At this point in Henry Rollins career (of more than 30 years, almost 10 of which have been exclusively dedicated to his well-known spoken word career) and life (he celebrated his 50th birthday last year), can we all pretty much agree that hes just as identifiable as a writer and orator as he is as the former lead singer of Black Flag and Rollins Band? The latter disbanded almost 10 years ago, and Rollins, in the press, has all but explicitly sworn off performing in a band ever again. He exerted no less physical effort than he did before–dressed in his signature all-black pants and shirt, sweating with extreme prejudice–during his show at The Capitol Theatre in Clearwater, FL, on Saturday night.
Its worth pointing out: This is who he is now. In the same way that Hunter S. Thompson was steeped in the hedonism and violent change of the 60s and 70s and Mark Twain was consumed by a rapidly changing America near the turn of the 20th century, Rollins propagates the written and oral tradition of the American D.I.Y./punk ethic and culture of the 80s American Indie Underground that Michael Azerrad documented in Our Band Could Be Your Life.
If the Twain comparison seems like a bit much, consider that on Saturday night, Rollins named his three favorite Americans of all time as Abraham Lincoln, Muhammad Ali, and Ian MacKaye, the latter being the founder of Dischord Records, Minor Threat, and Fugazi and one his closest friends since childhood. But which did he quote from at length? President Lincoln. Specifically from his 1838 address to the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois. Rollins long arc of explanation and quotation from the speech summarized that America, a country whose military could kill everyone in the world by lunchtime tomorrow, can only be defeated by its own hand.
If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher, Rollins quoted Lincoln. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.
In this moment, a mere seven minutes after Rollins took the stage with a very punk rock lack of ceremony (the pre-show, P.A. music didnt even cut until a few moments after he started speaking), he took on the air of a historical lecturer, making him the most intelligent punk rocker chattering out on tour today.
Rollins two-hour-plus marathon of monologue storytelling included light, affable touches on U.S. politics, deeply touching stories of youthful insecurity and desperate cries for help from his devoted fans, and his good-natured cultural exchanges. The latter was under a watchful National Geographic camera for Animal Underworld, his soon-to-air Nat Geo Wild TV program, as Rollins found himself eating smoked rat meat in Vietnam, mulling Fidel Castros legacy in Cuba, visiting Pyongyang, North Korea, wrestling alligators in Florida, and rocking out to 4/4, blues-based gospel rock with the snake-using faithful in the Penecostal foothills of Kentucky. They just kept coming and coming from the endless font of incredible, touching, and funny stories that is Henry Rollins. Anthony Bourdain, eat your heart out.
I am Zarathustra without the beard, Rollins said at the end of one of his yarns. I am Uncle Henry, I have spoken!