A Lesson in Inspiration: Henry Rollins on the WTF Podcast with Marc Maron

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Badass Intellectual Henry Rollins

“I was also 22 or 23 at the time, and I was fascinated, and Charles Manson is writing me. It was pretty cool. Because, you know, this kind of poster boy for the end of the ’60s and the epitome of counterculture is writing me… He’s a very interesting character, he’s not stupid, and he’s not a bad musician. So it was a very interesting time.”

The quote above is punk rocker Henry Rollins describing his correspondence with infamous murderer Charles Manson, but it wasn’t about that; it wasn’t about his horrific crimes. It wasn’t for media attention, and it wasn’t to gain a badass reputation. Manson was a musician. In a way, Manson was a twisted, pathetic peer. This quote, in context (a context that isn’t necessarily present above), explains a lot about Rollins as a person.

I know you’re thinking, “Damn, that’s a messed up way to begin an article. It’s rather disturbing. I’m only on the third paragraph. Slow it down!” Just take a moment to read this because you’re going to want to listen to this remarkable exchange as well.

This is about an interview that is easily one of the most inspiring things I have ever heard in my life.

Marc Maron, a somewhat neurotic, but undoubtedly brilliant comic, has been doing WTF with Marc Maron since late 2009. (If you couldn’t figure it out on your own, WTF stands for What the Fuck. Get with the times, you’re on the internet.) It’s an unexpectedly touching show — one episode consisting of Maron and comedian Louis CK spending two hours rekindling their friendship; Louis was brought to tears.

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Maron recently sat down with Henry Rollins for an hour and a half and had a conversation with this intense character. He plainly stated at the beginning of the interview that the challenge—not the task or the act, but the challenge—was to interview Henry Rollins, who I frankly thought was an agenda-driven jerk until I listened to this interview.

When I began listening, I immediately assumed this would turn political. Both Maron and Rollins have made their political alliances known, and if this was to be the case, I wasn’t remotely interested. All political agendas, and sometimes even conversations, seem universally futile to me. But nothing was forced, and nothing was concealed or subliminal when the interview did take a political turn. The way it was delivered—it was straight.

Rollins respectfully and earnestly stated his moral and political opinions. He doesn’t believe in war, but he does believe in fighting for the greater good; fighting for freedom in all things. This isn’t hippie, punk rebellion bullshit. He has a sensible view of the world. It’s not blind; it’s organized.

I was surprised to hear Rollins, the ultimate punk badass and tough guy, discuss his inadequacy when it came to attracting girls in his younger years. He said he wasn’t entirely sure how to talk to them. But then he became a true punk rocker, and the women were approaching him. At this point I was still hesitant of the thing, but I did find this interesting: His passion led to attraction, not just from women, but from others in his life.

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Comic/Podcast Host Marc Maron

Then Rollins began talking about his travels around the world. I thought, “Oh, God, another humanitarian, celebrity hotshot. The guy wants to save the world.” But that wasn’t it. He told Maron that he had gone to Northern Uganda to meet children who were trained, abducted and forced to commit violent atrocities against other human beings. He explained that he explores other environments and foreign concepts to better understand the United States as a nation.

Now I was beginning to think. I was starting to listen.

Marc Maron’s inquiries took a more personal turn when he questioned Rollins about the murder of his close friend, Joe Cole, a roadie for Black Flag. Cole was murdered when he and Rollins were robbed by two Crips in 1991. That turning point in his life made him question everything. Though Cole was killed by gunshot, it seems that Rollins doesn’t believe in gun control: “That doesn’t stop people from killing. They’ll just find Popsicle sticks,” he said.

Rollins attributed this dark event to the issue of illiteracy, and he criticized white Americans for fighting the Civil Rights Act.

I thought, being a hothead when it comes to my personal opinions, “Well, what does that have to do with anything? What the hell did whites do? What did I do? Why are you victimizing people?” and a voice in my head said, “Think deeper, dumbass,” and then it came to me like a slap to the face (a good slap to the face): African-Americans followed these civil rights leaders, these people who believed in equality and the ability to overcome. These leaders were paving the way for greater success and basic human rights in the black community. Whites’ oppression of them severely inhibited their ability to get a decent education and fair wages. Maybe if it wasn’t for the white-collar, white people, the Crips wouldn’t be Crips.

All of the things that he said connected this circle of thought in my head that was previously a dead-end of anger and resentment against no one in particular, a dead-end that existed because of my upbringing and personal insecurities: the need for an outlet for passion that leads to attraction, the resource of travel and how being cultured teaches us about America, the mistreatment of blacks by whites who cheated their way to the top of the food chain—it was all there. I believe the word for this type of discovery is epiphany.

I’m not saying I’ve been converted to any particular political or moral belief. I am saying, however, that I have honestly never felt something like that from something like this. It is powerful, and Marc Maron and Henry Rollins should be proud of this show.

And here I was thinking I was an intellectual.

Listen to the entire podcast by going here.