8:00 p.m. June 21 @ Fubar
w/ Good For You, Ultraman
Black Flag is one of the most revered bands of the punk era, thanks in part to its trademark tempo shifts, unadorned raw aggression and brilliant internationally recognizable quad bar logo. And though the band is well-loved by the masses, its current tour is not without controversy. Black Flag has had many personnel changes since it was first founded in 1976, and the present-day lineup only contains one founding member, Greg Ginn. Former members with big names like Henry Rollins and Keith Morris are not involved in this tour, prompting some fans to argue that the show is little more than a bastardized Black Flag cover band. But those people are nitpicking — what 37-year-old band isn’t basically a cover band of itself, anyway?
Get in the Van: Henry Rollins — musician, spoken-word artist, writer and punk legend — talks about life on the road
By Jaime Lees
Published on November 03, 2008
Henry Rollins is a workhorse with a considerable legacy. As the vocalist of Black Flag from the early- to mid-’80s, he played a major role in the evolution of American punk rock. With both Black Flag and later the Rollins Band, he was a powerful and dynamic frontman, using his enthusiasm to dredge up raw emotion and induce cathartic explosions of energy in audiences.
Even now, more than two decades later, Rollins is still a captivating performer, although in a slightly different capacity. On his solo spoken-word tours, the 47-year-old tells stories, makes observations and (of course) shares his opinions on current events and politics. Judging by recent reviews, expect an exhaustive, passionate three-hour performance full of Rollins’ trademarks: thought-provoking anecdotes and stamina testing rants all presented with a big, contagious smile.
It’s a testament to his endless energy and humble nature that although Rollins pushes out hundreds of thousands of words a night, he always makes time to greet his fans post-show. This tireless ambition and attention to detail also feeds his many other occupations: author, columnist, commentator, documentarian, actor, narrator, blogger, radio host, television personality, poet and USO volunteer. We spoke with him about his current tour and found him to be intelligent, inspirational and utterly charming.
Jaime Lees: What else are you doing on tour? I know you have a bunch of things you have to get done, but how are you prioritizing it?
Henry Rollins: Well, deadlines. I’m on deadline for a book so I have to keep kind of pushing that along, and it’s quite a ways off from being finished. So I try and work on that when I can. There’s always something, and I’m always planning for what’s to be done in the next few months. In my line of work you plan well ahead of time — you know, shows, booking, holding down a venue or whatever else. All of a sudden you’re already planning the first two quarters of the next year, which I’m already doing, so far as releases, travel [and] work.
What’s your day like? You have your show at night, and then do you get on the bus and wake up in a different place?
Yeah, but it takes quite a while to get to sleep post-show. Yesterday I worked out for a long time at the gym, did the show and got off the stage with my legs being fried. And then you get on the bus and you’re very tired but unable to sleep, because the mind is still racing. So you find a way to somehow grind your teeth or whatever until you finally wear yourself out. I just try to get my head down as soon as possible, ’cause there’s always the show, the press and the gym waiting for me the next day. So there’s a small pocket of time to try to get something done, and I usually fall way below the amount of stuff I want to get done on the tour. I bring a lot of books out with me, they rarely get read all the way.
You also seem really courteous with your fans. After the show you’ll stay and talk to them for a long time.
Yeah, and I don’t mind it. It’s the right thing to do, but it is taxing, because people want to make a connection with you. I understand it. But I don’t blow people off. I don’t say, “Uh, uh huh, sure. OK, bye.” I listen ’cause they’re sincere, and I don’t dislike them. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Do they still tell you that they feel as though you’re speaking for them?
Yeah, that’s [been] said to me all the time for many, many years. I think that’s just the nature of the fact that my feelings are not all that unique. My sentiments, whatever I’m coming up with, I’ve just gotten more access than some people do in the fact that I have a microphone, I’ve got an audience. So they might want to say “stick it to the man” or something, and they can say it to their friends at work, but I can kind of get it out there, fairly far and wide. So sometimes they’ll thank you for that, like, “Hey, thanks for getting that out there.” And I’m like, “That’s no problem. Glad to do it.”
