Legendary rocker speaks out
For the past 22 years, Henry Rollins has been best known as the visceral front man of the Rollins Band as well as legendary L.A. hardcore punk outfit Black Flag. Besides his longstanding career in music, his lesser known talents include author, actor and his 20-year side project of animating the spoken word on stages across America and the world over.
Rollins" spoken word tour will stop at the Murat Theater Egyptian Room this Thursday, Jan. 24.
What defines Rollins" talent is his ability to apply his unique perspective to everything from extraordinary occurrences to everyday life situations with frightening intelligence and self-deprecating humor. A recent interview with Henry yielded several hilarious anecdotes, an intense and astute discussion on the history and future of music and a look into the mind of one of the most uncommon and multifaceted artists of our time. On the philosophy of the spoken word tour
"Of all the stuff I do and all the different little medias I play around in, I think it"s the one thing I"m good at. It"s the one that comes the most easily and naturally to me. I don"t rehearse anything. I"m good at thinking on my feet and rendering thoughts clearly and articulating myself in a live situation. It could be partially from a love of the English language, the love of ideas and 20 years of being onstage. There"s nothing like doing something a lot to get good at it. By the time I"m 50, if I make it that long, I"m going to be somebody"s amazing uncle. That is what my spoken word show is about. For me it"s just a campfire." On getting started
"There was a guy in Los Angeles promoting shows, Harvey Coopernick, where you had five minutes onstage and he"d pass 20 people on the stage in a night. Musicians, poets, performance artists Ö and I would go to these gigs and see these people I knew. There"s Exene from X or there"s Jeffrey Lee Pierce from Gun Club or some poet guy reading two poems - which is about as many poems as I can take from a poet. Five minutes of any poet is fine, but six minutes, "Let"s kill "em!" "One night Harvey said, "Why don"t you get up there?" I was just like, what am I gonna do? He said, "I dunno, it"s your five minutes." I told him no and he told me they were paying 10 bucks and then I was like, "Oh, then yeah." So I got up there [and] a few people recognized me as the Black Flag guy and I told a story and people were pretty blown away. I was like, "Gotta go, time"s up," and they were like, "No!" People were coming up to me after asking when my next show was. I told them there wasn"t another show and they kept saying you should do more of those shows where you"re just talking. So all of a sudden, under the same promoter, I"m opening up for local poets and then, much to their dismay, the local poets started opening up for me. They were older, beatnik types. They didn"t like it. By 1985 I was doing shows in America and in Europe and it went steadily from there. Now it"s a 20 country thing that goes all over the world." On hypothermia
"I fell asleep in the back of a gear truck. We were driving straight north into Canada where it was minus 40 or 50 degrees at night. Something in me woke up saying, "Urgent! Urgent! Danger, Will Robinson!" and I opened up my eyes to see a six pack of 7UP near my head frozen solid and all had exploded open. I realized I was in a very bad place and that I can"t breathe. My lungs feel like they"re breathing oatmeal. So I wrenched myself up underneath all of these blankets and I pulled the drummer"s carpet over myself. I started running around the inside of the truck while it was moving, banging into stuff trying to get my circulation going. I was smashing myself into stuff trying to work out the stiffness in my body. What it took to get me out of there and get up was pure adrenaline. It was really intense. I cracked open the rear rolling door of the back of the truck and I could see one of our vans following, a girl named Kyra was driving. I put my hand out and waved and she went ahead of the truck and waved them to the side and they pulled me out of there and put me in a van that had a heater. I figured it out later and thought oh, that was hypothermia. I"ve been in a handful of intense situations like that and I"ve conducted myself quite admirably in some and less than in others." On creativity and maturity
"The older you get Ö you can go two ways. You can sell that out for what you can or you can throw out six months of writing if you know that was bullshit and start over. You now have to search through yourself looking for a needle out of a haystack rather than picking apples off a tree when you were younger. When you"re 20 and the girl leaves it"s good for at least six songs. You think you"re going to die. Now when the girl leaves it"s a Tom Waits record, a cup of coffee and a walk. A long sit in the backyard hoping she"s OK without the "Fuck you, bitch." That"s a young man"s thing and it"s great for 30 pages of bitter vitriol. Two hundred girlfriends later you realize I was at least as much a part of that break-up as she was. She"s not some evil psycho, she"s a human being and life goes on." On the current state of music
"There are these really nice guys with really nice faces, with nice voices and nice hair gel who can dance and they make those really well-written and produced singles. And from that the upside is a bunch of little girls will go, "Yay!" and Sony buys Uruguay Ö again. The downside is no more Duke Ellingtons, no more Nat King Coles. That"s like making music into porno. These new bands have to sell 300,000 or 400,000 copies of their first record so they"ll be able to do a follow-up. How"s that going to make anybody good with that kind of pressure? With music these days, you hear the music and these bands and it"s not the altar anymore. The stage is no longer the altar. The guitar is no longer the sacred thing. The song is no longer this brave and beautiful passage. It"s well-adjusted kids making music. At least it sounds nice and well-adjusted and thankfully I have a choice not to listen." On the unseen underside
"People are like, "Wow, it must be nice," but you see the effect without seeing what got me up there, which aren"t always the prettiest memories. You don"t see all the incredibly boring grunt work that goes into that cool book you have in your hands or how many hours of editing and how many sleepless nights went into making that record that just sits in the ass pocket of your jeans. It"s just a CD. You can buy it and throw it away, but for the band that made it, it was a cow. I don"t care if you"re Rob Zombie, John Mellencamp or Sum 41, no band has an easy time making a record. It"s a bitch. All that stuff looks good on the outside, but with the ungrateful bystander who"s like, "It must be nice, dude," that person would most likely run back to their day job if they saw my schedule. All you see is the cool car. That is the mindset of people who work for the weekend, who work for a paycheck. My work is my life. I don"t put a dollar price tag on it; I do it to breathe." On making journalists cry
"I made one hyperventilate and nearly pass out at a Pearl Jam show years ago. I saw him and I said, "Oh I remember you. You"re the guy who said I was a heroin addict. Man, should I drop you here before Pearl Jam or should I wait? You know what I"ll do. I"ll go home and make sure I have the article straight because I don"t want to be killing you for no reason. So next time if you see me and I"m running at you, know that is what you said or if I come at you with a handshake you didn"t say that, but for now I"m going to let you slide because there"s a lot of people here." The guy turned beet red. I went home and looked it up and sure enough the guy said I was just getting off heroin. The lesson: Don"t say that stuff and not be able to back it up. Intellectualism pales in comparison to a left hook and the way to get through pseudo intellect is to have a hold of someone"s windpipe. When I was young and I"d read a bad review, I"d want to go to his house and dust him off. Not dragging yourself to their level thing speaks volumes to me now. What"s important? What journo boy thinks of the free CD he got in the jiffy pack or what I"ve got to do tonight at 8 o"clock on that stage?" The Spoken Word Tour will be making a stop at the Murat Theater Egyptian Room this Thursday, Jan. 24. The 8 p.m. show features cabaret seating. Call 239-5151 for more information.