Henry Rollins supports the troops. Yeah, that’s right, the virulently anti-Iraq-war, anti-Bush-administration flame thrower has been quietly putting serious time in with the USO. Not the Bob Hope organization of yesteryear, but a modern-day nonprofit that takes its military morale-boosting duties seriously.
“The USO approached me a few years ago and told me I’d been requested frequently by soldiers, so they looked me up,” says Rollins. “I don’t agree with the invasion and occupation of Iraq, but I don’t blame the troops. Like many people, my beef is with the administration.”
So far, he’s gone on seven USO tours, making stops in Kuwait, Iraq, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, Egypt, Turkey, Qatar, Honduras, Japan, Korea and the United Arab Emirates. He plans to go back to Afghanistan this year. While the schedule is regimented, the days are never typical.
“You go to as many bases as possible in a day and meet as many troops as possible. Transport is in anything from Blackhawk to van. I tell them stories and try to make them laugh,” says Rollins. “I just hope to momentarily lift their spirits if that can be done. It’s better than doing nothing, and it’s something good to do with [my] recognition, as dubious as it may be.”
Of all the places he’s visited, trips to the Bethesda Naval Hospital and Walter Reed Army Medical Center have made the biggest impression on Rollins.
“Meeting the multiple amputees or the men who are missing part of their brain is the hardest because there is usually a family member present and you can see what it’s doing to them,” Rollins says. “I try to put myself in the same position. I get an idea of what this war is really costing us.”
Fueled by these experiences, he hosts a TV talk show — The Henry Rollins Show, now in its second season, Fridays on IFC — plus a gem of a radio broadcast, Harmony in My Head, on Indie-103 every Tuesday. Earning local and national props as a DJ, Rollins labors over his playlists and it shows. Every week is an in-depth lesson in contemporary music history ranging from Delta blues to death metal to little-heard art rock from across the globe. Some of the songs he plays were never released to the public — a few he received as gifts “back in the day,” and some he retrieved from the clutches of another collector. Rollins also keeps meticulous notes, which are posted every Wednesday on harmonyinmyhead.com and are being turned into a series of books called Fanatic, courtesy of his publishing company, 2.13.61.
“I like doing the radio show — it’s the best thing about living in L.A.,” Rollins says. “It’s a chance to make my record collection do more than sit on a shelf, and it’s always fun to be a ham.”