Do you know what you’re going to say when you get up there? Do you know topics you’re going to hit?
To a great extent, yeah. I go up there every night and try to shoot my entire life though a pinhole in the wall. So I’m fairly front-loaded just coming out here with my big stories and whatever. You know, I have a path I want to go on, there are ideas I know I want to do. How I get to them — basically, I know the riffs and I jam on it on stage verbally.
Do you feel like there’s separation between you and your work at all?
No, they’re kind of all the same. All smashed together, for better or for worse. It’s not always a good thing.
Well, you seem like you take your work very seriously, but at the same time, whenever I’ve seen you, you’re very funny onstage.
The trick is to take the work seriously, but not yourself, you know? That way you can really just get in it and do your work and just be enthralled by your own fumes. ‘Cause I think that’s what gets in the way, to be thinking about how you’re coming off or how you look too much. You should just be really all about what you’re trying to say, what you’re trying to get across. So that’s what I try to do — and that’s not unique, either. I’m sure you’ll find a lot of people onstage who take the audience to task with a great amount of seriousness, but when they talk about themselves, it’s almost dismissive, because they know that the bigger priority is this thing they’re trying to do. The person trying to do it is not what it’s all about.
Well, at the same time, there’s not a lot of people who do what you do, if any. I can’t think of anyone whom I would consider your peer at this point.
As far as the talking shows and stuff, yeah. Well, it’s a unique thing in a way, but then again not. There’s been people onstage kind of ranting and raving since the proverbial soapbox made of marble in Rome. But in coming from the punk-rock thing, doing it in this way, maybe there’s a uniqueness there. Again, I really don’t give it much thought. I’m just trying to get this thing over the wall every night. And it is a considerable task. It takes a lot out of me. Like, whenever I walk offstage, I’m kind of surprised that I did it.
8 p.m. Thursday, November 6. The Pageant, 6161 Delmar Boulevard. $23. 314-726-6161.
>> EXTENDED INTERVIEW HERE <<
Interview Outtakes: Henry Rollins Talks Politics
Thu Oct 30, 2008 at 03:09:04 PM
Jaime Lees: I was wondering how it’s all been changing since you started [the tour] with the election getting closer? Because it’s mostly political, this tour, right?
Henry Rollins: In a way, it all is [political], in that if you’re kind of alive and living in the world at this point. But I don’t go and opine about George W. Bush all night. You have your opinion of him by now, after seven years and some months, and you don’t need me to tell you what you know, or what you think or need to think.
You’re a big person now and you can draw your own conclusions. But this election has been interesting in a lot of ways. For all of the obvious ones: the first time a woman has gotten this far with Hillary, and having an African-American, Barack, it’s made it very interesting. The debates, those things are never all that much to write home about. It’s been interesting watching kind of the body language and mannerisms of McCain. That’s been interesting for me.
Oh, especially that last time.
Yeah, I don’t think he came off all that well just on a human level. Where Barack, who I thought was going to be kind of a letdown in the debates, has surprised me by being way better and more together than I thought he was going to be. I thought he was going to be a big more stammering, but I think he really presented himself very well. I also think that people are kind of freaking out on Sarah Palin. She is really… [laughs]… she is somethin’ else.
That’s a nice way to put it.
Yeah, I’m trying to be generous. I don’t know much about her mayorial [terms] or careers as governor, but apparently she left Wasilla fairly bankrupt, and I have no idea what will be as far as this thing will go. Weeks and weeks ago I thought it was going to be McCain, and now I’m not so sure.
That’s the same thing I was feeling.
Yeah, I mean, I thought McCain was going to ratchet up the fear, which he tries to do. And I thought Barack was not going to be able to bring what he’s been bringing to the whole thing. And he’s surprised me, and I think the Wall Street thing was kind of a perfect storm moment for Barack.
It’s a bad situation, but it’s kind of looking better if you’re a Democrat in all of that because no matter what McCain says or who he tries to assign blame to, the Republicans and conservatives have a lot to answer for with the deregulation that brought us to that place. Of course there’s always people who will tell you that it’s the New Deal that brought us all to all of this, so that’s always going to be contested.
