Henry Rollins has been on the spoken word circuit since the early Eighties, at the same time he was more well known as the front man for L.A. punk band Black Flag. However, his version of spoken word isn’t about poetry or rhyming couplets. Instead, this well-travelled raconteur will expound his views on just about any subject tied in with his life as a musician, actor, writer and world citizen. He has more than put in his time touring with Black Flag, and his book “Get in the van” perfectly documents this period.
Tonight he starts by talking about the first time Black Flag came to the UK supporting The Damned. This moves onto how his band toured Sweden and played to a roomful of skinheads apart from four guys with long hair standing right at the front. These four guys wanted to meet the band at the end of the set and turned out to be just starting out in their own group called Metallica. This story turns into a tale about how at a Black Flag show in New York, a huge stage diver absolutely flattened a small woman who didn’t get out of the way in time. She eventually got up and walked away and the band always remembered the incident. She then approached them the next time they played in New York and met them before the gig to explain that she lost an eye that night and now had a glass one, but she didn’t blame them.
Rollins mentions turning fifty last year and how after 30 years on the road he’s come to accept that this is pretty much what he does, never having been married or having children. His stories range from being funny to political but the main thing is that they are always interesting. He talks about going to see an art exhibition by Captain Beefheart along with an old friend from L.A. which ends with him outside the venue bellowing lines from “Blue Velvet” at a visibly shocked Dennis Hopper who makes a quick exit while Matt Groening looks on with his young daughter.
The stories come in rapid succession, so we get to hear about his exploits buying a ladder and some stationery at Costco with Heidi one of his employees whom he nicknames “the demon”. This shopping excursion with its encouragement towards bulk buying and over excess ends with him reading aloud from George Bush’s biography in a bid to amuse or wind up the shoppers around him. He mentions filming some documentaries for National Geographic in India, where he went rat hunting with a group of men who insist that he helps kill, roast and eat the rats that he catches. He also gets to hang out with guys who catch and extract poison from venomous snakes, in an adventure that ends in a 3 hour bluesy church jam with people speaking in tongues and handling the live snakes which he describes as one of the best gigs he’s ever been to.
He delights in visiting countries that the American Government disapproves of, so he mentions traveling to Syria and Iran and going to North Korea to see the body of Kim Jong-il, describing the country as “bad food, very weak tea and propaganda”. He has also been to Vietnam a few times and relates his travels with a funny guide who constantly laughed at John McCain and how he ended up as a prisoner there. His final story involves buying huge amounts of soap and footballs to distribute to people living in tent cities in Haiti after the earthquake there. He explained that the trick was to find the unofficial leader of the tent city and negotiate with that person only, after causing a mini riot by handing stuff out to people by himself.
Rollins is on stage with these stories for two and a half hours, and personally I found him engaging and entertaining. Quick to impersonate the voices and mannerisms of the people he encounters, he keeps the stories moving along so you never feel bored. He says that he never stays at his L.A. home for too long as he gets bored and wants to book another trip somewhere almost as soon as he gets back. Last year Katie Price addressed students at Oxford Union but dried up and took questions after about 8 minutes despite being expected to give an hour talk. Not something that would ever happen to Rollins. He’s too interested in the world around him and as such has led a varied and interesting life. Always worth going to check out to see what he has to say.