With the presidential election just around the corner, what better time for Henry Rollins to come to town? The musician, actor, comedian, and TV and radio show host is known for spouting insightful diatribes like: “Clinton and Trump are what you get when millions of people are not all that interested in the future of the country they live in.”
Yeah, that’s the stuff.
But don’t think you’ll get bogged down with misanthropic political rhetoric. Rollins’ spoken word performances provide a wide range of entertainment, combining stand-up comedy with introspective storytelling. However indefinable, these shows are 100 percent Henry Rollins: the energized, assertive Renaissance man who unapologetically says what he thinks. And he’ll be letting it all hang out tonight at the Charleston Music Hall.
Rollins came to prominence in the early 1980s as the lead singer of the hardcore punk band Black Flag. The band’s live performances were high-energy to say the least, with the charismatic Rollins taking center stage, shirtless, sweating, and often times bloodied (he was known for getting into physical altercations with crowd members). Following years of relentless touring, in-band turmoil, and a constantly evolving sound, the band broke up in 1986, though they did leave an indelible imprint on the punk music scene and are still highly regarded to this day.
Rollins’ next musical endeavor was the eponymous Rollins Band. The group, which played eclectic styles ranging from metal to post-rock to funk, was made cohesive by Rollins’ signature vocal style and commanding stage presence. They eventually called it quits in 2006.
But throughout his musical career, Rollins’ spoken word performances have endured. “I have been doing talking shows since 1983,” says Rollins. “I was doing them all through Black Flag. In the 1990s and 2000s, I would do a band tour and then go around the world again on my own.”
As for why the music stopped, the answer is pretty simple. “Many years ago, I had no more lyrics and so I stopped doing music,” says Rollins. “The last thing I want to do is go reanimate the past every night for entertainment purposes. I would rather keep moving forward and risk failure.”
Apparently it’s worth the risk. Rollins has had a successful career as a spoken word artist releasing over 15 albums and keeping a steady touring schedule, packing venues across the globe.
He doesn’t seem to mind the extra work of a solo act. “The talking shows are much more difficult but I prefer them to collaborative efforts,” says Rollins. “The fact that I am alone up there, that is a bigger idea to me than being in a band, which is great of course but in my experience, much easier to do.”
Rollins’ insatiable interest in American politics has led to opportunities as a columnist for LA Weekly and as a contributor for Huffington Post and Vanity Fair. But Rollins takes this passion a step further, regularly performing for the troops overseas. “Soldiers don’t start wars. They only fight them,” says Rollins. “Getting mad at the military for a war is like yelling at the guy behind the counter at the airport when your flight is canceled.”
Rollins has done multiple tours abroad, spending weeks at a time in U.S.O camps talking with soldiers one on one in between performing for hordes of army personnel. “I saw and learned a lot by going to Afghanistan and Iraq,” he says. “There is no way you could have sat at home and watched television or read books and know what I know because of having gone there. That’s the way it is with a lot of things. If you want to know, you have to go. I take that whole knowledge is power thing very seriously.”
It’s knowledge he’s more than willing to share with an attentive audience. Parts of his talking shows will inevitably turn to politics. In the early 2000s, he had a wealth of comedic material provided to him by president Bush. Now, with the circus that is the 2016 election, one can only expect a series of informed rants, cursing the sour state of our political system. “[This] is what you get when you have a broken democracy, where both sides play to corporate concerns rather than to serve the electorate,” says Rollins. “To have real equality, to really do what the Constitution demands of us, the USA would be conducting itself much differently.”
Does that mean Rollins has any interest in getting into politics himself? “Never,” he says. “All that time spent in a suit, lying to people, asking for money, going to meetings. I could never do it.”
But he will be at the Music Hall, brandishing his personal style of entertainment. From anecdotes about his time in the punk scene to scathing social commentary to crude, off-color humor. He isn’t afraid to offend. He isn’t even afraid to self-deprecate. He is who he is. He’s Henry Rollins.