all the vinyl. And so uh, a lotta singles, y’ know, a lotta singles I’ve collected since I was in high school up to now, I’m still after all kinds of stuff. A lotta the CDs are more eclectic than the vinyl in that I don’t collect jazz vinyl, I just can’t justify the expense compared to how I’m gonna have time to sit and listen to Kind of Blue on vinyl…not for 200 bucks. I just, it just doesn’t make sense to me to do that…I’d rather listen to a CD of it through a really good system and hopefully wear away the digital blues…I have about, I dunno, ten or eleven thousand CDs, and I dunno how much vinyl.

“I’m a bit of a completist, I mean if I like Duke Ellington I have to hear all of it, so I have all the bootlegs, all the box sets, everything. Um I have, I dunno, probably about a foot and a half of CDs just from Java coz I’m a nut for Javanese gamelan music.

With a collection of some ten or eleven thousand records, it’s any wonder that Henry basked in the glory of presenting his own radio program. After each show Henry took the time to post his play sheets and notes online, “and they got downloaded a lot and people wrote back and said ‘hey, this is great, I’m buying records, y’ know, using your list.’ And so, I pulled the website down when the show went away, and all these people wrote me and said ‘Whoa, what are you doing’, I didn’t copy the last three shows’. So I made this file and started sending it to people who asked…and then I was looking at the file earlier this year in Europe and found a typo or y’ know, found a bad sentence, or a bunch of ’em actually and I started rewriting all this stuff just for fun and this thing turned into this eighty thousand word thing, um waste of paper so I said ‘well, this looks like a book to me’ and so that book is coming out. It goes to the printer very soon, and I have a real book I have scheduled for release in November, so I called the girls at my book company and said ‘can you all stand two books this year?’ and they said ‘Yeah, we can do that’ and so um, there’s two books this year, so I’m in double edit-hell.”

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