Unexpectedly wholesome: An evening with Henry Rollins
‘Evening’ is a word that conjures images of plush leather couches, crackling fireplaces and the unmistakable tinkle of ice floating around in a Lowball of scotch. But when your ticket stub reads “An Evening with Henry Rollins” your mind leaps away from this sedate scene. You expect to be affronted by the tangible white hot anti-establishment rage of a cynical ex-punk front man. You brace yourself for an angry layer of spittle to coat the front rows. You glance around at the other audience members eagerly awaiting the entrance of a vitriolic, tortured character. They’re pining for him to lament at ‘the system’, to rattle their self-made cage of quiet acceptance to the status quo. I mean that’s what people paid for, right?
When Rollins enters stage left he is smiling and holding onto a small notebook (a useless prop that he never glanced at) and over the next 2 and a half hours I am surprised to learn that the only scary thing about Rollins is the inhuman capacity of his diaphragm to continually push sound from his mouth. I’m not kidding, the guy didn’t even break for one sip of water. Rollins’ sure does have a lot of life experience to be drawing upon to make sure the sounds he is pushing out of his mouth were meaningful. Perhaps it was the negativity of many of these early experiences that coloured my perception of him as an angry red figure. He touched upon the violent patriotism, racism and misogyny that he saw firsthand from his father but steered clear of retelling the story when his close friend was shot and killed in front of him in an armed robbery gone wrong.
There is certainly some heavy material in the set. Although I may have expected a very angry and cynical man but Henry Rollins turned out to be more of an optimist and I found myself in a stand-up comedy show/spoken autobiography/inspirational lecture. Rollins bounced around from talking about a chance meeting with David Bowie, to his role as a neo-Nazi bikie in Sons of Anarchy. He spoke of his travels through the Middle East and South America through a lens of his fear for the environment and the triumph of ‘stupid traditional ideas’. He warned us about the pitfalls of asking ‘dangerous questions’ in the context of the impending (and largely reviled) marriage plebiscite. Although I agreed with the vast majority of what Rollins was saying, I couldn’t help but feel he was a bit ill-informed on some topics. In comparing American and Australian patriotism, he described our brand of national devotion as ‘harmless’, which I’m not so sure I agree with.
Underneath the thin veneer of faux self-flagellation stands a man who loves the sound of his own voice. I think I can forgive Rollins for his sometimes uneducated and often self-righteous pontifications for his performance alone. For a full 150 minutes of chatter, Rollins’ stance was as if his body couldn’t decide if it was going to take a hit or give one. At points, it even seemed like he was trying to beat himself up to inspire a laugh from the audience. And for a guy that touts to be accepting of his age – he sure does go on about every grey hair on his roguish head.
I found it interesting that Rollins viewed musicians (like Lemmy and Bowie) as his contemporaries. For me, Rollins has always been a performer, a showman before a musician. But for all the little niggling aspects that wormed under my skin, Henry Rollins gave a good show. People beamed and uttered things like “That was great, wasn’t it!?” “He can be profound when he wants to be!” as they navigated the cattle-like migration out of The Regal. Maybe I’m just giving a cynical take on something that was an often-times sincere account of someone trying to do good in the world and live by the core improve tenet ‘just say yes’.