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.
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
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.
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,
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.
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
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.