Rollins into Academy
HENRY Rollins is one of the great punk rock survivors.
The former Black Flag frontman, who trailblazed America in the legendary outfit, is now an elder statesman of the scene. But through his spoken word shows, the 45-year-old is fast finding himself a perfect showcase for his personae.
As well as playing in the Rollins band, he has also had many bit parts in Hollywood movies and run a publishing company. The complete punk rock renaissance man.
“Some acting? Yes, I'll try that. Voiceovers? Sure. Talking tour? Great. Band stuff? Great. Talk show, TV? Can do, am interested. Why not? Especially these days with all of the media that's in existence.”
From punk rock warlord to spoken word commentator on contemporary Americana, Rollins is a legend.
A battle scarred legend. He fought the punk wars as the frontman for legendary LA hardcore outfit Black Flag. The Flag were the key band that opened up the USA in the early ‘80s to the fiercer possibilities of rock‘n’roll. Their brutality was often balanced by the sheer inventiveness of their music and the sensitivity that was always lurking just beyond view from the frontman’s lyrics.
Not that you could tell. The heavily tattooed, pumped up, non-drinking straight edge confrontational frontman took the rock’n’roll thing head on. His roots in Washington DC’s hardcore scene, along with his best friend Fugazi and Minor Threat’s Ian MacKaye stood him in good stead. He got on stage with Black Flag as a crazed teenager and has stayed on the road ever since.
Rollins in the new millennium has become a multimedia phenomena – voicing ads, VJing on MTV, sitting as the best spoken-word artist in the world – with a fierce examination of modern life that is both funny and unsettling.
His spoken word show is one man with a whole fistful of opinions and is over two hours of stories and observations. It’s done fantastically, as anyone who has seen him will testify. On stage Rollins never drops a beat – it’s exhausting, pounding stuff but also funny, wry and with a sucker punch of a thoughtful message.
”I have a rough idea of what I'm going to do up there, but I vary the topics every night – there's plenty of stuff to talk about out there.”
Rollins covers plenty of ground in his spoken word show from the deaths of punk icons like Dee Dee Ramone and Joe Strummer (“I felt lonely when I heard that news&rdquo or the murder of his best friend Joe Cole, who was shot dead next to Rollins in a mugging that went tragically wrong. From the bizarre world of Hollywood that he observes as a sometimes insider, to being invited to Ozzy Osbourne's birthday party, to the current world situation that is fulfilling all the worst paranoiac’s political nightmares.
“People like Donald Rumsfeld feed me lines – you can’t make some of this stuff up. Of course I’m anti-war. Who isn’t? And although I’ve got a problem with a guy like Saddam Hussein, I don’t want to see the Iraqi people bombed and I don’t want to see American marines coming home in body bags. I don’t pretend I’m an expert on the situation – but I don’t think it’s something that can be ignored.”
The set will have plenty more observations on the war – and plenty of digs at the Bush regime. Rollins worries that everyone will now hate Americans and think that it is “a country full of gung ho warmongerers,” and “that it’s not the way it is at all.”
Surprisingly for such a confident performer he admits to feeling nervous before going on stage, but in that disciplined uber mensch way he’s made his own once he’s up there he up and running.
“You have got to be on it when you are up there. There is always someone smarter than you out there who is ready with a quick reply!”
They wouldn't get a chance, Rollins doesn’t miss a beat and his incredible word flow in itself is an entertaining slice of contemporary Americana; self-deprecating, thought-provoking and funny.
The Rollins spoken word experience is the sight of a survivor from the popular culture frontline – and a neat sideways glance at the nu-millennium world with a beady punk rock eye.