By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
One thing that impresses me is how all along you did what you felt was right. You just went out there and stuck your neck out. You had one of the first integrated bands at the top of the pop charts —
That’s right. We broke color barriers left and right, we did. I was the first person to wear red at the Orpheum Theater in downtown Los Angeles, and that was a color barrier of its own kind — some kind of superstition, I don’t know what the big deal was. Then the stagehand was killed that night from a sandbag, but nothing bad happened to me.
Yeah, Sam and I had a complicated relationship, because as much as he brings a lot of good into my life, he’s brought a lot of .?.?. complications. The highs, you know.
It’s common knowledge that you had a regular supply of the “goods” early on, and it always seemed to be coming from Sam, plus a few other bad influences that crept into your life. You started doing various kinds of drugs, and smoking reefer.
Well, they exaggerate a lot in the press about the reefer use — I was also eating it, I wasn’t just smoking it. They all talk about “smoke and smoke and smoke” — of course it’s terrible for your health. I was one of the first people to use it in my cooking, that was a big thing.
You know, I wanted to say something about the records that we did in the ’60s. I realized there were a lot of groups that needed to be spoken for that were not getting heard. There’s everyone screaming for, you know, black rights, everyone was screaming for women’s rights, everyone was screaming for, you know, White Power or whatever, and I really started to think about the man in the middle — the mulatto, someone who, really, was stuck on top of the fence, was on neither side and needed a hand down — them, the little people. Women, I was one of the first people to champion — I had one of the first rallies to burn bras, in downtown Atlanta, and honestly, I just thought, Oh my god, here’s a cause sent from heaven. And so that’s when I wrote “Ladies First.” I don’t know if you’ve heard that one. “Ladies first/Scream it out loud/Ladies first/So firm and so proud/Ladies first/Show us what you got!”
But more importantly than the issues I wanted to raise, and the groups that I felt were being oppressed, the most important thing was that I saw that people wanted to buy records about those things, and that was really the main thing that was driving me. Yeah, I saw that people needed help, but more importantly I saw that people wanted to buy records about people that needed help. And some people say, “That’s jaded, that’s cynical,” but you know, we’re being honest now, and that’s really the way I saw it.
You went through a period in the 1960s when you attended protest rallies and grew your hair long, strumming an acoustic guitar and singing socially relevant songs.
Yeah, and it’s a good thing we did. Because look at the world now. Look how much good we did by standing up and singing for those people. I mean, we have a fully legitimately elected president now, we have a country that is completely at peace and doesn’t believe in war or violence and eschews guns, and it’s just a good thing that we all put our necks out like we did in the ’60s, because we really did change the world. And then we could move on to other things, like making money and stuff like that, by taking advantage of the world that we had created.
I was curious about the recurring theme of midgets during this “sociopolitically relevant” period in your career. What is it about midgets that encouraged you to sing about them so much?
Well, if you think about it, I love pudding, okay? And I’ll break it down to you this way: You look on the package of a box of pudding, and it tells you “Cook this and stir gently for 15 minutes.” Okay. And if you do that, and you stir that pudding for 15 minutes, you take it out, let it cool a little bit, you’ll have a pretty nice pudding, you know?
But if you cook that pudding 30 minutes, 45 minutes, stirring slowly, making sure you don’t let it stick to the bottom, and you let it get into a concentrated form, now that’s something.
And that’s the way I think of “little people” — it’s the proper thing to call the little people; I’ve made the mistake of referring to them as “midgets,” and it cost me a couple of shin bones [laughs] a couple times over the years. But I realized a little person is like concentrated pudding, and if you think of a whole person who stands up high, you think about the problems and issues and all the love and the things they’ve gone through, and you just cook them for another 45 minutes, you cook them down to a concentrated form, well then you have a little person.