Thursday, Oct. 9, 2008 | 2 a.m.
Henry Rollins spoken word
The original straight-talk express, Henry Rollins, is rumbling into town, and as always, he’s got a lot on his mind. Rollins, former lead singer for hard-core standard-bearer Black Flag, has long since refashioned himself as a post-punk pundit, a standup tragicomic, raging against the machine since 1982. He’s bringing his 42-city spoken word tour, called “Recountdown,” to the House of Blues tonight.
“Hoping that the bad times are almost over, I am taking advantage of the current situation to spend the last few nights of the catastrophic Bush administration onstage,” Rollins announced when setting out on the tour, which continues through Election Day, and might be viewed as almost a parallel campaign.
“Things will be so different after (Bush is) gone. For me, the new century will have finally arrived.”
Once (OK, many times) called “the angriest man in Los Angeles,” Rollins, 47, draws from a wellspring of dark rage and high ideals. With his bruiser build, fierce glower and gallery of tattoos, he used to seem sort of scary, but he’s really a gracious, generous, gentlemanly autodidact. Alongside his still-blistering solo music projects, Rollins has found manifold ways to channel his emotions and uncanny energy: He’s a poet with his own publishing company, he discusses film on IFC’s “Henry Rollins Show,” and he shares his favorite music, from Miles Davis to Bad Brains to Trouble Funk, on a radio show called “Harmony in My Head.” Sometimes he’s an actor (he just finished a Cuba Gooding Jr. movie he thinks will be called “Ice 44”) and has supplied his voice to video games including the title character in “Mace Griffin: Bounty Hunter” and plays himself in “Def Jam: Fight for NY.”
Rollins laughs after mentioning that he’s recently signed up to write a column for Vanity Fair magazine. “It’s just one more way to really piss off a lot more people.”
The well-read, well-informed Rollins has been touring America by van and bus for more than two decades, and his countrymen have always given him a lot to talk about onstage. After every show — after talking and shouting what he feels and thinks — the roles are reversed when Rollins meets with his fans at his tour bus. He shakes hands and signs stuff, but mostly listens to their tales and woes.
You can hear what he’s hearing and seeing and thinking as he crosses America via his almost daily diarylike dispatches at www.henryrollins.com. Rollins takes care to ensure that ticket prices for his show are kept affordable (the House of Blues gig is priced at a noticeably un-Vegas $20). And although he spends some of his stage time encouraging his audiences to vote, he refuses to tell people how he’s voting or whom to vote for.
“I think McCain will win,” Rollins recently told the San Francisco Bay Guardian. “I just think America will make the wrong choice again. After all, Democrats never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity — and Republicans cheat.” Last year’s tour was titled “Provoked,” and Rollins called this outing “Recountdown,” because, he says, these draining pre-election days are “just a countdown to the next recount.”
Rollins has been almost as famous for his physique as his fomentations, and he says he maintains his shape and sanity with a 10-mile run and a workout most days. He fondly speaks of his early D.C. days when he was at the vanguard of ideal-driven hardcore punk, alongside high-principled Fugazi frontman Ian MacKaye, still one of his best friends.
The thought occurs: These two are both men of the people, certainly more informed, articulate and compassionate than most politicians. Is it too much to hope for a Rollins-MacKaye ticket in 2012?
“I think I can do much more good in the private sector,” Rollins says, laughing quietly at the thought of himself as a candidate. “But if and when Ian is ever elected, I would run right alongside his limo.”