Snakes have been a fascination for people since biblical times, and an icon in the hard rock world since its earliest days. Unbeknownst to many, like the hard rock scene, the snake world has its own underground, a rich subculture full of hardcore enthusiasts who feed on the adrenaline of their passion. And if there’s one guy who’s a satellite drifting into both universes, it’s Henry Rollins.
The attitude-filled singer of the Rollins Band, spoken-word artist, author and frequent cable TV personality is doing his thing once again, this time for Nat Geo Wild, as he hosts Snake Underworld, premiering April 29. It’s part of the network’s three-night Wild About Snakes! stunt that also features the premiere of a new season of Python Hunters and a rather unforgettable episode of Dangerous Encounters With Dr. Brady Barr. In Snake Underworld, Rollins digs into the often-bizarre world of snake collectors and handlers to explore what it is that drives their mania.
Meeting with everyone from herpetologists and doctors who treat those bitten by venomous breeds to collectors and smugglers who illegally import rare and dangerous breeds, Rollins doles out the punches as easily as he does the praise. “Someone with a house full of poisonous snakes living in a city environment, someone who has extreme animals and they don’t quite know what they’re doing, but they just get off on the rush of the thing — not so much of the science and the conservation element — I think that is a bit extreme and dangerous and reckless,” he says, all but pointing the finger at one particular individual profiled in the show. But not everyone is so irresponsible.
“We go to Kerry King, the guitar player in Slayer, and we look at his enclosure,” Rollins enthuses. “He’s breeding out, I believe, carpet pythons.” King’s python collection, roughly 300 strong, contains its share of rare breeds, but maybe most interestingly, some colorful examples bred from species that ordinarily wouldn’t come into contact with one another.
According to Rollins, King is an example of someone who defies the stereotypical snake-owning outsider. “Quite often when you really get into it with someone, someone who has a lot of animals or has a great fascination, it’s not because they’re trying to scare you or anything. They are quite more on the conservation idea. They’re very good to the animal. They care.”
But as Rollins shows, sometimes even the most cautious and respectful handlers go out of bounds in a way that he has trouble imagining. “When you’re injecting yourself with snake venom, that’s a pretty radical thing to do to your body,” he says, referring to the owner of a black mamba who maintains a regimen of monthly injections to build up a resistance in case of a potentially fatal strike. “I would never do it,” he offers. “But I’m more of the enthusiastic amateur.”
Regardless of anyone’s interest level, Snake Underworld is an undeniably curious look at a phenomenon that many people will find hard to fathom. It’s not for the faint of heart or stomach — some of the footage of snake bite victims gets pretty grisly — but it digs deep in a way that could easily start a number of viewers thinking about a slithering new hobby.