Let's assume for a moment that Henry Rollins had been a pop star in the 1960s and had enjoyed a few hit singles. One thing that's certain is he wouldn't be playing glory-days shows at area casinos.
The former Black Flag frontman says he's not interested in reliving the past. He proved that in 1997 when he broke up the original lineup of the Rollins Band because he thought the group had run out of creative gas. He did the same thing with the second edition in 2003. Last year, he gave the past a try—reuniting with the original Rollins Band lineup in hopes that it might lead to a new album and another tour this year.
“I don't know if you've ever had the girlfriend or whatever and then for some reason you go out to dinner with this person a year or so after you break up. And it's nice and very civil, I hope,” says Rollins. “But you remember quite quickly why you broke up. Well, that became apparent to me while we were on the road. There wasn't like an ‘I hate you' kind of thing. It was like, ‘Oh yeah, here we are again, doing this thing.'”
So Rollins instead turned his attention to his other main pursuit—spoken word. This fall, he'll spend his evenings sharing travel stories and breathless pontifications on personal, political and social phenomena.
These shows won't rehash past spoken-word tours, which have been a regular part of Rollins' life since 1983, while he was still fronting Black Flag.
“It's a new experience as I continue my journey through life,” he explains. “The last thing I'd want to do is see someone on tour in 2007 and then in 2010 hear the same story again. ‘Oh, what, I paid you to do a live re-run? Who are you?'
“Ornette Coleman [wouldn't repeat himself], and these are people I draw a lot of inspiration from. I'm not equating myself with [him.] But it's that musical integrity.”
Rollins has undoubtedly had enough interesting experiences recently to provide enough material for these “talking shows.” The motor mouth is also heading into his third season hosting The Henry Rollins Show on the Independent Film Channel, which has featured Rollins talking with guests like Oliver Stone, John Waters and Ben Stiller and included performances by The Stooges, Mars Volta and Slayer. He also continues to host his L.A. radio show, Harmony in My Head, spinning records by mostly overlooked bands.
Recent travels have taken him to Lebanon, Syria and Iran. Previous trips (courtesy of the USO) have included stops in Iraq, Kuwait, Afghanistan, Egypt, Kyrgyzstan and Qatar. He's made multiple visits to Bethesda Naval Hospital and Walter Reed Army Medical Center to meet troops recovering from war injuries.
“It's weird to believe the mission was WMDs. Oh wait, they didn't find any,” he says. “Democracy? Oh wait, [the Iraqi's] don't have it. It's to bring peace to the region. Well, we didn't do that. It's to improve the life of the Iraqi people. Well, we didn't do that, either. So we might as well chalk it up to a massive, embarrassing and catastrophic failure and get out. The last Iraqi person I talked to very politely begged for us to leave. And I said, ‘Well, what about all the violence?' He said, ‘Yeah, we'll have it, but we're an old culture and we'll figure something out. But you guys really have to go.'”
Rollins didn't go into specifics about the subjects he plans to cover in this fall's spoken-word shows. But the mere fact that it is billed as his “Provoked Tour” is an indication that it won't be polite chit chat, and most likely will be good for a few laughs. (The subtitle for the tour, by the way, is “An Evening of Quintessentially American Opinionated Editorializing and Storytelling.”)
“Basically, you have to call these tours something, for the promoter and the ad man, or for nothing else, a T-shirt,” Rollins explains.
He seems to relish the irony he sees in how the tour's title relates to his reputation for being a little outspoken, a little angry and sometimes a little hard to handle.
“Every once in awhile, someone will say to me ‘You're kind of provocative,'” he says. “Me? You have a government that's hemorrhaging your money and your manpower into a single country—Iraq—and I'm provocative? The line between church and state is being erased. That doesn't provoke you? And somehow little old me provokes you?
“I'm not the one lying in front of Congress,” he adds. “I'm not controversial. Just even saying this stuff may provoke some people, and that's cool. I don't judge how I'm doing from the nice letters I get. I judge how I'm doing from the angry letters I get.” Henry Rollins speaks at 4th & B on Thursday, Nov. 8. Doors open at 8:30 p.m. $20-$22.50. 619-231-4343.