“See How It Washes Up on Other Shores”: Henry Rollins, May 15 at the Capitol Theatre Print
Theatre - Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Thursday, 06 May 2010 07:52

Henry RollinsHenry Rollins' career has found him fronting the seminal hardcore band Black Flag as well as the Rollins Band, acting (in movies such as Heat and Lost Highway and the TV show Sons of Anarchy), hosting radio and television shows, writing books, and blogging for Vanity Fair. (He also made an appearance on the Flaming Lips' re-creation of The Dark Side of the Moon.) He's currently on a "talking" tour -- he says he dislikes the phrase "spoken word" -- that will stop at Davenport's Capitol Theatre on May 15.

Rollins' "Frequent Flyer" show covers his recent world travels. "Mid-October to mid-January ... I went all over the world just by myself with some camera gear and a backpack," he explained in one interview. "I started in Jordan and bounced through Saudi Arabia, the Brunei, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, China, Senegal, Mali, and then Dublin."

Because he was touring in Australia and Africa, Rollins wasn't available for a phone interview. But he graciously answered questions via e-mail.

What's the range of topics on the Frequent Flyer tour? What was the genesis of the show, and how did it develop? What's your writing process for stage performance?

The show takes in the places I have been since the last tour, events that I think are relevant. There's really no development; the stories evolve as the tour goes on, but it's basically storytelling, reportage, and on-my-feet editorializing. I don't have a writing process for what goes on-stage but I do talk through ideas so I can hear how the words sound. It's a little strange I guess, to see some man walking down the street talking to himself, but that's what I do. I did that all over the world in the last months of last year. I am sure people tripped on me.

Do you have a script for the show, or is there flexibility built into it? How does the show change from night to night? How often do you go off-script?

There's really no script. There are ideas that I work through in a specific order, but I am always trying to add new things to the mix as often as I can; so sometimes the approach to an idea can change but not the truth of it. Sometimes I come up with things on-stage that I had not thought of before; that's always fun.

You're currently in Australia and will be touring South Africa soon. Do you modify your material based on the audience or what you expect to be its awareness, interests, or biases? (For example, would you excise or alter something about American politics when abroad?)

I would never alter anything; that would be skirting the truth. I will be on-stage in Pretoria, South Africa, tomorrow night. I will be talking about how young the South African Constitution is and how hard it is to bring people to change. I will cite South Africa's sweeping change in the '90s and relate it to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Civil Rights Act of 1875, which as you know was knocked down by the Supreme Court in 1883, as they said it was in violation of the 14th Amendment. So I will take into account where I am, point out something, and then relate it to where I come from, and that allows me to make a cultural tie-in without being disingenuous.

How are audiences abroad different from American audiences? Do they have a sense of Henry Rollins in a cultural context -- your 30-year body of work in the U.S.? If not, why do they come to see you?

I don't know how I could possibly answer that. I can tell you that people come to see me all over the world, and they tell me that they have checked out something that I have done, a film or a music thing. Many of them relate to the music stuff -- Black Flag, those times. They sometimes have questions about those times. I can only tell you about the ones I meet or get letters from. What makes them show up? I guess they get something from the shows. I hear all kinds of things, many different things. It's nice to hear that someone gets something good out what you're doing up there. It's very cool and inspiring.

How did your October-to-January world travels affect you? What was the impetus of that trip -- where you went and the mode of travel? Had you ever traveled that way before? What did you learn? What surprised you? What experience sticks with you the most, and why?

The travel was very informative and at times very challenging. It was a lot of intensity for a prolonged period of time. I went to these places to try and learn a thing or two. I did and then some. I think that the only way for me to get my head around something is to go out into the world and hit the streets and see things as close up as I can. I do this kind of thing as often as possible. I go all over. Middle East, Southeast Asia, Central Asia, etc. I will be going out traveling a week after this tour is done. I saw a lot of poverty on this last trip. I learned a lot about people's resiliency and how people deal with what they have to in order to take care of their families and get through life. There were many humbling moments, many where I was made aware of how the Western culture that I come from is sometimes removed from a far more vigorous existence. I think the stand-out event was being in Bhopal, India, for the 25th anniversary of the Union Carbide India Limited gas leak that killed so many people. It was sad to see people on-stage, yelling about how Union Carbide killed their families, while traffic just roared by.


How have your journeys changed and informed your relationship with American politics and culture? Have they changed your perspectives on certain issues, for example national security and foreign aid?

Sure. It's one of the best ways to learn about America. Leave it and see how it washes up on other shores. See the cultural impact of what America does, means, and produces in a different context; it can be very illuminating. Globalization looks one way from one end, very different from the other, like a whip. One end doesn't hurt; the other end can leave a mark. The world outside the West, as it were, is a very hungry, thirsty, and hopeful place. It is full of some of the most amazingly alive, kind, generous, and wonderful people I have ever met.

Are you concerned that when you're discussing politics, you're preaching only to the converted, to like-minded people? How do you reach audiences that have different perspectives from yours? In other words, how do you try to change people's minds on things that are important to you?

All I can do is open my mouth as often as I can. I judge impact by the poorly spelled and rarely signed hate mail I get. All performer types spend a good amount of time in front of people who are already on-board. I am not running for office. I am on a stage, letting it rip as clearly as I can.

You've said that you don't consider yourself a teacher. What role do you want your work to play in the culture? Education? Entertainment? Something else?

I don't know. I am up there, trying to be clear and report back to the audience about what I saw and how I felt about it. I have no idea what role I play. I can't think it's anything much. It is probably for most people entertainment. I don't think it's an educational event.

How has your work in other media/formats -- music, acting, writing, hosting -- affected your spoken-word approach? How has your style evolved over the years?

I don't know how all the other stuff I do has affected the talking shows. There has perhaps been some kind of evolution. I don't look at it from that angle. I think over the years, the shows have broadened topic-wise, as I get more access to more destinations and am able to bring more to the table, as it were.

Dumb hypothetical question: If you had to limit yourself to one medium/outlet of communication -- stage, town square, written word, recordings, radio, television, or film - what would it be and why?

I like doing all the different things but I am probably best at the talking shows. The radio shows are the funnest; it's a lot less pressure than anything else I do, and it's great to be able to listen to music.

Besides the current tour and your Vanity Fair column, what projects are you working on?

I am working on a photo book that will have a lot of essays. That project is dragging along. All the photos are done, but the writing is hard to do out here. I am also working on a travel/journal book. I have some other smaller writing projects that move along very slowly.

Is a return to music still unlikely for you? How did your relationship with music change over the years with Black Flag and Rollins Band? Is there anything you miss about performing music live?

I miss playing music, absolutely. I think it would be cheating to go out and play old music at this point. It would be too easy. I can see perhaps making new music with different people, but I don't want to work with the old gang; we would just repeat patterns and fall into the same things. I was never very good with music; I tried really hard, played as hard as I could. I don't know what else I could do with the medium with my limitations.

Henry Rollins will perform at the Capitol Theatre (330 West Third Street in Davenport) on Saturday, May 15. The show starts at 8 p.m., and tickets are $25. For more information, visit TheCapDavenport.com.

For more information on Rollins, visit HenryRollins.com.


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