Henry Rollins at Fitzgerald Theater, 9/27/12
Fitzgerald Theater, St. Paul
Thursday, September 27, 2012
Henry Rollins' spoken word appearance at the Fitzgerald Theater on Thursday night was funny, sad, tense, energetic and probably at least mildly offensive to some. (His repeated use of the word "faggot," used while illustrating his intense dislike of homophobes -- his own father included--led to a few audible gasps from the crowd.)
Henry Rollins! The column
It's tough to encapsulate three hours of a man standing on stage speaking non-stop into a small gathering of words. Especially when the words he used while speaking were so rich with imagery and represent a man so in love with life. It almost demeans the performance to explain it in a broad overview.
Rollins is touring the country with a spoken-word show titled Capitalism, making pit stops at all 50 state capitals, which will culminate in a final show in Washington, D.C. the day before the U.S. presidential election. His opening passage acknowledged that though he undoubtedly has Republican fans and while he doesn't agree with their overall viewpoint, they have an absolute right to it. But he thinks current GOP nominee Mitt Romney is a poor representative for them and their cause. From there he moved into his general confusion at America's fascination with being "rugged."
"Americans aren't rugged in any capacity. We have running water and indoor plumbing and amenities," he stated. "Walking five miles to get water from a malaria-infested stream so your kids can have water while hoping you didn't just give them a deadly bout of diarrhea -- that's rugged." Rollins slapped at the fact that the Donner party is held in such high reverence for their supposed ruggedness, as well. "They weren't rugged, they were stupid and had bad maps. Overall, I'd rather be smart than rugged."
From there Rollins was off to the races with his now-trademark minutes-long tangents built off of small points in larger stories and ultra-personal anecdotes that don't always paint him as the hero. He verbally spars with Toby Keith via media outlets on a regular basis. He's chosen Abraham Lincoln as his surrogate father and follows his philosophies and ideas closely. He is still best friends with punk rock legend (and notoriously opinionated malcontent) Ian Mackaye.
A passage soon after found him fearlessly deconstructing his own legend, hilariously recounting a time in the early '80s, Rollins standing broke in a West Hollywood 7-11 contemplating the weight and density of two candy bars -- only one which he could afford -- and suddenly witnessing a frightening confrontation between two transvestite prostitutes ("rent boys," as he called them) and two ultra-macho pseudo-cowboys. The rent boys won the battle and Rollins found himself huddled in the candy aisle, just trying to avoid getting caught in the verbal crossfire that threatened to become physical at any moment.
The story took a somber turn, though, as he wondered aloud what may have happened to those to rent boys. "Did AIDS get them? Did drugs? Did a client turn on them? Are they okay?" He will never know, of course, and was well aware of that fact. He still lives near that 7-11 and said he thinks about the incident every single time he drives by it.
He also recounted his time spent in Pyongyang, North Korea on a visa he had apparently spent years securing. He had two tour guides one nice, one not so, ("Oh I see, we're going to play good spy/bad spy," he joked in reference to their respective demeanors.) The trip had been carefully laid out by his handlers and he said the mechanics involved in visiting the tomb of Kim Il-sung were so overblown they almost couldn't be described in words. He visited Port-Au-Prince after the horrific earthquake there and said the things people wanted most from him after he offered help were simply soap and soccer balls for their children.
And finally, it came around to the beginning, though he had touched on the point at various times throughout the night: all people really want is food, water and a better life for their kids, the rest is just gravy. We owe it to ourselves and to our kids to work to make this world better and need to do something about it now. Rollins is a man who is still, after all his 51-year-old eyes have seen, willfully surprised by the world and is relentlessly hopeful about the people populating this planet. He has taken his DIY, punk rock philosophy and turned into both a brand and a fairly admirable, enviable way of life. He sees the good in everything and seems to regard every interaction as a learning opportunity. This world would be a much better place if we followed his lead.
Critic's Bias: Seeing Rollins in a setting like this was an eye-opening experience, to say the least. He does not mince words and takes a clear stand on things while not letting his stand interfere with anyone else's. His ability to talk non-stop at great length is nothing short of astonishing.
The Crowd: Surprisingly sparse (it was maybe half-full at most) and full of guys in Black Flag gear.
Random Tidbit: Rollins apparently gets emails from fans almost every day asking for his help or advice on a great many subjects. It's oddly comforting that people will turn to him for help, as he pulls no punches while at the same time is encouraging and whip-smart.
Notebook Dump: He fears fast food more than he fears war.
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