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Rollins said that this particular boss would send him out to the sidewalk to find “any man who looked like Omar Sharif.” On Saturday, the theater manager would bring over “the girls.”
“You know,” Rollins explained, “his gay friends.
“They would sit on the radiator and we would all revert to the feminine of our names. I was Henrietta, he was Roberta. These were men in their 50s and I would talk to them about [them] being gay. And I remember one of them — his name was Kevin, they called him Kevina — had just got fired from his job as a short-order cook at National Airport. I said, ‘Why did they fire you?’ I was young. And they all looked at me like, ‘Henry, why do you think?’ I go, ‘I don’t know, because you’re a bad cook?’ They said, ‘No, Henry. Because he’s queer.’”
Then, Rollins said, he got into the D.C. punk rock and hard-core scene.
“A lot of my D.C. punk friends are gay. None of us cared. It was a very, kind of, illuminated scene,” he said. “You know, girls got equal say. There was none of that ‘hey, baby’ stuff. I mean, you try that with a D.C. punk rock girl and your [ass] would be handed back to you.”
Then Rollins moved to Los Angeles and everything was different.
“California [and the punk scene there] was the complete opposite,” he said. “Girls ... were around to be, you know, explored sexually. And the homophobia in the punk rock scene was present. I never had a problem with cops in D.C. growing up. I was totally the Boy Scout type growing up. I’m not into crime. Then I get out to California and I am in the notorious band [Black Flag] and I’m in the L.A. Times [on] day one.
“So my relationship with law enforcement changed and it’s not gotten a lot better. ... Any armed person scares me. All of that was politicizing as well.”
Eventually, with his success, Rollins said, the politics and public responsibility began to come together with his exposure to the entirety of America.
“I started thinking civically as soon as I could feed myself, as soon as the rent was no longer this Damoclean sword of dread at the end of every month,” he said. “If you’re in a band, you’re always broke, and if it is your band, like if you’re paying for the checks and all of that, then you pay for the drumsticks and everything else. Back in those days, back in the ’80s, people would ask ‘Would you play a benefit?’ and I’d say ‘Sure. We’d play a benefit.’”
But, mostly, he said the early days were simply trying to make ends meet.