Saturday Night: Henry Rollins, Now 50, Imparts Punk-Rock Wisdom at the Independent
April 9, 2011
@ The Independent
Better than: Living fast and dying young (living fast and dying old is way cooler).
Every 25 minutes or so, Henry Rollins hacks into the mic to clear his throat, like he's about to cough something up, right there on the largely empty stage of the Independent. But it's impossible to get mad -- or even grossed out -- by it when he doesn't even seem to know he's doing it.
The reason he's hacking, we assume, is that he's at the end of a massive 40-date tour in which he talks for two hours every single night. And Rollins talking is not like other people talking -- there's yelling, there are sound effects, his speech is mostly rapid-fire, and he is in a state of permanent animation. It's no wonder his throat hurts.
And the reason he doesn't realize he's hacking is because he is so focused on us -- the audience -- and keeping us engaged. The joy of Henry Rollins is that, even when imparting wisdom and opinions aplenty, he is careful not to patronize anyone. He is also careful to be all-inclusive. There is nothing sloppy or unmeasured about his manner of speaking this evening. It is precise, it is fast, it is long. Some of it is cry-tears-of-laughter funny, some of it is cry-tears-of-sadness depressing.
But, as is usually the case with Rollins, it is always
enlightening, even when he's at his most self-deprecating ("Mama raised a
bitch man", he says at one point). And, make no mistake, this man is never
afraid to mock himself or tell us things that other people would hesitate to
say in front of even their closest friends -- on women, for example, he notes: "The
interest is there, but sometimes the parts let you down".
This being Rollins, there are bound to be politics, but the
only part of the set when he rages overtly political tonight is during the
first twenty minutes -- a portion in which he mocks tea party yokels, "pulling
their fingers out of their daughters and leaving their meth lab" to protest issues
they haven't even bothered to research or understand. This first section is the
only part of the set where Rollins seems self-conscious and a little
uncomfortable. He clearly just wants to get to the anecdotal stuff and, in all
honesty, once he gets there, it's easy to see why.
Rollins is at his best -- and most informative, actually --
when he's simply relaying experiences he's had in his own life. Given the fact
that has been ravenously hungry for new experiences and far flung travels since
he was 18-years-old, and given the fact that this tour is to celebrate his turning
50, the man has an incredible amount to share. Including running into Rush
Limbaugh at William Shatner's house (try and find that one on YouTube later --
it's worth it) and scaring the crap out of Dennis Hopper at a Captain Beefheart
You might also, for instance, think you've already heard all
of Hank's best Black Flag stories -- especially if you've read his essential classic, Get In The Van -- but tonight we hear about actual loss of an eye at an
NYC Flag show, caused by "a gigantic fat bastard" stage-diver, as well as tales
of how drummer Bill Stevenson was the best person to spoon with in the van on
long cold nights, on account of his natural layer of man fur.
The latter part of the set concerns Henry's travels to North
Korea, Tibet, Uganda, and Vietnam -- places not terribly high on most of our
vacation lists, so his anecdotes are both educational and fascinating. But
Rollins proves tonight that he doesn't have to be talking about exotic people
and places to be interesting -- arguably the high point
of the set is a long and very detailed story about going to Costco for the
first time, to buy a ladder and some paper. And it is absolutely hilarious.
More than anything, it is difficult not to be inspired by
Henry Rollins -- his hunger for new experiences and knowledge is infectious.
And, by the way, he looks nothing like fifty-years-old. As he notes tonight, he's
hitting the last third of his life now, but he's actually sounding more
positive than ever. "Life is short," he says. "One must be memorable at all
times." He's doing a damn fine job.