Henry Rollins: Once You Get Slimed by Showbiz, You Can Never Wash It Off

Henry Rollins in Gutterdämmerung: The Loudest SIlent Movie on EarthEXPAND
Henry Rollins in Gutterdämmerung: The Loudest SIlent Movie on Earth
Courtesy of Gutterdämmerung

In a few days, I’ll be flying to Canada to host a showing of a film I wrapped out of in December 2013, He Never Died.

HND is now making the festival rounds, to enthusiastic reception, and receiving oddly positive reviews in which even I am lauded. Strange, as I’m used to getting every negative critique there is.

Despite all this, our humble effort is in need of funding, and we are doing the best we can to move it forward. Are we fooling ourselves, or is there light at the end of the tunnel? This is independent-film limbo.

The main word here is “we,” as three years after first reading the script and almost two years after the last shot, I’m still deeply involved with this project. I wasn’t counting on this level of commitment, but looking back on more than 30 years of work in the entertainment racket, it’s actually par for the course.

When I was 20 and started doing music full-time, I went from living in a small apartment, split with a roommate, to even smaller spaces, packed with band members, crew and sometimes people who just showed up. Immediately, everything became intense. The albums we made were more important than our lives; the tours became life itself. The music consumed us totally.

This is when I learned that nothing you do in this line of work is ever really over. You put out a record, it stays put out. You will answer for it for the rest of your life.

I’m not stating this as a cautionary tale. I am just saying that all of this is heavier than I ever thought it would be. You don’t get to break up with an album or a film. If you’re prolific, it’s not long until you’re carrying almost the full weight of your past as you go.

Patience and a marathoner’s mindset have been beaten into me over the last three decades. No matter what you do, on some level you have to take it seriously, as there is a good chance that someone else out there will, and so shall you be judged.

My experience has been that the less you compromise, the longer everything takes and the harder everything’s going to be. To give up control of your idea might expedite the final product, but it’s often much less than you wanted it to be, much less than it could have been. If you really want to do things your way, you’d better be ready to go long.

As an example of this, the director of He Never Died stayed in Toronto, where we shot the film, to edit and work on the score. Months passed, a year, two years. He is still up there working, dates a swell Canadian gal and seems quite happy. There is no way he saw any of this coming when we were stuffed into a small production office days before principal shooting began.

There is another film I have been involved with called Gutterdämmerung. I joined on at the beginning of 2012 to co-write the screenplay and work as an actor. It’s finished and will be uncaged soon. Still, there is a ton of practical and promotional work to do. Very little about Gutterdämmerung, from the concept to the way it was shot and scored, is traditional.

After a lot of years of steady output, you ultimately end up being one of many parents to hundreds of kids who just left home for the adult world but make frequent visits for food, laundry, etc. No matter how many years it’s been, for better or worse, you are never all that far from what you did.

I have absolutely no idea if this is how things are in the “real world.” I have not been there for a very long time. I can’t say I miss it, because I really don’t remember what it was like.

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Thankfully, there are a lot of things to laugh at with all of this (to distract yourself from thoughts that wake you up at odd hours, wondering if you have made an incredible mess of everything), which I have come to enjoy.

Rarely do I work on any kind of show where I don’t meet someone I have worked with before. Often, someone will come by my table at a restaurant and remind me that we worked together on something years ago. You’d better be cool the first time around, because the past keeps returning.

It is next to impossible to say that you are a “loner” in this business, as there is just too much human tonnage involved with getting anything done, and the relationships forged are often quite intense. In some twisted way, you’re in these people’s lives, as they are in yours. The process weaves the participants together so tightly, it’s only contempt and mutual disgust that allows you some breathing room.

That’s where the humor comes in. You’d better be able to laugh at yourself because someone, probably a lot of people, are laughing at you.

Showbiz can be a wretched way to put food on the table, and it rubs off on anyone who is even marginally involved. You just have to get used to how it feels and realize that, try as you might, most of it’s going to stick.

That’s when things get a little easier. You can go after exactly what you want, knowing full well that you will likely be involved with people who repel you on sight. That’s nothing to worry about; someone else is thinking the same thing about you.

And so, we go to work.

Look for your weekly fix from the one and only Henry Rollins right here every Thursday, and come back tomorrow for the playlist for his Sunday KCRW broadcast.


More From the Mind of Henry Rollins:
The Major Labels Are Screwing Up Record Store Day

When You Claim Racism Is Over, You Get a Dylann Roof
Why I'm Not an Atheist


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