Henry Rollins: On My Bad Days, I Am Motivated by Vengeance

Henry Rollins: On My Bad Days, I Am Motivated by Vengeance
Photo by Heidi May

Suddenly I’m in Munich, Germany. Well, not all that suddenly. It was 10 hrs., 36 mins. in seat 55C.

I am here for the Rockavaria Festival where, in about 24 hours, I will be onstage in a priest’s outfit reprising my role in the film Gutterdämmerung, which will play on a screen behind me. If I get it right, I will speak and move in sync with myself onscreen. There was no time to rehearse, so I will pass or fail in front of thousands of people.

Whenever I have to function on a radical time change, like going from California to Europe, which is 9 hours ahead, I always try to give myself more than one day to neutralize the effects of jet lag. The first 24 hours are usually pretty miserable, with strange, work-related dreams that end in failure or humiliation. I am always happy to make it to 0600 hrs., when the breakfast room usually opens. I will spend hours at a table, trying to write and think myself into a state of actionable wakefulness.

A lot of my work is extremely portable. I can be almost anywhere and fulfill my many obligations. I prefer this mode to working in my office. Years ago, I saw a picture of Ernest Hemingway working on a typewriter at a small table in a hotel room. I thought that was the coolest. On location, on deadline — life being lived fully. This is what I read into the image. I try to set that up for myself whenever I can.

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Life, to me at least, is a nonstop succession of choice, action and consequence. Before you know it, you have more past than future, so I’m trying to make the best of it.

I try to exist, as much as I can, in an environment of noncomparison. I reckon that if I can divorce myself from the ideas of winning and losing, then I can exist in a more self-defined and unique state.

Like I said, I try. I pass and fail. On my good days, I’m living as close to my ideas as I can and doing my best not to intrude on the lives of noncombatants. On other days, which comprise well over half, I am motivated by vengeance. (A great many of the people I have worked with over prolonged periods, I harbor a dislike and contempt for. It very well could be they feel the same way or worse about me. I absolutely do not care. That’s one of the upsides of being a motherfucker who works with motherfuckers — everyone knows what’s what. It wasn’t pleasant, but it sure was real.)

When I am in vengeance mode, I live only to outdo others on every possible level. It is a useful energy, perhaps what Nietzsche meant with the concept of “joyful malice.” That being said, as I keep moving down the trail, I see what a self-devouring waste of time that mindset is. I am doing my best to reduce these thoughts, but I would be lying if I said it was easy, even when the logic is so apparent.

At this point, I think being reactive is almost always a loss of self-control.

Almost all human relationships are problematic. We are the most neurotic animal there is. I think it’s one of the reasons why people like their pets so much. Affection toward a dog allows us complex critters to bypass the incredible tonnage of emotional baggage and collateral damage done by human interaction and bring one’s imagined best side to the fore. It also could possibly describe the attraction of meeting a previously unknown person at a club and having a sexual encounter with them hours later, never to see them again.

I think a lot of people are constantly looking to escape, if only temporarily, not only their inherent complexity but a life of almost constant compromise, comparison, restraint and limitation. Factor in fiscal insecurity, debt and the anxiety that comes with it, and a lot of people live in a day-to-day hell.

This is probably responsible for the oceans of alcohol and mountains of stimulants consumed all over the world daily, and why the “war on drugs” is as big a farce as anything humankind ever perpetrated. Getting high and many other things that fall under the heading of “indecent behavior” are often anything but. A lot of the time, all we want is something more than what we wake up to. That’s just how we are.

Denial will get you every time. It never did me any good. I am an addict who is always, I mean always, looking to score. Need for experience, information, adventure, employment and music keep me moving. My modus operandi is based on this unfillable chasm. I am lucky that I became unhinged as a young person. I watched normal people live their lives and had the same reaction as when I watched that gore film in driver’s ed. It scared me plenty.

I have been accused of running away from life, that I can’t handle the “real thing.” Sounds like misery needing some company to me. Marriage, a cubicle, a boss? All yours. You’re right, I couldn’t handle any of that for a day.

There is no mercy for adults. Wherever you’re at, you put yourself there.

Twenty-seven hours later. Gutterdämmerung, created in the mind of Björn Tagemose years ago, was fully realized onstage tonight, and it was pretty damn amazing to see. It takes a ton of gear and a lot of people to pull it off, but I believe we did it.

On right after us? Iggy. Score!

Soon I’ll be strapped into seat 54C, heading west, moving toward business class one row at a time.


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