Scraping Stories Off The Ground
Henry Rollins returns to Eugene
by Vanessa Salvia
Henry Rollins approaches his spoken word engagements in much the same way he did his musical performances: He jogs on stage, grabs a mic, faces the crowd as if he’s a tiger about to spring and begins a barrage of words. There’s no intermission, no water breaks, almost no pauses of any kind for nearly three hours — just pulsing neck muscles and an entertaining gush of stories gleaned largely from Rollins’ world travels, with an approach that is, in his words, “very bloody and analog.”
Rollins spent the last six months touring the world. He’s dubbed his latest tour the “Frequent Flyer Tour,” with the slogan “knowledge without mileage equals bullshit.” I spoke with Rollins by phone just hours after he had returned from a month-long trip to South Africa and Australia. We spoke of what he saw (“There’s more pollution than you think happening outside of America”), the Gulf Coast oil spill (“It’s so catastrophic that to say one aspect of it is interesting is to be almost cruel”), Arizona’s immigration law (in violation of the 1st, 4th and 14th Constitutional amendments, in his view) and his role as a neo-Nazi in Sons of Anarchy (“At the end of the day you take the makeup off and go home. I didn’t lose a second of sleep over it”). But the question that kept him talking the most was about his speaking tours versus playing music.
How has your outlook changed with what you’ve seen in your travels in recent months?
It hasn’t really changed, it’s just become more informed. I still think globalization looks one way in the West and another way in the East. I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s work to be done everywhere and all governments need to get busy and get on some kind of program and make things better. The more I travel, the more globally I look at things, like the bigger picture. And you don’t need to travel to be able to do that — you can just take a cold, hard look at things — but the travel has helped me to see things in person and get an up-close, visceral understanding.
Your speaking engagements are now overtaking your calendar. Do you enjoy speaking tours better than being a musician?
What I don’t want to do musically is go out into the world and play old material. It might be fun, but I don’t think it’s artistically relevant, and touring with a band would have me in that position. I want to sometimes, but I don’t think I should. I know that sounds kind of strange. I don’t see the merit in being 50 and singing a song I wrote when I was 25 or 26. It’s not that I don’t like the songs, but it’s like running in place, like being on a treadmill. I don’t want to be in my fifth year in the university. I went out in 2006 and did just that; I went out with my old band mates and I came back really depressed. I don’t have anyone to work with and I don’t want to work with the people I used to because you just fall into old habits. To put a tour together is a lot of work and I guess I’m just not feeling it enough to be like, OK, this year I’m going to accomplish 20 songs in 365 days. I’m going to find like-minded people, get them into a room and we’re going to make some music, which we’ll eventually record and then release and then tour. And now we’re talking 18 to 20 months or more to realize something that I’ve done many, many times before. I don’t miss [touring]. I don’t miss the camaraderie. I don’t miss the packed backstage area. As a guy with gray hair at age 50, I feel it’s behind me. Not below me, but it just feels like last year, and I want to get up the road with what’s left of my life.
The talking shows allow me to go off, travel, come back and report to you, the audience, very, very quickly, very spontaneously, without having to extract it into songs or talk between songs. I really like the idea of just being this solo entity, basically one guy and one microphone on a stage. There’s a simplicity and a bravery to it that I really like. I’ve got no back up; all I’ve got is me. It’s that audience and me. I got no snare drum to hide behind when I screw up. I’ve just got my meager intellect and these stories that I’ve scraped off the ground from distant points around the world, and that to me is like tying oneself to the front of the ship and just going out into the storm.
Henry Rollins, 8 pm Sunday, May 30. McDonald Theatre • $20 adv., $23 door