Muscular. Shirtless. Sweaty and screaming. And in the most chaotic moments during his punk years, beating the shit out of hapless members of the audience who somehow thought it’d be a good idea to mess with him. These are just a few of the images conjured by the name Henry Rollins—at least for anyone who grew up listening to his music or saw him playing it.
As the longest tenured singer of pioneering L.A. hardcore punks Black Flag, and later with his own Rollins Band, the iconic frontman reinvented performance intensity on a nightly basis. But, as it goes with the brightest burning stars, his time in music faded somewhat quickly.
Last performing with Rollins Band in 2006, the now 55-year-old actor, writer, radio/TV host and activist has sworn off music and spent the last decade further diversifying his career in a multitude of ways.
One thing that remains from the old days, however, is his penchant for spoken word. Meticulously honed over the last 30 years, Rollins’ “talking shows” combine experiences from his world travels, the politics that have defined much of his work and daily, on-the-fly personal observations.
Equal parts humor-tinged journalism, self-help workshop, and current affairs briefing, Rollins actually sees only slight differences between these performances and his first ones.
“I’m a one-man folk music band now,” he tells CityBeat from his Los Angeles home. “I make vocal music for folks. That’s it. I’m just not interested in collaboration at this point in my life. I’ve done a lot of it. And it’s not a democracy that interests me.”
He does still take great interest in the democracy of America, and feels confident expounding on it each night, having experienced everything he talks about on stage first-hand. If he speaks to global climate change, it’s based on his time in Antarctica with a team of scientists. If a bit involving North Korea makes its way into the set, it’s drawn from his trip there.
His travels to nearly 100 countries and all seven continents inform almost every facet of the show, continuing to make good on the tagline from his last big spoken word tour: Knowledge Without Mileage Equals Bullshit.
“That’s my life,” says Rollins. “I put the miles in. And that’s why I know what I know. There’s nothing put on. I’m not winging it. I’m coming with a solid gut punch.”
Fortunately for current fans, he means that figuratively. But it’s that same ferocity with which he used to rail on Reagan and Thatcher that continues to drive his fight against today’s unfortunately similar problems. While the recent election results are sure to create a never-ending source of material to help build solidarity at his shows, Rollins is aware that things are going to get a whole lot worse before they better.
“This is going to be very rough,” he says. “It’s going to be rough on poor people, lower middle class people, non-white people, gay people and women people. I spent most of my life on the street. And I can see a grift coming in my sleep. This is a grift.”
Perhaps it comes with the nuances of getting older. Maybe it’s just a result of aggressively and systematically deconstructing information, trying to understand it, and synthesizing it on a nightly basis for audiences all over the world. But Rollins is anything but dejected by the thought of Trump’s New World Order.
In fact, he’s feeling quite the opposite.
“America is a Philly Flyers game,” he says, referring to the professional hockey team. “There are teeth and blood on the ice. But I don’t think there’s a more interesting time to be alive and awake in this country. The people you don’t like no longer hide in the shadows. And if you want to see what the problems are, well, there they are. We’ve now got all the lights on and can get to work.”
Never one to talk it without walking it, Rollins plans to fill 2017 with benefit shows, direct support for specific causes such as Planned Parenthood and the Southern Poverty Law Center, and stepping up his already ridiculously active schedule. He’s even thinking about single-handedly trying to reach and inspire the 45 percent of eligible voters who didn’t bother with the election in the two years we have before midterms.
He is also holding onto the thought that the deep divisiveness of the country could actually be the catalyst for youth to shake off their rampant apathy and unite in raging against the machine.
“Hopefully,” says Rollins, “these young people that Clint Eastwood deemed a generation of pussies can actually lead. Because, eventually, these old crusty bastards like myself will fall away. And you’ll be left with the residue of everything from Brexit to whatever damage Donald Trump does in the next four years. Maybe this is where the positive outcome happens.”
Regardless, it’s a safe bet that Rollins will be out there doing his part until he’s no longer able. And much like the Nietzschean warrior who craves a good battle, Rollins is ready to mix it up the same way he used to with the fans even if this time around it’s with words and not his fists.
“Whether you voted for this guy or not,” he says, “here we are. And as they say in the octagon, here we go. We’re all going to see. Unless you disappear, or go into denial and live in a thick-walled cave, you’re going to get some on you. We’re all going to get some on us together. Let’s get into it and start thrashing about.”
Originally published in San Diego CityBeat