Murat Egyptian Room, 502 N. New Jersey St.
Thursday, March 6, 7:30 p.m., $21.50 advance, $24 day of, all-ages
Since fronting seminal punk outfit Black Flag in the 1980s, Henry Rollins has embarked on a variety of projects, making forays into film, television, radio and literature. He’s published several books, and although he downplays his literary talents, there’s little doubt he has a gift for imagery. (The avowedly single Rollins once commented that if he could find a woman who could get inside his head, he would “follow her on bloody stumps through the snow.”).
Lately, Rollins’ time has been exclusively preoccupied with his spoken-word tours, a performance style he’s indulged off and on since 1985, as well as his gig as host of his own interview show on the Independent Film Channel. He has no immediate plans to return to music.
“With a band, there’s so much that’s a ritual, where I can tell you exactly what I’m going to be doing for the next 10 months,” Rollins said. “I’ve done that so many times; the trail bears my imprint already … But it’s like when they asked Miles Davis why he doesn’t play ‘My Funny Valentine’ anymore, and he answered, ‘Because it’s my favorite song.’”
Rollins’ spoken-word performances are a mixture of stand-up comedy and personal storytelling, recalling the monologues of Spalding Gray or late-era Richard Pryor. This time around, he’ll be speaking mainly about his recent wanderlust. In 2007, he traveled to Iran, Syria and South Africa and was in Pakistan when politician Benazir Bhutto was assassinated. He’ll naturally also reserve some time for current events and domestic political issues.
“The black/white dynamic in South Africa is very informative, and there are a lot of parallels to the black/white dynamic in America,” he said. “Where you have these people who are crammed into tiny spaces with few resources, and five minutes from that spot are these beautiful eateries. And then of course there’s this continuing involvement in Iraq, this thing that never seems to be over.”
Although Rollins has been a vehement critic of the way the war has been conducted, he has performed for the troops via the USO program and visited maimed veterans in various military hospitals, rejecting the notion that you can’t oppose the war while meeting the social and medical needs of American troops.
“You hear that a lot on Republican talk radio, and I think it’s a great way of avoiding an argument,” he said. “It shirks any kind of critical thinking or intellectual response. There’s a huge swatch of Americans who hate this war but have no problem with the troops. The problem is we just don’t get the whole story. We’re poorly informed, and so we make decisions from fractions of knowledge.”
When Rollins was known primarily as a musician, he was notorious for turning the tables on reporters to make them appear foolish or uninformed. So it’s interesting to see the former punk rocker sit down on his IFC show to grill the likes of Marilyn Manson and Werner Herzog.
“I used to [turn the tables] a lot, basically whenever I felt I was being patronized,” Rollins said. “I’m not a rocket scientist, but I’m far from being the dullest knife in the drawer. If anything, becoming an interviewer has actually made me more critical of other interviewers, and how ill-prepared many of them are. These people trust that, by giving you an hour of their time, you’ll take them somewhere. Before I interviewed Gore Vidal, I dragged tons of interviews and re-read two of his books. It was to the point that when the time came, I could almost finish his sentences.”
Indeed, Rollins feels far more susceptible on stage during a spoken word performance than sitting on the interviewer’s couch.
“In a band, you’re not really aware of where everyone is,” he said. “You’re just trying to hear the snare drum to stay with the band. Spoken word is a lot quieter, and I feel a lot more vulnerable. It’s a lot easier for a drunk guy to bring the whole gig down. And you’re just like, ‘Please, man, just hate me later.’”