A few local people who have met him proclaim that Henry Rollins is a down-to-earth guy, the kind one could find asking about import Prince CDs when Wizard's Records sat on Short Vine in Corryville.
Rollins himself says the thing he remembers about his visits to Cincinnati was meeting cool people. After a guy asked him for change, he gave what he had on him, and they stood together talking outside of Bogart's on a cold, sleety night.
Strangely though, dialing up Rollins at his Los Angeles office felt like an imposition, like getting ready to pester a busy man with a litany of the same questions he hears repeatedly. And that's basically what an interviewer is doing if they don't hear tediousness building in his voice when asked about his career transitions, from being Black Flag and Rollins Band frontman to being a spoken word artist and author with his own book publishing company, 2.13.61, named after his date of birth. And he's questioned about his fairly steady film career, his radio show on L.A.'s Indie 103.1 and his syndicated IFC program, The Henry Rollins Show. To him, these happen to be things he's done with the last 25 years of his life. It's really his, "Go ahead, shoot — ask me anything, I'm just me and here's what I think" persona that makes him feel accessible.
In August, his current North American talking tour, "Provoked," hadn't kicked off. His latest feature film, Wrong Turn 2, was still in its spoiler stage.
And by this point, hundreds of thousands of people had YouTubed his sketch of himself typing out an off-the-wall, open love letter to conservative pin-up girl/author Ann Coulter, to whom he proposed an invitation for her to perform duties as his concubine. It's hard not to mute him and lay on the ground laughing as he describes why he did it.
"I was addressing her on a level where I've never seen anyone address her," he says matter-of-factly. "This was just me laying out a business opportunity for her; basically, get her away from the word processor because she's not a very good writer. But I bet she could do a pot roast. A cool vegan pot roast and I'd have all my 'lefty' friends come over."
Fans ate that scenario right up and they reached out to say so.
"People love it," Rollins says. "Everywhere I go, people go, 'Man, that letter to Ann Coulter; that was really funny.' And I go, 'Well, thank you!"
The thought of him being anyone's master paints vivid irony, considering Rollins always looks like Casual Friday in his customary black-fitted T-shirts and trousers and he often performs onstage barefoot. This is not a suit-type conservative liberally spewing insights. He's come by his perspective honestly. In the last 10 years, he's circumvented the globe more times than the average man leaves his state. Seven USO tours throughout the Middle East and travels through Central Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe provide a scenic backdrop for stories that beget observations.
"Travel has been the key change in my writing, seeing big parts of the world every year," he says. "It's taken a lot of my introspective nature and made me start looking outside at the world.
"When you go to places like Africa, India or parts of the Middle East or Central Asia, it's totally different than what you see here in America, and a lot of that has led me to some interesting conclusions and observations."
He concludes that misogyny shouldn't be a part of a human culture, and in regard to Hip Hop artists who reason it as "part of the culture," he says, "Get it out!"
"I don't think misogyny should ever get any kind of pass," Rollins says. "It's 2007. We're humans. Let's evolve. Let's change our minds. I don't think any men in any society or social strata should treat women that way, so,'It's part of our culture' is not working for me. And at the same time, neither is censorship. If you ban (something), you're not necessarily curing a problem; you're just suppressing an urge."
When Rollins isn't performing talks, taping his talk show or filming a movie, he sifts through stacks of CDs sent to him and handpicks music to play on his radio show, introducing his newest, favorite obscure bands to listeners.
"I'll put the Web site information up about how to get to the band, how to get to the label, so if someone somewhere hears the band and they dig it, they can go right to my Web site and get the information," he says. "I do this with bands I really like, especially if they're out touring, I try and get people to go to the show by saying, 'Hey they're on tour! Go to their Web site, right now!' There's some bands that if they're touring America, I'm like, 'Look, they're in the Midwest this week, so for you people who are in Chicago, they're coming to your town; and if you like them, go support them.' "
Then there are the "greats" he's worked with personally, who need no introduction. A casual mention of Iggy Pop or Les Claypool might not stir any stories from Rollins, but it will make him gush a little on their behalf.
"A lot of humor is kind of in everything (Claypool) does, you can look at the lyrics and it's in his stage presence," Rollins says. "He's a very wry, almost a Mark Twain-ian type. So, he's always funny, he never takes himself seriously except getting the music done."
Based on the way Rollins describes Claypool, it's wildly ironic that it's the same way some locals describe him.
HENRY ROLLINS speaks at the Taft Theatre Wednesday,