How does Henry Rollins stand there for two hours plus and do all this stuff- a non stop flow of talk that is funny, impassioned and full of sharp observations. There are no gaps, no ”Ëerms’, hardly any breathing in, just a concise tumble of words and brilliant observations that is captivating and inspiring and stands out a mile in a world that is so dumbed down that it’s grinding to a halt.
Rollins hits the stage at 8.00 sharp, not second earlier or later, dressed head to toe in black, pumped up. With his hair now grey and cropped he is the picture of Zen simplicity- no baggage, no extra weight, no useless extras.
He grabs the mic, wraps the lead round his wrist and it’s straight into the word flow. Standing there stark in front of a thousand people, Rollins covers everything from his world travels filming a series for National Geographic which saw him eating rats livers, hunting for poisonous snakes and travelling to the Rat Temple in India to his days in punk rock. He talks of his trip to North Korea, Tibet, Haiti and even a trip down to the local hypermarket in LA with his reptilian assistant- the wonders of the world through eyes scoured by punk rock.
It’s been a long and strange trip for Rollins, the former frontman of Black Flag, who cut some of the most intense records ever made, who toured America with gigs like a war zone. In the middle of the madness, a madness that saw Rollins with bedraggled hair, a Manson fixation and some of the wildest tattoos ever seen- the live performance was terrifyingly wild and utterly inspirational. Black Flag toured relentlessly and changed American rock, somehow in the middle of all this he found a talent for spoken word and it’s ended up being his main vehicle.
I remember the first time he did his spoken word in Manchester 20 years ago. It was quite different. A mixture of intensity with a lot of talk of his best friend Joe Cole recently getting shot dead by his side, there was some poetry and a stand off with some audience members who were invited on stage to ”Ësort it out’.
It was powerful, visceral and intense and spell binding.
Over the years I’ve seen him perform his spoken word many times and it’s changed.
For a start it’s got a lot longer, an amazing flow of words and wisdom with a lot of humour but making powerful points. The brooding physicality and danger that was part of his whole Black Flag thing is still there but channelled into this astonishing spoken word performance.
There’s a great bit in the middle when Henry sticks it to the Republican candidates fighting it out for the candidacy. He laughs at their strange freak show of candidates, it’s funny and scores good political points before he can’t help laugh at George Bush and his struggle with language, he does this every time but it’s always funny. The angle is of a proud American who is bemused by the way his country has been kidnapped by the bad guys.
Rollins is one of few sane voices out there. He has taken punk rock into all sorts of places its not allowed to exists in. He has learned that you can make your point by talking, that’s you don’t have to shout and scream to make people listen. The shouting and screaming was of course pretty good, perhaps the best ever but as you listen to him thunder though this vast range of subjects you really do listen and if it’s a rallying call for the liberals then that’s cool- there is hardly anyone else out there is there?