A towering, explosive presence in front of the groups Black Flag and Rollins Band, Henry Rollins continues to be a vehement voice of reason, compassion and logic. A man of exhaustive energy and undying desire to absorb the vast array of cultures in the world, the former hardcore vocalist is returning to Australia with his latest spoken word tour – or “talking show” as he prefers them to be called.
He has visited Australia almost 30 times throughout his diverse career and continues to keep crowds riveted with his thought-provoking and incisive analysis of the globe’s political, social and cultural landscape.
Rollins loves Australia as much as we love him.
“I love my Australian audiences madly,” he says. “I try to attend to them as best as I can – it’s been a fantastic audience since day one. They got into my band [Black Flag] before there was even a record to sell them. “I’m very grateful.”
While many of his fans discovered him in his influential hardcore groups, and others through his role in the TV series Sons Of Anarchy, Rollins has noticed that as time goes by he has accumulated a fan base through his talking shows.
“A lot of people will come up and say, ‘Hey, I’ve been coming to the talking shows for many years. My friends played me some of your music. With all due respect, it’s really not my thing. But I love it when you do the talking shows.’ That happens more and more, and I don’t really care. If you don’t like my music, that’s great. The fact that anyone shows up to see what I do, I’m just grateful for that.”
When Rollins walks on stage and delivers one of his talking shows, which can go for two hours, he has a loose structure of topics in his head. He puts a large emphasis on preparation and says that disrespecting his audience would be his ultimate crime.
“There’s a very scripted list of topics and I allow myself to go tangential inside of the topic,” Rollins explains. “I don’t just walk out on stage and go, ‘Ok, let’s see . . . dogs are funny!’ I would never warm up in front of an audience. I think that’s grossly insulting – not to the money they’ve paid but to their time. When you disrespect someone’s time, you may as well piss on their foot. I’m extremely dialled in, to the point where two hours before the show I’m pacing the hallway, talking out loud and working through ideas.”
Rollins is always keeping his eye on world news, updating the subject matter of his shows. “It’s a stew pot – you’re continually cutting up more carrots and potatoes and throwing them in as news breaks and things are happening to me and to the world,” Rollins says. “Like if something blows up in a country and I was there last year, I’ll tell you about it. It’s like going on tour with music, you’re always looking for a new song to play to an audience.”
Most of what Rollins talks about on stage is informed by his travels to impoverished or war-torn countries. Since his last visit to Australia he has met American troops in Baghdad and at one point took refuge during a mortar attack. But despite his intense encounters in foreign countries, he has never felt more at risk than when in his home nation of America.
“I’ve nearly been killed a couple of times,” Rollins says. “In one situation the guy shot four times, put two in my friend and killed him – missed me by inches. That was a real homicide. The other time, years before, a guy tried to stab me to death but these guys pulled him off me. But those times were in America – the rest of the world has been really friendly to me. I was in a mortar attack in Baghdad, but I was in a thick-walled building so nothing was going to happen to me. But past that the world has been certainly friendly with me because I’m not looking for a fight with anyone. I go to these countries alone. I think sometimes when you’re walking the streets alone people kind of respect it. Like when you’re in a Middle Eastern country and you’re so obviously not from there. A lot of people speak English. In Iran people walked up and were like, ‘What are you doing here?’ And I always employed the same ice-breaker, I’d say, ‘I’m here to meet you!’ which makes them laugh. Then I’d say, ‘Hey, I’m Henry man, what’s happening?’ and I would stick my hand out and they’d shake it. I’ve done this in Tehran, Islamabad, Damascus, Beirut, Cleveland . . . wherever. When people see that you’re obviously curious about their culture they’re amazed that you came all that way. I’ve been invited into homes, had meals cooked for me, afternoon coffee, tea in the souq. I’m not saying [dangerous things] can’t happen. It’s not like people look at me and run away – you’ve got to be careful. But life’s too short. I’m not living under a damn rock. No way.”
Rollins rarely takes a holiday and admits that he is a “work slut”. The closest he gets to a break is “working in second gear instead of fourth”.
“But as far as going somewhere and just sitting around and getting tanned?” Rollins asks. “No. I just don’t think that way. I travel to places, but I go to countries that are tough, where it’s me and mosquitoes that carry malaria. It’s not restful, but it is eventful – and I’ll take eventful over restful anytime.”