On the evening of July 7th, theatrical front-woman Amanda Palmer did not come to the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles dressed as a mime, as she often appears on stage and in her band The Dresden Dolls. She breaks the applause after taking the stage by stating, “We don’t know what the fuck we’re doing, but we’re going to figure it out real fast.” In a more polished delivery, Henry Rollins, who could relax enough for an hour to participate in this conversation, thanks everyone for coming and comments on the importance of events like this being free and open to the public: “If we had more of this more often, I think this country would vote differently,” he says, then quickly reasons, “or at least we’d have more fun.”
Palmer initially contemplates age and how getting older may affect Rollins’ personal, occupational, or artistic agenda. “I spend a great deal of my time in different states of desperation,” says Rollins. “Desperation keeps me in the present. I’m desperate to do something very well, and then when I’m done doing it, I’m desperate to get on to the next thing.” Rollins claims that he often jumps into projects without direction, and often to distract himself from himself. “If I’m going to work on a book, that’s going to take a few months, so I’ll be book dude and I’ll just sit in front of the computer and read my writing over and over again until I hate it enough to where I finally send it off to the printer because I can’t stand looking at it.”
Though 46-year-old Rollins has been employed doing what he loves (or is desperate to do) — everything from performing, to traveling, to writing, to publishing, to simply spewing his opinions on air — since before he was 20, he still questions his stability and importance as an artist or just a man without a nine-to-five job.
“I’m desperate to survive America,” he says, admitting his fear of settling down, marrying, or even accepting any sort of happiness or contentment. As a teenager in DC, Rollins enjoyed scooping ice cream at Haagen Dazs with Minor Threat vocalist Ian MacKaye and punk photographer Susie J. Horgan. When he realized the limitations of the minimum wage working world, Rollins set out for Los Angeles to front Black Flag and take every job since then in which he could retain his true opinionated, creative, desperate self.
Despite the 15-year age difference between Rollins and Palmer, they both seem to agree that great musicians are too often defined by how well they can perform at their age or what they can do because of or regardless of their age. “With MTV, all of a sudden, music became this thing that we looked at,” says Rollins, “and evaluated not necessarily as something we just listened to.” While Rollins was using binoculars to see Led Zeppelin in an arena and later sharing sweat with bands at punk shows, Palmer was just tuning into brand-new MTV and associating images and icons with music. Rollins blames MTV for marketing music fixated on young people with good looks; however, Palmer is grateful for the visually oriented network that was once a precursor for websites like YouTube, where anyone can create a song and a story to go with it.
Rollins and Palmer eagerly welcome fan feedback, both positive and negative. Palmer remembers reading a horrible review of her band, but appreciating the time and effort put into it so much that she granted the writer a driver, tickets, and VIP access to a Dresden Dolls concert. Perhaps it is every freelance journalist’s dream to be recognized and rewarded for writing something so honest and ultimately negative. Though Rollins embraces confrontation and dispute, he does have a problem with apathy, which he defines as people checking their watches or texting while he’s on stage. Palmer’s fans, specifically, are armed with camera phones and instant technology; she justifies that these devices enable her fans to relate to the rest of the world, through pictures on Myspace, blogs, and video-sharing websites.
The conversation climaxes as Palmer and Rollins decide that, fueled by the constant need to relate to others, everyone has developed his or her own medium of communication. Whether one writes, snaps photos, creates art, or updates a blog about the seemingly mundane annoyances of everyday life, technology has enabled people of all ages, nationalities, and qualifications to share a piece of his or her life. Palmer notes that anyone can make his or her life into an interesting story if they can spin it in such a way that touches others. Rollins suggests that, very much like the Myspace fanatic or blog addict, he’s always thinking about what to present to the public and how to use his life experiences to relate and connect, or even to disturb and agitate others; anything to prevent apathy and prolong distraction. “Long ago I stopped really caring about anything but the work, you know, the integrity of the work and making sure that it hurts to do it and that it’s still real and still has meaning to me,” says Rollins.
As the two artists culminate the conversation, they recount their differences. While Rollins claims he does not have a fear of intimacy, he does find it completely unnecessary. “I’m uptight, yes,” he admits. Palmer, however, believes that the more she shares about herself, the less vulnerable she becomes. Palmer will be revealing even more of herself on her first solo album, Who Killed Amanda Palmer, to be released in spring of 2008. In between hosting “The Henry Rollins Show” on IFC and “Harmony in my Head” on Indie 103.1 FM, Rollins finds time to travel to some of the most desolate destinations in the world, critique senseless blogs, and launch the “Provoked” spoken word tour across America in September of this year. But if you ask him, he’s just “a weird dude who lives alone in a house.”