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The Damage Done
By Bill Ketzer

Henry Rollins
The Egg, Feb. 2

A cynic would gaze around the Egg’s Hart Theatre and determine that probably only one-tenth of the crowd ever owned Black Flag’s Damaged. The truth is, it doesn’t matter. Piece by piece, Henry Rollins has tirelessly forged a new career (and a new fan base) for himself in the spoken word, in the difficult art of effective—and hilarious—social criticism and commentary. It stands apart, despite the vital linkage to his history as one of hardcore’s most explosive personalities. Any man who can hold your undivided attention for almost three uninterrupted hours has something special, especially when he arrives with nothing but his own experience to offer and everyone else arrives, typically, with pretty serious expectations.

It is easy to overanalyze the guy—the Internet is filled with scathing and rather oblique assassinations of his character. A writer for The Stranger even had enough time on her hands to compare Rollins’ philosophy on living to Ayn Rand’s vision of self-fulfillment, accusing them both of selfishness and prattling on about how Hank apotheosizes physical and mental strength while taking breathtakingly conservative views of modern life despite couching such views in leftist rhetorical phraseology. How sad. She probably wrote that on a Saturday night, too.

To most in the Egg last Sunday, however, it was clear that we weren’t expected to agree implicitly with everything the man said, but rather to use his stark powers of observation as a springboard, a staunch kick in the think tank. Rollins is the type of guy who makes you appreciate your friends and want to learn more about your enemies. Yes, the routine is part stand-up, part inspirational diatribe and part political rant, but there is little evidence of a deliberate “Rollins Agenda,” or the quibbling of a fascist bully/jock. It’s more like listening to one of your friends go off at a kegger. For three hours.

Rollins is in a unique position, one that can immediately win the trust and adoration of real fans of music. He is well-traveled, observant, and self-deprecating without being annoying, and has lived the hard life that no one wants but most respect. He is one of the few able to think and subsequently live outside the classical concept of genre, at once provoking and relentless. Due to his status, he often finds himself backstage, on TV or invited to some industry gala, but his interactions with his heroes are never artist-to-artist, but rather awkward, flailing-fan-making-ass-of-self-meets- cultural-rock-icon, which on any given day is Joe Strummer, Johnny Cash, Black Sabbath or Slayer. His emotional identity with music and certain musicians is so intrinsic to the fiber of his being that you want to go home and listen to every piece of vinyl you’ve ever owned. You cannot help but leave inspired, thirsty for the heroes of your youth.

The former punk frontman has a lot to say. His ability to marshal such a large routine into coherence is uncanny, essentially accomplished by a constant digression/ subject-recall methodology. He never forgets his place or point despite the range: Winona’s kleptomania, the Ramones, Jay Leno, Rite-Aid, America’s obsession with mediocrity, Duke Ellington, early concert experiences in D.C., Kathy Ireland, Hollywood’s über-strippers, sexless music like Sting and U2 (“The Clash was everything U2 wanted to be,” he said), Sharon Osborne, angry staffers, eBay, star-studded L.A. parties, the importance of a crippling work ethic, and why punk-rock music today is made mostly by “well-adjusted white people.”

He knows how to ask the right questions. Why does Anna Nicole Smith work for us? How does the rest of the world see us? What is our concept of “the enemy?” And while like George Carlin his political material begins to get a little top-heavy toward the end, its burrowing seed has nonetheless been planted. We kill ourselves each year with cigarettes, alcohol, guns and fast food at a rate of up to 25 times the death toll of the World Trade Center, and then we try to hold the companies we buy them from liable. “Terrorism hasn’t got anything on us,” he said. “Bring it on, Osama.” Oh, he paints it up into funnier contexts, but the truth is, he’s talking about us. We are the smokers, the drinkers, the fast-food consumers, the unconditioned fatsos that our troops are being sent to die for. To me, that was the real State of the Union.

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