Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Henry Rollins

When I heard that Henry Rollins – easily my favourite combination punk/hard rock band frontman, writer, publisher, activist, actor, radio show host, spoken word artist and documentary film maker1 – was coming back to town for a spoken word gig, I made sure I got a ticket straight away.

Now, if you're not familiar with Henry Rollins, here's this thing: he's a scary looking guy – he's spent a lot of time in the gym, has a bunch of tattoos, and is one of the most intense people around. Here's a picture from his website:

I'd heard of him through his music – I knew he was the singer for Black Flag and the Rollins Band – well before I knew anything else about him, and I remember being more than a little surprised that he had a hell of a lot more going on than you might think from his appearance. He's very smart, eloquent, thoughtful, unbelievably hard-working and takes things like politics and social justice very seriously.

And he's an absolutely mesmerising spoken word performer.

I'd seen him twice before – once at the Norwood town hall maybe ten or so years ago, and then at the 2006 Big Day Out. While the latter was only a short set – maybe fifteen minutes or so – the one in Norwood went for over two hours. So, I knew it'd be a long night.

The show started at 8pm, and three hours later – though maybe twenty minutes of that was the warmup act (a surprisingly good deadpan comedian) – we walked out of Her Majesty's Theatre.

He was his usual unstoppable, fast-talking self. Topics ranged from his loathing of the current anti-woman policies of the US Republican party, and his specific distaste for the then-candidate Rick Santorum; aging rock stars and how some of them can pull it off better than others – Iggy Pop being the best example – to his own experiences as a young musician travelling the world.

This included the explanation for his rumoured dislike of Adelaide – turns out it was because of a bad experience he'd had here with an audience member, who he'd ended up fighting with and getting injured; there were serious complications that resulted in hospitalisation and almost led to him having his hand amputated.

He also explained exactly how dependent he is on keeping busy – he doesn't even consider the term 'workaholic' to be accurate enough; he prefers the term 'work slut', because he'll do pretty much anything in order to stave off boredom – to the extent that he said that if he's home not doing anything for more than about two days he starts to go crazy.

He's recently taken on some documentary work with National Geographic – a revelation that pretty much made my jaw drop – which has seen him travel to southern India to film local snake and rat catchers; this led to a particularly hilarious story about them cooking and eating rats. This job has also seen him experience a very lively service at a Pentecostal snake-handling church in the deep south of the USA.

Somewhat more confronting were his recollections of travels in in earthquake-ravaged Haiti and in North Korea.

There was obviously a lot more, but those are the topics that stood out the most - at least as far as I can recall a little over a week since the show. But there wasn't a dull moment at any point in the two-and-a-half hour show; he's just done so much interesting stuff, and is able to present it in such a captivating way.

If you've never seen Henry Rollins live before, and you get the opportunity to see him, go for it - it's like nothing else you'll ever see. But if what I've written doesn't give you much of an idea of what he's like on stage, here are some YouTube videos of him in action:

1Not that that's much of an achievement when you think about it a bit and realise he's the only person in the world that meets that particular description.

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