Still crossing his arms, still working out: Henry Rollins
"North Carolina, I love you," Henry Rollins
titled his latest LA Weekly
column, "but your governor is an asshole."
If you haven't read it, go do so right now
. In his own foul-mouthed, egalitarian way, Rollins simultaneously condemns Governor Pat McCrory and the legislators behind HB 2 and defends the people of the state. He's always loved it here, he writes, and has memories of the kindness of North Carolinians dating back to his dead-broke touring days with Black Flag.
What he does is rare in the current dialogue—he doesn't lecture North Carolina from a safe distance or lump us all into a squirming ball of kneejerk recidivism. He's sensitive and
rock solid, like a schoolkid passing a note to someone he has a crush on who is also having problems at home.
When I read it, I reached out right away—finally, here was a major music figure speaking directly and eloquently to the people of North Carolina. With cancellations by so many major performers
in the month since HB 2 was rushed into law, this has been the missing part. Like the French Resistance in World War II, we who oppose HB 2 from within North Carolina want to know we're not forgotten, and Rollins' column acknowledged us without pulling any punches.
Again, read his LA Weekly
—and then read our interview below.
INDY: Based on conversations you've had, how do we in North Carolina look from the west coast?
Honestly, I don’t talk to many people outside of business. The people I converse with on a regular basis reject homophobia, full-stop. I can’t speak for them, but I would venture to say that they clearly understand that a good state can have laws on the books that do not demonstrate the opinion of the entire state, or even close. I guarantee you that North Carolina has been relegated by many into a space where they have filed Alabama, Mississippi and “places like that.” This is too bad, because if one place is a “place like that,” then everywhere is.
You made it clear that many of the everyday people of North Carolina aren't to blame for this law. Did that seem absent in the national discussion?
I think it is absent in the conversation. I think the biggest aspect of all this is major rock acts are canceling shows. Hardly anyone will actually read HB 2
, but when Springsteen and Pearl Jam pull out of shows, now North Carolina is a topic in London and Tokyo.
What led to you writing the piece?
I use the word "hate" carefully. That being said, I hate homophobia, racism, misogyny, and any other form of bigotry. It is despicable, preventable, learned behavior. HB 2 is stupid and mean. It is not “common sense"; it is a license to discriminate. It validates and protects appalling behavior. I thought it was important to point out that the state itself, from my many trips to it, from summer camp in the Celo Valley near the Big Toe River to all the shows I have done there, it is a staggeringly beautiful patch of land. The people I have met there over the years have been incredibly good. I really wanted to get that last point across.
Not a whole lot of the artists who boycott NC are talking to the local press. Do you think an official statement should stand on its own, or is it necessary to also speak to the press in immediately affected areas?
Pulling a show is quite a statement. I think that Springsteen’s press quote coupled with the act of pulling the show is action enough on his level. I don’t think he needs to elaborate on a single thing. For instance, do you have any question, after reading what he said, what he meant? I think he was perfectly and eloquently clear.
I also think that a lot of people don’t want to hear opinions from famous people. Springsteen, Vedder—they have the track record, the integrity and the clout, so when they say something, people might take pause. I do not think these musicians have any obligation to speak to the press. Personally, I think it would be great if they did and really lit it up!
There's a raging debate among music people here, with some vocally anti-boycott and some supportive of major boycotts by Springsteen, Ringo Starr, Pearl Jam, Ani DiFranco, etc. You say that Springsteen's cancellation let McCrory end the conversation. I'd like to hear more along those lines. What's your stance on NC boycotts as a form of protest?
I will not judge the actions of the aforementioned. That is to say, if that’s the way they want to play it, that is for them. Ani is 100 percent great and, if she is canceling, I will only respect that.
My opinion is that boycotts do not get at the people you want to get at. Your governor doesn’t give a damn if these bands don’t play. His constituents might start feeling some fiscal pain and want to have a word, but he’s not losing sleep over Ringo Starr.
Would you play NC with this law on the books?
Of course I am doing shows in NC. My audience there is stellar and by not doing a show, or, much worse, canceling, I am not teaching anyone a lesson, I am not doing the LGBT community in North Carolina or anywhere else a service. Having a ticket to see Pearl Jam, that person is stoked! Then, the show goes away. What do you think the reaction of that person is? “Hell yeah! Way to go!” I doubt it.
Again, this is just my take. If someone disagrees, I completely respect that and am not looking for an argument. There are states I have major disagreements with. You should meet my audiences there—amazing, smart, sensitive people. I can’t leave them out of the tour. This is just me, though.
What's the most effective form of protest, as you see it?
Protest? Next time you can, vote. Petition the governors of other states to have a word with McCrory. Make other governors cough up a for or against opinion about HB 2—no equivocating, for or against, answer the question with a single word. Any other answer will be registered as mealy mouthed avoidance.
Believe me: the shameless can be shamed plenty. Have HB 2 be like a kill switch to a business. If businesses are discriminating against a social group, let everyone know. “Freedom” has consequences. Democracy should not be an easy lift.
What would be the least helpful way for a musician to protest this law?
Again, just my opinion—boycotting. Public Enemy tour of NC immediately! Silence will not help. Bring the noise.
Pretend you were born and raised here, that your family and friends lived here, and that HB 2 had been perpetrated in your name but without your consent. What would you do?
Live my life. Keep on being cool. Vote whenever possible and understand that a lot of people get that a governor doesn’t make a state. More parties, more music, more shows, podcasts, volume, etc—I know this is like-minded people hanging out with like-minded people, but I believe it does have a cumulative effect.
I think there is a lot of strength in celebration. When the KKK has a rally, don’t show up to protest. No protesters, none. They should be doing their thing in front of three cops. On the other side of town, it is freak-out party time at the "Gay Gay Gay Everyone Is Sexy Rally Dance Party"—DayGlo Klan outfits, DJs, food. You have a great day, and the KKK is the tree that falls in the forest un-witnessed. This is how I would go about it. Jerks get way too much traction in current media.
It is important for those who find themselves unable to empathize with the reality of LGBT people in North Carolina and all over the world to think about what it would be like to be “different.” What if you’re a guy and you hit whatever age and realize you like boys? Do you think that would be great news? Do you think it might be exceedingly difficult to deal with that? Can you imagine how hard that might be? What, you want to make things even worse by calling the guy a "faggot" and beating him up? Why? What if you were born a male but you feel like a woman?
With every bit of my imagination harnessed, I can’t even pretend to understand how confusing that would be. It would short circuit my mind. Why would you in any way want to make this person’s life more challenging that it already is? How can you have a cell phone in your pocket, giving you hi-def pictures and the Internet, a car that talks to you, and yet still live in such ignorance?
I went to an all-boys school. I remember we all hit whatever age it was and sure enough, you realized that some of your classmates were gay—not only your classmates, but some of your teachers. One kid got teased by some of the students, unsurprisingly, but also some of the teachers. He tried to kill himself. Why would you want to be a part of that? I think the good people of North Carolina, which I bet is the huge majority, should stand up against HB 2. If you need to get a civics/morality lesson from Bruce Springsteen, you’re late for class.