Do you feel like the audience is changing as the election is getting closer? Are you feeling different vibes off of them?
I’m not getting much of a feeling from the audience, though they’re showing up in wonderful numbers. It’s post-show when I talk to people outside you hear the concern. You know, how a lot of that stuff is really resonating with them. And a lot of people will be voting. I think at least one of the upsides of the Bush administration has perhaps polarized a lot of people in America, or perhaps polarized America, but it has gotten a lot of young people kind of off their asses to vote, which I think is a great thing.
I’ve never seen that happen in my time until now.
Yeah, and it took this. Well, since all of this is in the past now, as far as the two Bush terms. And we can’t undo it, it is nice to look for some good parts of it. And I think it got a lot of young people to realize [that] this is their country, this is their planet, this is their time and they really gotta weigh in. They can’t sleep on this. And that’s not bad, I’ll take that. ‘Cause there’s so much awful stuff to catalog the last several years and the more you look, actually, the more bad stuff there is to note. Like, a lot of non-congressional appointments that a president is allowed to make. When you see who is in some of these positions, it’s enough to make you howl.
No lie. I’m just now getting to where I feel like I understand the hippies a little better. Like, I’m starting to get what was happening in the 60s. I’m starting to feel it, with everyone talking about it all the time.
Yeah, absolutely. You see, uh, a lot of similarities in the protests and the rhetoric from both sides when you hear people talk about the invasion and occupation of Iraq. When you hear your Pat Buchanans and your Bret Humes and all of these conservatives, the rhetoric is the same. And there was so many people questioning and protesting the Vietnam War, you know, very vigorously [there were] a lot of cracked heads, you know, and you’re seeing the same kind of things being said now. You know, where presidents are getting the hard eye from the proletariat, and it’s interesting to see the same thing happening now. None of this is new. It goes in cycles, and at the end of the day people are people, you know, they protest and it’s interesting to be an American and have at least the Vietnam War as some perspective, and you know, hated presidents, like Nixon, to kind of run similarities between.
Yeah, no one can shut up about it and it feels good.
Yeah. You know, without a doubt, that you’re in the middle of something extremely important. You are part of it, you’re going to make a difference. I don’t think about how it will be judged later ’cause I’m too busy being in the present. But we are really cursed with interesting times at this moment.
When you’re reading all this news do you read something and think “Oh, I can’t wait to talk about that tonight”?
Sure! Yeah, there was some interesting moments in those [presidential] debates [that made me] so happy I had a gig that night. Or there was a night off during the vice presidential debates and I was in a gym on a treadmill listening to the debate with great interest. And I was making notes in my head the whole time I was listening and when it was over, I was like “Oh, I can’t wait for tomorrow.”
Henry Rollins started as the howling, robust frontman of legendary punk band Black Flag. Those who are familiar with Rollins’ vitality and exuberance won’t be disappointed in his spoken-word show. Deceivingly billed as “quintessentially American opinionated editorializing and storytelling,” the show is mostly smart stand-up comedy. The “spoken word” classification often implies a snooze-y presentation of pre-planned, carefully worded poetry, but Rollins’ show couldn’t be more different. He stalks the stage with the same energy and aggression once used for winding up jaded punkers, exploding on the audience with entertaining (and often hilarious) personal stories and tirades. The show is also political: Rollins doesn’t miss any opportunity to express his views and his convincing rants are not without intelligent points — “Dubya” supporters beware.
Fronted by feminist hero Exene Cervenka, X have been playing their own style of shaky punk rock since the late ’70s. While their lyrics describe horrors such as rape, abuse and Los Angeles, their surprisingly thick and melodic song structures are ripe with riffs that honor our rock & roll daddy, Chuck Berry. Henry Rollins will take a break from his main gig as witty cultural commentator to once again lead the Rollins Band in displays of sweating, gritty speed-rock. Don’t let his new status as a man of words and wisdom fool you, though — on stage he’s still the same blasting force we first encountered in Black Flag. Get to the east side early to catch Texas’ the Riverboat Gamblers and The Lou’s own 7 Shot Screamers.