Shooting from the hip
Henry Rollins has spent most of his life channelling his anger into creative endeavours. It’s fitting, then, that he finds himself encouraging the youth of the world to do the same.
Rollins, the former front man of legendary Californian punk band Black Flag, has had many guises, but it is in his latest as spoken-word performer/motivational speaker/accidental comedian that he feels most comfortable.
‘I am really enjoying the talking shows,” says Rollins over the phone from a hotel room in Berlin. ‘Now more than ever actually.
‘I just get up there and tell you where I have been, what I saw and how I felt about it. Sometimes the comedy element finds itself,” says Rollins, before adding, ‘I don’t write jokes.
‘The show is me telling stories and it’s basically what I have been up to recently. I mean I travel a lot and my life is fairly eventful so I bring the reportage to the stage.”
Having spent the past weekend watching Rollins’s TV special, filmed for the Independent Film Channel during a recent tour of Israel, I can vouch that the comedy elements definitely take care of themselves.
But Rollins’s show has much more than anecdotal stories and humour; like the comedian Bill Hicks there is a fierce democrat on stage desperate to have an impact on his audience, desperate to poke and prod them into making a change for good.
When Rollins uses a touching story about an encounter with an injured American soldier during his work with the United Service Organisations to urge Israelis to do something about the continuing conflict with Palestine, he doesn’t come across as a preacher; it is an empathetic plea from a sincere humanist.
I ask him how a man so fiercely opposed to war and the Bush administration can travel the world entertaining the troops.
‘It’s quite simple for me; my beef is not with the troops,” says Rollins. ‘I mean for me to have a argument with the troops about the war is like having an argument with a police officer about the law; the cops don’t like the law and the army doesn’t start wars.
‘They are good people with a crazy job. Their job is every morning to leave the base and for the next 14 hours to try to not get killed.
‘Mission accomplished is when you get back to the dining facility at sundown; that’s the job,” he says. ‘So when you get political they are like, ‘Pal, I don’t know politics, I know don’t get killed.’”
Rollins says he is excited to be touring South Africa because he has never visited the country before, but also because he will be shooting another TV special in Cape Town for the Independent Film Channel.
‘I will be here for quite a few days around the shows,” he says. ‘I plan to drive around and see what I can see, see what I can learn.
‘I like to get information for myself; books are nice but there is nothing like walking through what Mark Twain termed ‘the territory’. I put a lot of value on what I bumped into; I walked over it, I smelled it and I saw it.”
Rollins says that after completing the second series of his talk show, the Independent Film Channel approached him to film an entire year of travelling TV specials. He jumped at the opportunity, even if he flippantly dismisses his work — ‘I am just happy they still want me around.”
With the US on the brink of some fairly serious political upheaval, it is good to know that entertainers such as Rollins are still out there voicing their opinions.
‘America at this point is dealing with some really hard decisions that we are going to have to make in the very near future; in terms of who are our friends, who are our enemies and what are we going to do with all these damn cars,” says Rollins. ‘It is going to be very interesting to see how quickly Americans get on the case and get proactive.
‘I think this particular president [George W Bush] really politicised people — you’re either all for him or all against him,” says Rollins. ‘I think on the whole this president has created a lot of good comedy and probably a lot of music.
‘The joke is his mauling of the English language, which serves itself up to the comedic stage and gives people like Jay Leno the first four minutes of his opening monologue almost nightly,” he says. ‘You can actually accurately quote the president and get laughs.”
So, if a veteran, outspoken, punk maverick who shoots from the hip and can make you laugh at the same time sounds like your cup of tea, make sure you catch Rollins on his South African tour.
Catch Henry Rollins live at the Bassline in Newtown, Jo’burg, on February 8 and at the Baxter Theatre in Rondebosch on February 10. Book at Computicket