What is Punk?

Musician, Writer, and Spoken-word Artist

Henry Rollins is an American singer-songwriter, spoken word artist, writer, comedian,publisher, actor, and radio DJ. After performing for the short-lived Washington D.C.-based band State of Alert in 1980, Rollins fronted the California hardcore punk band Black Flag from August 1981 until mid-1986. Following the band's breakup, Rollins soon established the record label and publishing company 2.13.61 to release his spoken word albums, as well as forming the Rollins Band, which toured with a number of lineups from 1987 until 2003, and during 2006. Since Black Flag, Rollins has embarked on projects covering a variety of media. He has hosted numerous radio shows, such as Harmony in My Head on Indie 103, and television shows such as The Henry Rollins Show, MTV's 120 Minutes, and Jackass. He had a recurring dramatic role in the second season of Sons of Anarchy and has also had roles in several films. Rollins has also campaigned for various political causes in the United States, including promoting LGBT rights, World Hunger Relief, and an end to war in particular, and tours overseas with the United Service Organizations to entertain American troops.

  • Transcript


Henry Rollins: When someone asks you ‘what’s punk?’ my reply is “If you have to ask, you’re never going to know.”  Apparently someone asked Louie Armstrong or Lightening Hopkins what jazz or the blues were respectively, and apparently that’s the answer they gave them, so I don’t know who said what to whom when, but a lot of times if you have to ask. . . . 

I think it changes from person to person.  So what is punk?  Everything from the Velvet Underground to Occupy Wall Street and anything in between.  The kid who throws his spaghetti from the high chair onto his father’s face, he’s pushing back.  He’s sticking it to the man as he sees it.  I like that.  So that is punk.  

So is there punk rock today?  Is there punk?  Is there a punk ethic?  Absolutely.  Where there is young people and vitality you’re going to find punk rock.  You’ll find it in the youth of Tehran who want a different future.  You’ll find it in young people in Saudi Arabia who look at Sharia law and go “No, and I might have to die to overturn it, but I'm not taking this.”  That to me is punk rock.  The questioning of authority, pushing back against established structures of authority, of government, of the way it is.  Questioning anything and everything to me is punk rock.  It’s also very Jeffersonian, and so that to me is punk rock.  You can ask the next person.  He or she might tell you something different, so it is subjective.  

So is it present in our lives today?  Absolutely.  I find it in music.  I find it in art.  I find it in filmmaking.  I find it in these amazing demonstrations happening all over the world, these Twitter-fed, Facebook-fed flash-mobbing revolutions that are happening all over the world that are indeed changing the course of government, ousting people like Hosni Mubarak and changing people’s minds. 

So yeah, punk rock is alive and well.   

Directed / Produced by
Jonathan Fowler & Elizabeth Rodd