Henry Rollins doesn't collect cars. The 49-year-old musician, spoken-word artist, DJ, publisher, writer, actor, Hummer driver, comedian, blogger and activist has worked quite a few jobs. He doesn't just dabble in multiple mediums; he makes them his own. The man who once managed a Georgetown-based Häagen-Dazs so that he could fund early Black Flag records has constructed a media empire and can live comfortably. Only Henry Rollins isn't idling and amassing overpriced trinkets and baubles. He's traveling.
"I go places, pursue my curiosity and get a lot done," says Rollins. "Past that, I live below my means and try to keep my head in the game."
What began as travel journals from Black Flag and Rollins Band tours evolved into books and fused into a strange amalgam of travel tales, history and a fair amount of comedy. While he's dubbed the current jaunt the "Frequent Flyer Tour," it's more like "Henry Rollins Story Time." Whether talking about American history or a James Brown press conference, Rollins' intense phraseology is an entertaining listen. Yet despite the laughs he gets, Rollins says he doesn't have a sense of humor.
"I think I probably laugh in all the right places, but I don't think I am funny," says Rollins. "There are people who are funny for a living, and I admire their smarts and amazing ability. I wish I had some. I bump into humor now and then, but it's only because it was on the trail."
Rollins' stories are often intimate. When he speaks, you feel privy to the thoughts of someone who is deep down a sensitive man. Rollins says there's very little about his life he keeps private.
"I keep the most boring aspects to myself," he says. "Anything that would compromise someone else, I would keep to myself."
As Rollins' stage show matures, he finds himself trying to ground his routines in a more historical context. Specifically, he's become obsessed with the American Constitution and the right to free speech.
"I am working on getting a lot of dates and information together for this thing I have been talking about onstage, about some aspects of the Constitution," he says. "It's a very interesting subject to me. I am no expert, of course — just interested and trying to teach myself more."
In terms of progressions, Rollins has increasingly peppered his stories with his political opinions (he used to write about politics for Vanity Fair's blog). He recognizes this shift, although he's reticent to note other changes in his storytelling repertoire.
"[My spoken-word show] has probably gotten into a more editorial/storytelling thing at this point," he says. "I don't pay attention to how it may have changed. I just go forward and don't look back. It could very well be that I have not figured it out yet."
What has changed over the years is obvious. Onstage, Rollins maintains his trademark intensity, but seems more excited and animated and not as standoffish. You get the impression that audience members are laughing because they think he's funny, not because they're scared he's going to tear off their heads. Rollins cites Lenny Bruce, Bill Hicks and Patton Oswalt as inspirations. They're all individuals you could describe as snarky realists, black comedians or prophets of truth.
"They are more than comedians," says Rollins. "They make sense and get at a lot of truth."
Despite all he's done, Rollins is inevitably described as "former Black Flag frontman."
"I am not fated to be any such thing; I am in the present and on the move," he says.
He's still got a pretty good sense of humor about it too. When asked about seeing fans with the Black Flag logo tattoo, he offered a reply that suggests he doesn't take himself too seriously.
"I try not to wince when it's on backwards."