Punk front man turned punk moderator: Henry Rollins is one busy man. Before jetting off to Belgium to star in a movie he wrote the screenplay for currently entitled “The Loudest Silent Film,” the former Black Flag front man turned radio host, writer and TV producer stopped in Chicago to moderate the Riot Fest panel at the punk and metal music festival kickoff Friday evening.
The panel discussion — which featured Russian punks Nadya Tolokonnikova and Masha Alekhina of Pussy Riot, Bad Religion’s Greg Graffin, Rise Against’s Tim McIlrath, writer Marcelle Karp and Riot Fest founder Mike Petryshyn — was focused around the importance of punk rock as a social movement. Afterwards, Rollins took a few questions backstage to talk about how the punk landscape and its pressing social issues have changed since his Black Flag days.
“I noted through the Eighties a whole lot of misogyny and homophobia,” Rollins said. “The worst part with the misogyny is when women are doing it to themselves. It’s like handcuffing yourself to a stove, it’s like ‘What are you doing?’ I used to watch girls get their tops torn off at shows. In 1986, I was put off by my own audience. Like ‘Who are these people?’”
But, “I think things have gotten better with the boys club of rock ’n’ roll and entertainment,” Rollins said. “Maybe my glasses are tinted and I’m a hopey-changey kind of guy but honestly, it really is what I see. But the fact that you still have homophobia is crazy. The fact that you have homophobia in entertainment is obscene.”
The punk pioneer, who writes a monthly column in Rolling Stone Australia, said he thinks it’s his job as a public figure to continue to raise awareness about social injustices. “We had a conference call the other day and I said to Greg [Graffin] ‘It’s our job to make these issues mainstream,’” Rollins said. “No one on Fox is going to talk about it. CNN doesn’t have the guts and sadly, no one listens to Rachel Maddow. Not enough people listen to her, even though I think she’s amazing.”
From Rollins’ viewpoint, the biggest issue plaguing today’s youth is lack of self-esteem. “When you can get ganged up on Facebook,” he said. “My old manager has two kids I’ve known since they were this big. They’re like 19 now. The girl basically got Facebooked out of school. It destroyed her. She’s getting herself back together but they had to switch schools. What young person has the armor to withstand that sort of assault? S–t hurts. By the time you’re 30 you realize no one cares. Something needs to be done so young people can get a better sense of themselves.”
Rollins said he tries to help by answering fan mail one letter at a time. “I get a letter, ‘Henry, I’m 17 and I’m loving life.’ I say ‘OK, you’re going to be fine, don’t hurt yourself.’”