Just to look at him – you’d think Henry Rollins was a street fighter or an ex-military badass with a Confederate flag atop his Hummer. But appearances are often deceiving; Rollins is actually rock’s sweetest bloke. His spoken word career has turned him from Black Flag/ Rollins Band’s seemingly unhinged front-man into a sort of punk rock motivational speaker. And, damn, do we love this dude!
Support act for a spoken word show would obviously be a difficult task to hasten a guess, but it came lovingly in the form of frizzy comic Bruce Griffiths. His long Weird Al hair and lanky figure made him the perfect vehicle for the deadpan one –liners he pumped out so generously. He barely moved, but for slight head tilts and shifty eye movement, as he powered through pun-heavy and witty comedic chunklets (“I have a flatmate….steamroller accident”) in a methodical, rehearsed manner, he was a far cry from the oft stream-of-consciousness style that modern comedy usually breeds.
“I’m moving to a suburb called Not In Service…they seem to get a lot more buses” and “Have you ever thought that John Citizen should be more careful with his credit card details?” were just a couple of noteworthy jokes with which Griffiths has made a hefty career (just some of his writing credits include Good News Week, The Glass House, Denton and BBC projects with US comic Rich Hall) and the crowd adored him.
Escaping the piss perfumery of the Espy Ladies toilets, I waited patiently for Henry Rollins to come out, being informed via PA that he would “be down in about five minutes…sit tight!”. Whilst staring at the griffins painted on the wall, the incomparable Rollins bounds onto the stage with nary a single announcement. Rollins has just turned fifty years of age (hence the name of the tour: ‘50’) and explained that his shows were taking place in smaller venues (on this, his twenty-seventh trip to Oz) than usual because he just wanted to do a “quick lap around the world”.
Although his hair is greyed and the skin upon his face is becoming lined with years, Rollins’ eyes are as bright and alive as a man a third his age. His relentless energy and consistent passion is what has made him a legend and, well, just an awesome guy: he has a love of Australia (and travel, to every-bloody-where, apparently), a respectful manner of performance (“I fear wasting your time”) and listens to Slayer on the treadmill.
The central theme of his show is getting older, learning life lessons, travelling and broadening one’s mind. Sounds cheesy, but in the hands of someone like Rollins, it’s just gold. He explains his profound love of touring and refusal to grow up and turn into his image of a dull workaday Joe (“I will never buy a Sting album. I’m never gonna be that album”) in that oh-so-Rollins burr.
Stories from Rollins’ book of rock and roll raucousness are tossed in: fronting one of punk’s greatest bands (Black Flag: “the most hated band by the LAPD”), head-butting a member of the Plasmatics, turning Metallica from hippie ‘longhairs’ to metal gods, a Rubanesque fellow attempting a crowd surf and taking a girl’s eye out (“There is a cost to the music” he says somberly), crazy hobos, weed dealers (“Weed is such a catastrophic waste of your time”), setting his own broken nose in a bar men’s room after being beaten up by audience members and learning “how to eat dog food and not puke” from famed roadie Mugger.
A brief foray into more serious territory ensues (a false sexual violation accusation, the general mistreatment of women by others) before discussing Rollins’ apparently dull lifestyle: “I’m actually really boring…I live alone and I use a microwave to make my dinner. I drive a Subaru Outback”. He describes a particularly memorable Saturday night in his domicile: “We- and by we, I mean me- started with Led Zeppelin’s House of the Holy in stereo and ended with House of the Holy in mono”
His complicated relationship with America (“It exasperates me”) is discussed via a story of his trip to Costco with his PA Heidi (“The Demon”) and the cliché American consumer beast being herded in large quantities: “Americans need to consume; ‘As long as I am buying shit, the terrorists cannot win’”. He entertains fellow customers by reading Decision Points by George W Bush (“A title as obtuse as his eight years in office”), the no doubt totally unintentionally hilarious memoir, in his best Bush voice and taking great pleasure in pissing one particular right-wing douchebag…er, customer: “It’s like Bush versus English!”, “It’s like reading Kafka if Kafka got hit in the head with a stick”.
Rollins, dripping with sweat from his emotional bloodletting here tonight, takes a rather comedic turn by waxing semi-lecherous on our notorious Prime Minister Julia Gillard: “On the treadmill, I got to thinkin’…”. “That is easily one of the most screwed up things I have ever said to an audience” he admits as everyone laughs, unable to contain their awkwardness at the image of Rollins boning our PM.
Rollins and his many travels take up most of the rest of the show; the Mass Games in Pyongyang in North Korea and the mausoleum/shrine of Communist President Kim Il Sung, in particular, are great yarns. He tells of the frustration of a ten minute moving sidewalk ride (you’re not allowed to walk on them!) and being pressured to weep in the “Crying Room” of the mausoleum. He makes great friends with his Tibetan tour guide in Bhutan who loves Adelaide’s Mark of Cain (Rollins takes his terabyte hard drive wherever he travels so he can always have his music around, for himself and to share with others; he also mentions sending jazz music to a burgeoning jazz fan in Oklahoma via yousendit.com) and mentions Drop in the Bucket, a charity that is helping to solve the poor water crises in Africa- a foundation of which Rollins wholly supports.
The laughs peter out; two hours is a long time on a Monday night, but the crowd sits enraptured the entire time. Now, rather than what began as a semi-motivational talk, semi-comedy show has turned into a fireside yarn; a campfire story.
In the wrap up, Rollins takes on a kind of inspirational stance; he loves life, and people, and is honest and respectful and fun. And he just wants the rest of the world to join in.
“I’m older than time…I’m older than PAP-ER …I’d tell a younger me, to quote The Cruel Sea: “You’d better get a lawyer, son; you better get a real good one”. That’s what I am dedicating my life to: being the biggest pain in the ass…There is no excuse for boredom, no excuse for prejudice; there is only sleep to avoid, things to learn, wrongs to right”
“This is going to be the decade that changes everything” he finishes, with the exciting, chilling air of someone hell-bent on revolution; “The P Funk/ Ramones Block Party is coming soon…you and me are gonna change everything”
Rollins: a maverick, punk rock philosopher doing the world a favour by existing.
– Lisa Dib