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Oldies But Goldies: Three Years Ago I Saw Henry Rollins At Joe’s Pub, Now Can we Interview HIm?


(Helen Bach called me to announce she was after Henry Rollins for another interview. Alright by me but if ever a guy seemed to have places to say whatever he wanted to say, that  man is Rollins. Personally, I appreciated the first interview he did with us but if Helen wants to double down, so be it. I will say one more thing: I tend to be closer to his opinion about  Barack Obama in 2015 than I am to my own in 2012. I would love to hear his take on the Nuclear Treaty -IL)

Of all the amazing things about Henry Rollins spoken word performance at Joe’s Pub Friday night, the most amazing of them is that at the age of 51 he can memorize 90 minutes of a spoken word text, and perform them in an artistically valid, conversational tone. It is Henry Rollins as David Blaine: an act of physical endurance. Towards the end of his show, Rollins told of visiting an orphanage in Haiti and transforming himself into a human jungle gym, playing with the children, throwing one into the air, catching the kid and lowering the kid back on the floor and then the next. For hours and hours and hours… till his back was breaking and the Nuns threatened to have him evicted if he didn’t leave. Take away the compassion and his live show is the exact same thing as his visit to Haiti.

At the heart of Rollins art is the person and at the center of the person is, in Henry’s words a “Work-A-Slut”, and right behind that is a man attempting to run away away from something. Always touring, or if not touring filming a travel show for National GEO , or if not doing either getting a visa and traveling the world. What’s he running from?

Piece together his performance and you get Henry Rollins, the short skinny boy from DC whose parents -his father a belligerent drunken physicist (eek!) whom, if he is alive at all, Henry doesn’t talk to, and his mother a lovely woman who turned him onto Joan Baez and Bob Dylan. His father was a racist, his mother the exact opposite (“I am the result of one too many martinis” Rollins concludes) and in an act of rebellion mythic in its human manifests, Rollins rejected his father completely, including his hatred his dads racism and his own last name, changing it from Garfield to Rollins Ergo, the usual unusual.

As a 12 year old Rollins and best friend Ian Mackaye of Fugazi, would go to Aerosmith concerts in Arenas so large there was a delay between the songs being sung and the music reaching your ear. Being an outsider to his own culture, Rollins was an angry young man with nowhere to place his anger till he heard the Sex Pistols, the Clash and finally the Ramones. Rollins speaks very, very well about rock music. Anybody who compares Joey Ramone to Bowie in the Elephant Man has it going on, that’s for sure. And his description of the Cramps playing the back of a tiny bar in DC is perfection.

The rest is history, Rollins second band was Black Flag and eventually Rollins moved to spoken word.

On stage, Rollins expresses this and much more. Discussing a visit to Iran (he had to go to Dubai and get a Visa from there) he explains the way he deals with foreign countries. Rollins grabs a cab or walks, finds himself in the midst of a city, goes up to strangers, sticks out his hand and says “Hi, my name is Henry, what’s yours” and when they ask, as they sure did in Tehran, what he was doing there, replied: “I’m here to meet you”. And what he discovered is that people are much the same everywhere (and what he also discovered, though he doesn’t spell it out, is people love Americans and are thrilled to meet them) .

This is all surrounding the best and the worst of Rollins. The best is Rollins explanation of the Lincoln speech: “From whence shall we expect the approach of danger? Shall some transatlantic giant step the earth and crush us at a blow? Never! All the armies of Europe and Asia could not, by force, take a drink from the Ohio River or set a track on the Blue Ridge in the trial of a thousand years. If destruction be our lot, we ourselves must be it’s author and finisher. As a nation of free men, we will live forever, or die by suicide.” Rollins on the US stopping any foreign nation taking a sip from the Ohio River is Rollins at his very very best.

At his worst? I CAN NOT stomach his “you guys are New Yorkers and therefore smarter than I am” condescending stuff, and I really despise the rah rahing for Obama. Politics are simple, what am I being taxed and where’s the money going? If Obama doesn’t get this economy under control he certainly will not be considered one of the US greatest Presidents. And if his being a black man and a President makes him a great President by default, I don’t consider that borderline racism, it is straight up sucka racism. Clinton was a great President, Obama is a great politician. Also, if Rollins can’t see beyond the Republican’s stupid social concerns to their serious worries about the US becoming a Socialist country, he is not being a serious man. Me? I am a capitalist. I want a fair paying field, I don’t want every other black man warehoused in prison but I think people should work for a living and that is soul sapping to have a society that thinks otherwise. And I don’t want to sit in meetings with my Health Insurance company warning me I can expect huge raises in my premiums once Obamacare goes through. That’s not Mitt Romney, that’s the company I’ve gotten my insurance for decades. Why can’t Rollins see both sides? Why is it all either/or? It is bad politics, it is bad manners.

Sill, Rollins gave rock nyc’s Helen Bach an interview and I appreciate that a great deal. We used to have a word for folks like Rollins when I was a tot: secular humanists. in talking about two strangers who both lost a brother in Iraq, Rollins just about brought me to tears. I like Rollins a whole lot, and if he ever stuck his hand out and said “Hi” to me, I’d be proud to shake it.

Grade: B+

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