Photo: Heidi May
Henry Rollins wants you to do your thing. You're an adult, and you'll do what you want. All he asks is for informed Americans: Opinions without facts don't fly these days.
Rollins' two-and-half-hour speech about whatever willed from his mouth—politics, reunion shows, being drug-free, iPod playlists, the smell of cow piss and more—was pretty bitchin'. With a sold-out crowd, Uncle Rollins proceeded to put the audience on his lap and tell them what the world is really like. No stone was left unturned, no ass cheek awake. For those of you who skipped this show, I shame you. Yes, this isn't 1984, and yes, the Indian Center hasn't done punk shows for years, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't talk about it. Uncle Rollins did it right and wants to spread some wisdom your way.
The first topic of conversation of the night was politics (It is a presidential election this year. Get off the gravity bong and register to vote.). Rollins talked critically about the plasticity of Mitt Romney's character and the President's continuation of Bush-era foreign policy practices. Rollins is nevertheless a self-identified Democrat he because wants an educated population, access to medical care, fair business standards, food standards, etc. I'm a political guy, both professionally and in my leisure time—political action is my second thought of the day and is what keeps me up at night. I ate this up as expected, but what made me pause was his notion of the “Team America, we don't agree but we're all in this together,” Clinton-esque spiel.
I've personally grown weary of the politics of obstructionists, and am equally distressed by glad-hand, compromise-baiters looking for a quick vote in. What made me pause was the substance in his words, the confidence in his tone. Henry Rollins is pro-American progress, and he wants to convert you. For an icon of a postmodern movement to be so philosophically modern, I was taken aback. To hear him say that Lincoln was a pseudo-father figure and then quote the man verbatim gave me goosebumps (Here is the quoted speech.). Oratory is a dead art in America, but people like Rollins, Jello Biafra and Jeff Daniels make me wish it wasn't. Rollins continued on about rugged individualism, Reaganomics (or how Mr. Rollins put it—using his best impersonation of Biff Tannen—"What are you looking at, faggot?" capitalism) and the “war on ovaries.” I could honestly go on about this section for a few thousand words, but this is a music magazine, and you fuckers wanna hear “Freebird,” right?
Rollins, now bathed in sweat, talked about the importance music in his childhood, which eventually leads him into the music business. Rollins—like many Americans—grew up in a broken home, with diametrically opposed parents. Rollins' mother—who was so liberal, that only person left of her was “Jane Fonda and a wall”—refused to let Rollins grow up with television, and instead fostered the reading of books and listening to music as an alternative to mind rotting boob-tubery (listen to Black Flag's “TV Party” to get a better understanding of this). His “father” was an educated man, but an ardent bigot, who spent most of his free time killing animals for sport and drinking beer. Rollins spoke jovially of how sad his father's mindset was and how appreciative he was of his mother's choice to give him a rich, cultural education. Rollins then transitioned to his friendship with Ian MacKaye of the band Minor Threat and their love of music.
Rollins described their friendship being fueled by their mutual love of arena rock: primarily Aerosmith and Led Zeppelin. Rollins said that the problem with arena shows at that time were the shitty sound systems and incoherent distance from the band. Rollins described to the audience a frustration familiar to many SLUGers: The band is late for the show (I mean, have you ever been to an arena show that started on time?), fans get restless, when, suddenly, the lights go down, the band steps on stage, picks up their instruments and rock. Rollins doesn't reflect on arena rock warmly, but remembered a particular night molded that MacKaye and Rollins' lifestyle forever. While at a once-in-a-lifetime Led Zepplin show near D.C., Rollins and MacKaye experienced the raw sublime of Zepplin live, but were both distracted by a nearby fan. Slumped over in his seat sat a man, passed out, so high/drunk, he was incapable of enjoying what many consider to be the pinnacle of arena rock. Whether it was after the show or years later, it was not made clear, Rollins and MacKaye pledged abstinence from drugs and alcohol. They pledged to live lives of laser focus and constant passion, rather than the lulled and dulled live of the general population.
Rollins then transitioned to his love/experience of punk rock. Now into hour two, it was raining sweat in Rollins' shadow, and I half expected the man to slip in it (ten points if you caught the reference), then explain it off as “testing out some new physical comedy.” With every other leg in the audience patiently bouncing, Uncle Rollins told the story of attending a packed Ramones show and the problem of personal space. First, Rollins had a seven minute non-sequitur about the rampant, inadvertent dick-to-ass contact that occurs whenever attending a packed show, resulting in a human chain of uncomfortable male thrusting. The problem is then exacerbated when the headlining band walks onstage and everyone crowds in, thus committing you to who has their crotch in your ass and which ass you're nesting in. We've all been there, but no one wants to talk about it.
Rollins continued his story of the Ramones show and how, at one point, he feared death by dehydration, and the only life-saving moisture was coming from Joey Ramones' face. So what did he do? He cupped his hand and partook of Joey juice. After slacking his own thirst, he distributed what he could to his fellow patrons. That is either pure punk rock or a great way to spread disease.
Rollins is a sincere guy, and never once did I feel he was bullshitting me. The show was conversational and engaging. I was not disappointed, but I'm going to honest with you guys, it was a dense show. You're not going to get all the awesome tidbits Rollins talked about in this review. I'd need much more space to cover it and a transcript. I'm not getting my transcript and you're not going to get all the cool punk stories, the stories of what it is like in North Korea, Haiti, India or how Rollins gnawed on rat meat for the first time. You want more? Then go to the next time he's in town.