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Henry Rollins Spoken Word

Date: 12/4/2016
Venue: Crescent Ballroom, Phoenix, AZ
Report By: Jack Mangan


How can a grown man give a vigorous, enthusiastic, coherent, engaging talk for 2 hours and forty-five minutes without pausing for water - - or barely even for a breath? I'd never have thought it possible, but Henry Rollins performs this feat night after night in city after city on his spoken word performance tour. It's an incredible thing to experience in person, and not just for the chance to witness such a superhuman display of fortitude. Henry grabbed fame/notoriety by the throat as a young man, taking on the frontman role in legendary punk outfit, Black Flag, but has since become a media renaissance man, with a resume featuring an editorial column in a major-market periodical, acting roles in films major and indy, numerous TV appearances - - including his own talk show, and further musical projects - - including his own successful Metal/Hardcore Rollins Band and some high profile collaborations (like William Shatner!?).

Possibly his most important, impactful work, however, and the one that will best define his legacy, is his spoken word. It's not poetic verse or a one-man play. There's no music at all. Just straight, unapologetic, unfiltered talk. Henry is a great student and admirer of life, the world, and all of the wonders contained within, and this comes across in his speaking performances. Those who traffic in stereotypes might expect an aging punk icon's rants to be full of rage and offensive gutter language, but Rollins delivers grown-up, edgy banter without ever going there. He speaks with considerable intelligence, humor, and infectious energy about a broad number of topics, including the 2016 election (of course), getting older, his own eccentricities and insecurities, his world travels, his celebrity friendships and encounters - - including Lemmy, David Bowie, and Rupaul.

What makes the formula really work, beyond his universally likable, energetic personality and contagious lust for life, is his relatability. Rollins somehow perfectly melds a blunt, no-bullshit, no-excuses outlook with sensitivity and empathy, dismissing no persons or viewpoints, even those to which he's opposed (although he spares little respect for bigoted actions or words). He tells stories of his experiences and travels without coming across as your relatives boring you to death with their vacation slideshow. His intellect and brimming well of knowledge are strong elements of his act, but it never feels like a lecture. He delivers plenty of laughs, but never comes across as a comic delivering schtick; i.e., I laughed more throughout the night than I have for professional, actual comedians' shows. His humility and self-deprecating worldview are surprising and a little bit endearing.

He's accomplished some great things in his career, but he seems most impressed with himself on connections he's made with people, whether connecting with fans, making strangers laugh, or trolling religious zealots who've targeted him with their dogmatic posturing. He doesn't share these anecdotes as a braggart; he seems genuinely proud of, say, introducing a sheltered teen to the music of Iggy Pop, or pissing off some fundamentalist on a mission to convert him - - and he wants to tell you about it.

Every circle of teenage friends has a kid like Henry Rollins in the mix, whose boundless energy and youthful insecurities and out-there-ness sometimes grate on nerves and estrange them from the group. But the times spent hanging with those kids are invariably recalled with great fondness and affection, as all of the kids evolve and adjust into adults who are practiced in relationships and social adjustments. And if I could boil down one of his most vital messages, it would be just this: always strive to improve yourself and to see the beauty in the world and the people around you. Don't rely on governments or others to manage your happiness; own it for yourself. Through these principles and the positive little interactions humans share, then maybe the world can get just a little bit better.

Go see Rollins talk, the next time he comes to your area.


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