Sunday, August 28
Those famous images of musicians giving it their all – locked in one with their instrument – John Coltrane with the saxophone stuck to his lips, Eddie Van Halen with his back arched but fingers hovering over the fretboard, Buddy Rich’s arms a blur of a whirlwind above the cymbals…let’s add another: Henry Rollins, one leg just in front of the other, shackled to a microphone, its cord in a loose loop hanging lifeless from the throttle of his fist. There’s no real proof that the microphone isn’t plugged directly into a vein in Rollins’ arm – for to hear him speak – fast, furious and funny – for two hours straight is akin to watching one of the great musical soloists. A virtuoso.
Rollins may appear to talk about himself for a living – or part of his living, he’s also, as he traces around, a sometime actor, former musician, writer, documentarian, and lease-holder of an ethos that propels him to work, to accept job-offers, to hunt out adventures, but anyone who walks away, punch-drunk and elated, from one of his talks and doesn’t see and feel and hear the spirit of not only a great modern-day philosopher but also a fervent humanitarian has missed the point entirely.
Rollins begins this sermon with an apology – he knew America was full of right-wing idiots and cracker nut-jobs, he just didn’t know quite how full. He talks Trump, but only briefly, his forced choice at the upcoming election between Chump Trump and Robot Hilary is part of his opening and ultimate conclusion: that America is broken. The fix? Well it’s about finding the good guys. That’s you and me apparently. People who are on this earth to, hopefully, be kind to one another.
So through a potted history of Rollins’ life – from the day job selling ice-cream to acting out his punk-rock dreams, and then meeting heroes (entertaining yarns tonight about David Bowie and Johnny Ramone in particular) through his bit-part roles in the movie Jack Frost and the TV show Sons of Anarchy we hear about the tiny but real and important human connections. From hearing a biker-bogan break down over the loss of his wife (their favourite shared movie was Jack Frost) to being a voice at the end of an email for an abused teen with nowhere to turn, Henry Rollins is the ultimate symbol of something really quite extraordinary. A person prepared to put themselves out there to listen. Actively listening. Seeking opportunities to listen.
He has so much to say only because he has done so much listening, only because he cares so much. Hank is a hero and though tonight’s tight two-hour set makes me think he’s starting to slow down there’s so much heart and hunger left, so much vitality to his soul.
This review first appeared in The Dominion Post and online at Stuff here