Henry Rollins Talks Vans Sneakers, Ozzy Osbourne & Achieving Greatness

Renowned and outspoken iconoclast Henry Rollins is accomplished in a number of mediums, from music to acting, spoken word to radio and more.

Many of his achievements were performed with a pair of Vans on his feet, so the 55-year-old D.C. native certainly knows firsthand Vans’ importance to cultures that steer clear of the mainstream.

How did you get involved with Vans?

I have been wearing them since 1977 or so. They have been a part of my life since I was in high school, through skating and music, so it was a true fit. I don’t have to make anything up, and it allows me to register my life in an interesting way.

Who do you admire at Vans?

I admire Paul and James Van Doren for starting the company with a few other partners in the 1960s and steering the company to where it is now. I used to call one of the stores and order direct. I would send a money order I would get made at 7-Eleven, and weeks later, I would get my shoes.

Why is Vans so important to skate and surf culture?

They are an identifier. It is a visual language that lets others know that you know. In a way, it’s like urban code. Vans were part of an alternative culture, or cultures, defining themselves, peeling off from the mainstream. A long time ago, on the East Coast, you would see someone in Vans and you could talk to them because you knew they knew. It’s like when you saw someone in a Ramones T-shirt. They spoke your language.

Henry Rollins; Vans
Henry Rollins in a pair of Vans Sk8-Hi sneakers.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Vans.

What impact has Vans had on musicians and their fans?

I think it shows that a musician is one of the audience. How cool would it be to see Ozzy [Osbourne] onstage in Vans? It would make him cooler than he is already. It would be a picture you would stop to stare at and call your friend over to show them. Every brand ambassador has a crazy story attached to Vans.

What’s your most outlandish experience in their shoes?

It would be that the same pair of Vans were on my feet when I quit my last straight job, joined Black Flag and weeks later, did my first show with the band, 8-21-81. My life changed in a monumental way, but it was the Vans that made the transition from the shop floor to the stage.

You are involved in so much, from radio to TV, comedy to spoken word. What’s your greatest accomplishment?

I do not place any importance to anything I do. I just do one thing and then another and another. I don’t think I have accomplished anything great. I have done a lot of things. The list of records, books, shows, films, television shows, documentaries, voice-overs, and whatever else, when put together, looks like the work of three busy people, but I don’t consider any of it great. I try to make every thing I do the best I can put across. As to its level of greatness, I don’t think it matters.

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