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Henry Rollins in It’s a Long Story

How he went from Häagen-Dazs to punk rock to activist broadcaster

Matthew Drummond
Online Editor

When Henry Rollins was in 10th grade he punched a 12th grader in the jaw so hard that the kid’s teeth tore through his cheek. Rollins grew up in Washington DC in the 1960s and 70s, through the Civil Rights Movement and the riots that filled his neighbourhood’s streets. On one of his first days at school he was so scared of being beaten up that he peed his shorts. ‘White boy pissing,’ the other kids jeered. Violence, he would learn, was the only way to clear the tension from the air.

Rollins went on to become the lead singer of the seminal hard-core punk band Black Flag. Today he’s an activist, a broadcaster and a writer who tackles injustice with a raw and angry energy. He’s also the subject of the first episode of It’s a Long Story, Sydney Opera House’s new podcast series.

It’s a Long Story uncovers the formative moments from the childhoods and early careers of some of the world’s leading thinkers and culture creators. In Rollins’ case, that early career included a stint scooping ice-cream at Häagen-Dazs immediately prior to joining Black Flag (even then his star power was apparent; he was promoted to shift manager in his first week).

The first podcast series made by the Sydney Opera House specifically for the medium, It’s a Long Story also features the co-creator of the Black Lives Matter network Alicia Garza, former child soldier and now refugee lawyer Deng Thiak Adut and author Lionel Shriver. The first season is hosted by Australian broadcast journalist Hamish Macdonald.

“The idea behind the podcast is to take some interesting people and dig into their own personal stories as a way to understand how they came to be the great thinkers or success stories that they are,” Macdonald says. “It’s about origins and understanding and context.”

Macdonald agrees that the series confirms the often quoted adage of a ‘give me a child until he is seven, and I will give you the man.’

“I remember the day when the news came of children being conscripted into the army.”
From child soldier to criminal lawyer, Deng Thiak Adut recounts his early years in Sudan and the challenges of building a new life in Australia.

“When you take people back to their childhood and ask the questions that they are not really expecting, you get something new,” he says. “These people who are challengers and agitative thinkers, in almost all of their cases that derives from early experiences as a child.”

In the case of Deng Thiak Adut, Macdonald explores the former child soldier’s first memories of Australia, including a mishap of trying to warm a can of Coca-Cola in a microwave, and the feelings of homesickness that made him want to return back to South Sudan. 

It’s a Long Story was overseen by Danielle Harvey, the Opera House’s Head of Contemporary Performance. “Podcasting is a burgeoning art form and that’s what we’re about, exploring new art forms,” Harvey says. “It’s a way to share with a global audience the amazing talent that visits us here at the Opera House.”

Although it’s the Opera House’s first made-for-podcast series, it’s not the only content from the Opera House that’s available on podcast. Since early 2014 recordings of the Talks & Ideas program have been available for download. Episodes include talks by Rosie Batty, Carrie Brownstein, Anne-Marie Slaughter and Ira Glass. With more than 410,000 downloads, Ideas at the House is one of the most successful podcasts in Australia.

In July 2016, Deadly Voices from the House was launched as a podcast after over 20 years as a syndicated radio show on the National Indigenous Radio Service and the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia. Hosted by the Sydney Opera House’s Head of First Nations Programming, Rhoda Roberts AO, Deadly Voices from the House features a diverse selection of prominent Indigenous leaders from the music, arts and culture sector. This year it has featured interviews with Adam Goodes, Linda Burney and Danielle Ireland-Pipe.

New episodes of It’s a Long Story will be released fortnightly. Asked for a stand-out moment, Macdonald referred to the upcoming interview with Adut.

“Deng was especially brilliant and fascinating,” he says. “His life trajectory is almost unbelievable. Listening to him sing songs from before he became a child soldier was quite special.”

Henry Rollins on stage at FODI 2016.

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