SEMI-VISIBLE HANK: Punk Icon Eludes Dogged Interviewer

This piece will always have a special place in my heart. It was the first thing I wrote that I got paid for, launching me on my first (albeit short-lived) career. All thanks goes to Robert Meyerowitz for taking a chance on me. And Mark and Gretchen Fitz for letting me crash in their spare room even after walking out of my day job. Read on! -JM (2017)

By Josh Medsker

(from The Anchorage Press, Feb 1999)

I had tried to get an interview with Henry Rollins for a week, shortly after his spoken-word date at UAA was confirmed. The UAA Concert Board put up a brick wall: no interviews. Then I noticed a paper on the fridge at my friends’ Mark and Gretchen’s house, where I was crashing. Mark was working with the Concert Board, and had Rollins’ itinerary, including t19059140_10155555496924994_2609964065141975273_nhe hotel where he was staying. I knew what I had to do.

I was supposed to go to work at the Century 16 Megaplex the day of the show. I was the barista boy. I had to weigh my options. Shitty minimum-wage job or possibly meeting Henry Rollins. Serving coffee (with no tips) or talking with one of my punk rock heroes. Making $30 dollars and sitting with my thumb up my ass for most of the day or sticking my neck out to do what I love to do.

I got up at 6am, the day of, and headed out to the Captain Cook Hotel. I was scared as shit. My first balls-to-the-wall journalism experience. Most of the interviews I’d done before were calm, set-up affairs. No big surprises. But this was guerilla commando shit. I expected the hotel to put me out on my ear, when they figured out what I was doing. But I staked that place out for hours.

I arrived at 7am and sat in the hotel restaurant, figuring it was a safe place to start my spying. As far as the hotel knew, I was just another guest. I went over and over the questions I was going to ask, careful to keep my pad and tape recorder out of sight. After about an hour, I got up and took a look around. I noticed there were two towers, with the front desk right in the middle. I sat near that desk for the next five hours, reading Johnny Cash’s autobiography, ready to nab Rollins when he checked out. I never did see him. I was so pissed.

I found out later that night that Rollins was producing commercials that day and left the hotel early. I also found out that the hotel had made special arrangements to get him out of the hotel unnoticed and untouched. There was no way in hell I would’ve gotten to talk to him. But at that point, I was just looking forward to relaxing and enjoying his show, with a scant possibility of getting backstage after.

Rollins busted out for over 2 hours, on everything from Christianity to Black Sabbath to dating, and did it all with graceful showmanship. He’s much funnier than he’s given credit for. He went back and forth between his obsessive fanboy antics hanging out with Black Sabbath and his acting roles without missing a beat. He railed against mediocrity over and over. One of his targets was modern music. “All those guys sound the same,” he said. “Hootie. Eddie Vedder. The guy from Creed. They aren’t particularly bad or good–they’re just sort of there. And that’s the worst.”

Whenever Rollins is home in LA, he says he gets the urge to roam again. He calls it immaturity, but it seems more like an overwhelming desire to explore. Fear of dying without accomplishing anything seems to drive him.

After the show I wandered into the wings. My plan was to find a friend of mine who’s on the news staff at KRUA. I found her, and she’d been denied access as well. I found out later that a group of high school journalists were grilling Rollins backstage. No interviews, huh?

On my way out the door, I ran into Mark. “What one question would you ask Rollins?” he asked. I knew what he was getting at. “I’d ask him what lessons he’s learned, having been deep in the alternative music scene for nearly 20 years.”

I met up with Mark later at Village Inn where we guzzled coffee and ate shark pate taken from backstage. He was one of the few people allowed to talk with the man. He and Hank had sat and talked punk for a bit, and upon hearing my question, Rollins imparted this bit of wisdom: “If you want something done, get off your ass and do it yourself, because no one is going to do it for you.”

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