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It may be hard to imagine Rollins — muscle-bound, sweaty, tattooed — begging, with his furrowed-brow intensity, for anything. But he's known for being a man of a thousand media, showing he'll get his point across any way he can. Though his career began as the singer for D.C. punk band Black Flag and later his metal project Rollins Band, he's built the bulk of his massive fan base on copious spoken-word tours (his current tour is something like his 32nd), writing books (including Get in the Van, which he read and recorded to win the 1995 Grammy for Best Spoken Word album), appearing on television (Full Metal Challenge on TLC, The Henry Rollins Show on IFC), and taking roles in movies (The Chase, Heat, Lost Highway). He's become more of an artist-advocate/pop culture personality than he ever was a singer — because he is driven, dammit, and this election year, he wants to drive voters to the polls.
"I implore them to vote. Emphatically," Rollins says, speaking via phone from his Los Angeles office. "This is your country; this is your time. Do this. [People might say] 'Well, I don't know who to vote for.' Get an opinion. It's easy. They give them away like free kittens at a church bazaar."
And if you need help picking out an opinion, Rollins has a surplus of his own, which he shares on "The Recountdown Tour," his latest cross-county trek, which makes a stop in Tempe on October 8.
"It won't pertain so much to Bush and the election, but it is my last chance to take a lap around my beloved America with Bush still in office, because no matter what happens after Election Day, America will be very different. I wanted one last chance, since me and the president have been so close for the last eight years," Rollins deadpans.
"We can't get away from quoting Bush and his particularly interesting use of the English language — kind of like a drunken frat boy bushwhacking through neighbors' hedges trying to get back to the frat house, or a man holding an angry reel," Rollins says. "And now that Karl Rove has gone back to Texas to spend more time with his family, the president cannot manage, groom, and corral the words that wander around the intellectual wasteland of his mind, and so now everything that comes out of his mouth is on par with e.e. cummings or a surrealist poet from France in the last century. He's fascinating on the stump now."
Not that Rollins doesn't have sympathy for others in the George W. Bush camp. "If I were in [Laura Bush's] shoes, I'd be playing Tammy Wynette records and pining for the hills," he says.
In addition to poignantly poking fun at politicos, a big part of Rollins' show is relating his personal experiences and travels, and he's got plenty to talk about on that end. He just returned from extensive journeys through Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Pakistan, Cambodia, Vietnam, South Africa, Northern Ireland, and Burma. "I just finished driving 1,200 miles on the roads — on the non-roads — of Burma," Rollins says. "My fillings are still rattling in my teeth from the bone-breaking rides we took."
Part of Rollins' wanderlust was documentaries — he just finished filming three of them for the Independent Film Channel, towing cameras with him to Cape Town, South Africa, Northern Ireland, and the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans (although Rollins admits he "has no idea what IFC is going to do" with the docs yet). His numerous visits to the Middle East usually revolve around entertaining U.S. troops and visiting them in hospitals.
"The soldiers I like. I just don't support the mission. The troops don't make policy. They take orders. So having a beef with a soldier about the war is like having a beef with a cop about the law — they're really not the ones to take your grievance to," Rollins says. "And so when the USO called and said, 'Hey, do you wanna go out in the middle of nowhere and support the troops?' I said, 'Yeah, I'll go.' Infantry I like. Those who dispatch them to Baghdad, I have some major disagreements with. Many USO tours later — and many visits to Walter Reed Army Medical Center hanging out with boys in their 20s, with all parts of their anatomy torn from them — I like them more and more, and I hate this invasion and occupation more and more."
Rollins is also outspoken about gay rights, and all the controversy surrounding same-sex marriage.
"If Bill and Tom wanna get married, as an American, I don't care. They're not having their honeymoon in my bed," he says. "And the fact that homosexuality is a reality — like water and shoes — there's nothing really to get upset about. It's not spread like a virus or communism. There's just some gay people, all over the world. To me, it's as stupid as racism. What's your problem with these people? They're so not hurting your life. It's not your sexual orientation that makes you a pain in the ass on the way to Disneyland."
Though he tours tirelessly and is constantly taking up multiple projects for myriad causes, Rollins seems to find humor in the idea that, because he voices an opinion on issues and works toward his visions of a free society, he's an "activist."
"I don't think I'm an 'activist,'" Rollins says. "I just think I'm an American burdened with common sense."