IRATE LOOKS AT FIFTY Henry Rollins

The
erstwhile
Black Flag leader and moral
compass follower
braces for a big
birthday
and with a tour starting this week, another
go at the global stage. 

 

BY
PATRICK FLANARY

 

The
owners pleaded with the local punks to not show up early.

 

Yet
it was now up to the Tampa club to steer this collision course of a schedule,
one that paired a theatrical production with a hardcore show on the same stage
on the same night. Eight o’clock: The
Diary of Anne Frank
. Eleven o’clock: West Coast punk band Black Flag. All
is well until the tension finally shatters halfway through the group’s third
song, when a fan strikes the band’s roadie with a hammer.

 

The
25-year-old singer, eager to quell the excitement, dives into the mob of
rioters and returns the gesture with a fist. “Doesn’t that concrete feel good on your head,” Henry Rollins
heckles as he returns to the stage. The meeting of mohawks and mosh pits that
unseasonably cold Florida night in 1986 would set in motion the end of the
reign for underground punk kings Black Flag. The tour would be their last.

 

Decades
and worlds apart from his days as a bloodthirsty youth, Rollins remains robust
and, at 49, bloodthirsty as ever. He’s just a bit more forgiving now. When
Rollins reaches out to touch someone, it’s usually with a helping hand in a
foreign land. Rollins trots the globe, photographing corpses on the streets of
New Delhi, camping in the Sahara and watching New Year’s fireworks explode over
Senegal. “What I’m after is perspective,” he says. Perspective
reveals itself to Rollins in chilling forms
– it’s
meant searching for a bottle of clean water in Africa. Other times it’s
involved roaming entire cities devoid of traffic lights. 

 

“In
Bangladesh, anywhere you go everything seems to be destroyed,” says
Rollins. “I stood at this intersection and
whoa – way
too close for comfort. You say, ‘I’m really glad I wasn’t in that taxi.’ The walking is whatever the
oncoming vehicle will afford you. After a few days, just give me a sidewalk,
man,” he laughs.

 

Back
in his familiar world of concrete, pollution and L.A. traffic following a month
overseas, Henry Rollins returns to his habitat: the American stage. He’ll
perform his first domestic spoken word show of the Frequent Flyer tour Feb. 17 in Solana Beach. 

 

He
may have the ear of the coffee house crowd now, but he still bucks the man
better than anyone. Facing 50, Rollins realizes his post-Black Flag years of
writing poetry and selling it from a van has earned him the right to host
abrasively intimate fireside chats on whatever the hell bothers him. And while
he’s shed much of the brawn he packed on as hardcore’s tattooed frontman,
Rollins’ song remains the same: Fuck Authority.

 

“What
Henry does is present a natural emotional response to the demented
slaughterhouse of a world we live in,” says Jesse Michaels, leader of
defunct punk band Operation Ivy.

 

In
1981 Henry Rollins mirrored a feral Johnny Rotten, a tiger free from his cage
and loose in the recording studio where the thrashing shirtless beefcake often
emerged from the Damaged sessions
bloodied and bruised. It was Henry’s high: no booze, no needles, just the
regular, self-inflicted overdose of self-confrontation. Says Devo cofounder
Gerald Casale, “Henry looked like he could murder you, but he was in fact
a visionary gentle giant.”

 

In
2010 Rollins admits he can’t quit the stage, but guarantees he left his music
career behind in the last millennium.

 

“I
don’t wanna. I don’t wanna do the thing all over again,” says Rollins of
making music. “It’s something I’ve done so many times. I don’t know what
else I can do with peanuts. Artistically, it’s a checked swing. You’re not
risking too much.”

 

The
singer made an exception last year when he slipped into a studio and lent his
throaty voiceover to a friend’s project: the Flaming Lips’ recreation of Pink
Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon.
Flaming Lips leader Wayne Coyne remembers how an early-’80s Black Flag show
impacted the Grammy-winning psychedelic group. 

 

“We
saw him in the flesh confront that idea of, ‘I’m going to do my trip and I’m
going to force you to accept it,'” says Coyne. “And seeing him do it,
it changed us. I will always owe that to Henry Rollins.”

 

Still
the physical performer he always was, Rollins keeps his audience at ease by
keeping his feet on the stage at all times. “I’ve learned my knees don’t
have the same get-up-and-go,” he says as he considers his fiftieth
birthday, less than a year away.

 

“Hey,
it’s what happens after you turn 49. I live in Hollywood. I’m surrounded by men
my age who don’t want to believe that.”

 

Henry
Rollins’ spoken word Frequent Flyer Tour starts tomorrow night, Feb. 17, in
California, and runs to April 9 in Wisconsins.
Tour dates and sundry details here.

 

[Photo Credit: Maura Lanahan]

 

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