Henry Rollins, former frontman for the legendary California hardcore punk band Black Flag ("So you're gonna be institutionalized/ You'll come out brainwashed with bloodshot eyes"), interviewed Gore Vidal, perhaps the greatest essayist north of Michel de Montaigne, in an interesting experiment on IFC in the thick of the 2008 election. They are as opposite in every respect, and yet Vidal made a strong impression on the contrarian spoken-word artist. Rollins revisits that interview with The Sacramento Press:
An interview with Henry Rollins may seem like an intimating one -- not only because the punk rocker, actor and spoken word artist’s hulking frame, myriad of tattoos, steely brush cut and bristling stare leave him looking like a discharged drill sergeant ...
That affinity for worn and weathered work ethics helped him relate to the artists he interviewed on "The Henry Rollins Show." He tried to forgo the usual choreographed banter of most talk shows in favor of conversations about the nature of his guests’ art forms, and the tenacity it took to sustain their crafts. And none of those exchanges left a deeper impression than the one he shared with Gore Vidal.
“That was very intimidating. I worked on prep for that for weeks,” Rollins said of questioning the renowned author of "The City and The Pillar," which is now widely recognized as the landmark novel of the gay experience. “He blew my mind, like when (Vidal) was talking about John McCain being a prisoner of war, saying ‘He got caught, so how smart can he be?’”
Rollins said trying to reach that fearless level of frankness is another one of his major motivators.
“I was really taken aback when Gore said that (about McCain),” Rollins added about the interview, which was conducted before the historic 2008 election campaign. “But that’s something someone of that caliber can say because he’s spent 80 years earning where he is, a place where he can say those kinds of things that need to be said.”
Not unlike a Howard Stern with a little more intellectual heft. It is interesting but not particularly surprising that Gore Vidal -- a progressive, first Amendment patriot -- would make such a strong impression on someone from the young, angry and working class demographic. Surprisingly, Vidal never went far in electoral politics in America. Vidal lost a race for Congress in 1960 as a Democrat-Liberal in New York’s highly prized Republican 29th District(but got more votes than ticket-mate JFK did in the district). Vidal also came in second in the U.S. Senate Democrat primary in California in 1982 after Jerry Brown, ending his career in democratic politics. It is a great weakness that Democrats -- Stephensonians, in particular -- come off as overly egg-headed, thus automatically turning off the populist, rural working class voter. Democrats could learn much about truly connecting with those Americans from a tough, intelligent WW2 veteran like Gore Vidal.