Henry Rollins. Where do I even begin with how much I admire this amazing human being. If it weren’t enough already for his simple influence on punk rock in Black Flag or his amazing “Get in the van” book by his own 2.13.61 publishing company.; a diary of touring over 8 years eating dog food, getting spit on and much more, but Hank has continued to inspire since the 80′s. From spoken word tours, to books, to radio dj spot on KCRW, to contributing writer to LA Weekly, etc. I’ve been fortunate to see other spoken word events and have met him a few times over the past 15 years. I regret not joining my friends in 1991 when the Rollins band played the first Lollapalooza, along with Body Count/Ice T, NIN and Janes Addiction.
The beauty of Henry Rollins is that you never know what he is going to speak about and often it’s just a set of his life’s stories, and what a life it is. This guy averages over 100 shows a year in 20+ countries around the world and I believe has maintained that over 30 years. The most admirable thing about Henry is that he is not some pompous rock star who is going to make you sit around and wait to see him, although he jokes about traveling around in a “Bon Jovi” mobile. Nope! Henry is going to be on time, every single time and he is going to give you 110% of his energy. This time, he started at 8pm and ended at 10:30pm; 2.5 hours non-stop of speaking. Not 1 drink of water! Not 1 movement of more than 3′ from his centered position! 110% intensity – sweating profusely as if he were an athlete giving it everything he’s got and yet, all he was doing was speaking. Henry even jokingly commented saying how he hasn’t even took a drink of water because if he did, he wouldn’t want to then look up and see people leaving. He loves the crowd too much!
The first thing you notice is how much thinner Henry is than in years past. I don’t think he’s concerned about pumping iron and maintaining that massive neck anymore. Being a vegetarian has no doubt thinned him down. Regardless, he looks about 30-40 lbs lighter and quite healthy for 51 years old.
Rollins took the crowd through countless stories starting with his feelings about watching the Presidential debates, his despise of Republicans due to their misogyny, his appreciation for Obama, etc. Henry spoke about his favorite President Abraham Lincoln and pictured how differently our country might be had Lincoln not been assassinated. He regurgitated literally word-for-word very specific parts of our constitution and amendments as if he knew them like the back of his hand. Heck, even if he flubbed a section or two, the audience wouldn’t have even noticed as they were to fixated on his intensity and the delivery of his words in typical “angry” Rollins fashion.
Next was the story about growing up with parents who weren’t that supportive; dad was a racist. His step-brother would pick on him and torture him from time to time. Kids at school made it hard for him to fit in. He was on Ridelin to keep him from not being so spastic. But once he found PUNK ROCK, he knew he had found something really special. This became his outlet!
Next, were crazy stories about the various people who write to him or meet him in person and leave him with the incredible responsibility to respond or do something in real time. Being who he is, he always does! Whether it was the family who lost a relative in war or the little girl who sent a nude photo of herself asking if she was pretty, Rollins responded with thoughtful compassion and wisdom.
Another great story was the time he visited a village in Africa and he always likes to spend time with the children. One day he decided to pick up one of the kids and toss them in the air. This excited the children so they all stood up and formed a line. Rollins said the line felt like it was a mile long. With his strength, the first 50 kids were no problem. But after 1 hour, he was exhausted but knew he couldn’t let them down – he needed to lift them all who waited. Finally, one one of the ladies from the orphanage said, “STOP. You can’t keep doing this. You are going to hurt yourself. Besides, every kid has already been through the line 3 times.” HILARIOUS!!!!
Next was the story of being in Haiti after the earthquake and wanting to help out but then causing more chaos by being a stupid westerner and not recognizing that sometimes you can do more damage. The story goes that Henry wanted to visit the tent cities but his driver Jimmy would not take him. After much debate, Jimmy decided to take him to the outskirts of town, which was still very dangerous. Henry stepped out of the vehicle and started taking photos of the city below him. It wasn’t long before some locals speaking in their native creole started getting mad. Finally one of them spoke in english and asked why he was humiliating them by taking photos. Henry decided to run down the muddy hill to apologize, which probably wasn’t the best decision but he felt it was the right thing to do. After 15 minutes of yelling, he asked Jimmy to translate stating, “I just want to help. What can I do to help your community right now.” They replied, “We could use some soap to clean up and some soccer balls for the children to take their minds off of things.” Henry said, “No problem. Give me a few hours.” They just looked at him like “Yeah right, you aren’t coming back.” Well, they definitely didn’t know who they were messing with. It wasn’t but 4-5 hours later and Henry shows up and starts handing out hundreds of little soaps and soccer balls. The problem was that he didn’t expect the violence of people fighting over a little $.08 bar of soap; literally men punching women to get the soap… kids getting trampled over… etc. Finally the leader of the village comes to speak to Henry and confront him about how things should work. Basically, if one is going to help, then they need to give the goods to the leader, who will then disburse them peacefully. Rollins again apologizes and says how he just wants to help. For the next few days, Henry returned to that tent city every single day to deliver more soap and soccer balls. Henry said that in those moments, “What a humbling experience to see people fighting over a little $.08 bar of soap. It just really puts your own blessings in perspective.”
Another great story that Henry referenced was being in an airport at 6am and some guy yells super loud, “Look at the Dike on a Bike” on the TV screen. Throughout the spoken word, Henry kept reminding the crowd that he was confident that this crowd wasn’t the type of “Dike in the Bike” mentality. More so, he knows all to well the very open minded crowd who comes to his shows… yearning for passionate inspiration.
While I am now drawing a blank on many of the other stories, it’s irrelevant. What one ultimately wants from a Rollins show is to just walk away knowing that we can all do better in this life. Rollins didn’t need to tear anyone down or talk negatively, he simply stated, “we need to get down the road.” How we do that is by not being cowards; informing each other, having conversations, debating, being positive, etc.
After the show, despite the rain, I got an opportunity to meet up with Henry and say hello and take a photo. A friend of mine was behind me and jokingly referenced “Hey, Henry. This is my 3rd time in line.” Henry, with no emotion in his face say’s, “Oh, okay.” Then my friend feeling awkward about it says, “I was just referencing your line earlier.” Again, Henry just looked at him with a stone cold face. My friend, now feeling even more awkward says, “Well, thank you for the job you do.” Henry pauses. He then proceeds with sincerity to say, “It’s a BIG job, but I’m glad to do it.” In that moment, we knew we were truly standing next to an incredibly genuine, humbled human being who was doing exactly what he was meant to do in this life.
I walked away that night knowing that I too can do more. And I will. It starts here with sharing this story.