Rollins comes to town and wants you to listen
The first time I saw Henry Rollins was in a record store in Eindhoven. In Bullit at Stratumseind a broad-shouldered man, his head slightly bent forward, let his hands go through a CD-tray ( in real life he was smaller than he looked on pictures and videoclips). In every city where he performed, he was the first to browse the local record stores. That was no different now. This was the place he liked to be. He preferred the company of music (and books) to that of people. In the latter he only got disappointed sooner or later. Moreover, he quickly felt uncomfortable in the company of others. And although Henry is now in a better place with himself, these are two things that haven't changed very much.
It was the afternoon before a performance of Rollins Band in De Effenaar, now about 20 years ago. The support act had cancelled at the last minute (because they thought the stage was too small or something like that, nobody heard from them since) so the Rollins Band played for an hour longer. Three hours of hardcorish hardcore. The experience was an intense one. He doesn't sing anymore (delivering his words in a kind of hardcore Sprechgesang) - Henry considers himself a pensionado in that field now - but he still talks. Yesterday in Paradiso two hours and 45 minutes non-stop. About America and the hair of Donald Trump, the meaning of David Bowie, the phone call of Lou Reed ("my DNA recognized that voice before my brain did"), punkrock, Motörhead (the only rock band with long hair that deserves the punkrock-seal-of-approval) and the friendship with Lemmy (the first Englishman since Shakespeare who uses the verb "trammel"). Further on about global warming, listening to Raw Power by The Stooges on Antartica while the music barely rises above the sound of mating penguins, about what makes humans resilient and the soundtrack of your life as a basic need.
And Henry Rollins strings all that together without taking a single breath. Wow.
To what extent he takes the liberty in his, often hilarious, anecdotes to let reality go where the drama or plot line is best served, I don't know. About his meeting with David Bowie ("Rollins!" "David!") he tells that Bowie quotes statements Rollins has made in interviews and he seems to feel uncomfortable with that. Shy of the attention he gets from a rock star he admires, or maybe the fear that he gets caught up in things that have been said that turn out to be contradictory? Did Lemmy really find that tour case in his own room, unopened, after five years? From Rollins, and especially his books "Get in the van (on the road with Black Flag)", "See a grown man cry" and "Black Coffee Blues", I learned that writing can lend itself perfectly for exorcising your own demons and sorting out the mess in your head. "Get in the van" kept me awake at night. That book is like a modern Heart of Darkness; young man leaves his familiar surroundings and searches in the ever changing environment of a band on tour for an anchor in himself. "The irreversibility of one's own choice" should have been the book's subtitle as far as I'm concerned. If you've just left school, are looking for a job and a destination in life, that message hits home. There were days when I hardly dared to touch the book. Afraid of the all-consuming insights that were waiting for me in it. With his natural talent for drama, Henry Rollins always knew how to tell a story. Years later, the founder-guitarist of Black Flag, Greg Ginn, would say disparagingly: "Henry complains a lot. Acting like it was Vietnam or something. You're in a fucking rock band!" On the other hand, Henry thinks Greg doesn't like him because he's more successful.
Every artist, including those who have a strong autobiographical approach to their work, eventually adopts a more or less self-mythologizing image of themselves (you don't have to be David Bowie for that). To the total work of art that is life, one like to add some extra colours. It doesn't detract from the gravity of Henry Rollins' spoken words. You stay enthralled for the full duration of the show. All killers and no fillers! Rollins is, even without a band, still hardcore. And the energy of his spoken word performance leaves you in a much better mood than the hour-long exposures to his musical output did. Output in which his lyrics were dressed up with hardcore guitars and drums. Lyrics in which he, as vocalist of Black Flag and Rollins Band, invariably sought the confrontation with himself. A confrontation he often brought beyond the point of redemption. What initially had a liberating effect - the search for a grip and the separation of sense and nonsense - left you eventually without room to breathe and carved the same frown in your forehead as Rollins himself had.
"It's that you have to get out of bed early tomorrow morning to go to work (on your bike - respect! - when I take the bike to the nearest supermarket in Los Angeles, I arrive five days later) otherwise I would have talked for seven more hours." And thank you. Talking to him in the end - like rain in August, your line in front of the counter going slower than the line next to you and your rock heroes dying in January - is part of the natural state of things. And we, the audience, watch and hear it with the amazement and admiration that befits witnessing a natural phenomenon.
The energy of Hank caused me to need some serious cups of black coffee to wake up the next morning. Falling asleep was somewhat frustrated by the equivalent of the 10 cups of black coffee of words that speech waterfall Rollins had poured in my ears the night before. Where a normal person has a mouth he has a machine gun nest. I needed several Black Coffee Blues moments before I got to work the day after the night before.
He may have given the music to it. In addition to spoken word performances, writing, photographing, publishing books and travelling, he sometimes acts in a film. Henry Rollins is very enthusiastic about the film Gutterdämmerung in which he plays a few roles and which will visit pop stages and festivals next summer. The intention is that a live band will perform a soundtrack to the movie. I don't dare to predict if that will be fun any longer than the three minutes this trailer lasts, but it does look, uh, übercool. To conclude with.