Henry Rollins at First Avenue (Minneapolis, MN)



Just as I put off recalling the three hours in which I basked in Henry Rollins’ stories in form of a review for well over a week, it took me roughly ten years to finally nut up and risk seeing my idol in person. However easy it is for me to become wrapped up in pretty much anything Henry Rollins involves himself in, I have — for the longest time — been more than nervous to actually attempt removing Rollins from whatever pedestal I placed him on back when I was in junior high. Last week though, I gave it a try. And was it worth it? Did he present himself as the intellectually striving music geek that I loved in my youth or did he simply repeat politically based rants in some mildly fluent presentation? Henry said at one point during the evening that in general he is either “on or off.” While performing at First Avenue on this night, a venue that rarely sees a stand up or spoken word act, he was most definitely on.

Opening with a refreshingly personable story, describing one of Black Flag’s stops at the 7th St. Entry (First Avenue’s adjacent sister club), Rollins quickly rolled through tale after tale of personal experiences – something that I was actually quite apprehensive of prior to the show’s opening. How could ol’ Hank actually expand on his experiences in a way I’ve never heard before, or escape from actually repeat stories I’ve already heard before?, I thought.

Ever the current newsophile, Rollins discussed everything from an appearance on Fox News, to Sean Hannity, to global warming, to Larry Craig’s recent run in with the airport security here in Minneapolis, to the utter lunacy of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to Comic Con, to a run in with Exorcist-star Linda Blair and everything in between.

But it was what originally drew me to his spoken word shows in the first place that paced his three hour rant-fest, allowing it to refrain from getting old: It was the detailed account of his time spent with the Ruts, in a position of fan boy-turned-reality, when he was asked to performed as a part of a one-off benefit show for guitarist Paul Fox. Detailing his account of first being asked and recoiling his excitement by assessing the situation and offering the caveat “we’re not going to give it 98% or 99%, we’re going to give this 100% or I’m not the guy you’re looking for,” to the stages of meeting the band and taking in the realization that they are all in pain over their fallen brother – it was heartwarming and surreal.

Recalling the night’s historic event, which was graced by Tthe UK Subs and a somewhat secret set from the Damned, he concluded that he knew he was right in taking pictures of the entire event, through every stage of the process, as he suspected that his new friends might not have too much time left with their ill brother. And less than a week after Rollins explained this story to his First Avenue audience, his fear came true as guitarist Paul Fox succumb to lung cancer.

But it wasn’t entirely a night based in harsh realities, there was some fun, too. Rollins spoke of his experiences where he further traveled the Middle East (around the time of Saddam’s hanging) where he met and stayed with a lovely family who took him in with open arms, his surprisingly good time spent in Beirut and his subsequent trip flying from that destination straight through to San Francisco to see the great Nick Cave in one of his rare American dates this past year with Grinderman.

Rollins was funny, hitting dead on with his Iggy Pop impression and explaining a brilliant anecdote surrounding Christopher Walken’s appearance on his Independent Film Channel program, aptly titled The Henry Rollins Show.

A few years back I was given the opportunity to take a course in college that was was solely based on the life, mythology, and historical context of the existence of Jesus Christ. And given my ever increasing confusion surrounding religion in general – I decided that, as we were all assigned a final project consisting of a lengthy paper and a 10 to 15 minute presentation, I would attempt to do what historians and cynics have failed to do since the beginning of Christianity – refute the gospels through their blazing proof of inconsistencies.

It was a tough sell.

That being said, even after running through it a number of times I was eventually cut off dead in my tracks after roughly twenty six minutes, I found myself entirely caught up in my experience of researching and attempting to explain what I had found. Even if a stretch, I’d like to relate this to Henry’s performance. He is ever the enthusiastic when it comes to life and relating his findings and experiences with his audience through the medium of his stand up show. On this night he related his experience of travel to many people’s media-slanted outlooks and how people in other countries are viewed. He related his own fears to relationships, both his and ours as an audience. He related his loves and joys to those of everyone around the world – whether it be music, or books, or sex. But he also related his ideas on a variety issues that many in the thinking-public, myself included, are at fault for overlooking.

One such thought was his analysis of the Iraqi people’s reaction to the ridiculous dissolving of the their army by Paul Bremer. To paraphrase – “How would you like it, if you made your living by working in the armed forces (no matter what your feelings towards your boss, whomever they may be) and as an American were told by a French dignitary that you no longer had a job? You might not want to see anyone who is French for a while. You might not want to see anyone eating a croissant for a while. You hear someone say, bon voyage? You might want to kick their ass. And that’s what many Iraqi might be thinking in terms of this takeover.” Plain and simple, Henry really has his moments.

A hilarious rant on how mother nature (with wild animals leading the way) should declare a jihad on human kind, Rollins eventually concluded, neither with a story recalling his worldly adventures nor a run in with a pseudo celebrity… but rather a plea. A plea to support those who serve the country only to return home with a life hardly worth living. A plea to help those who are being abandoned by the broken system called democracy that they were fighting for. He closed by asking for support for the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, and after making his plea to the audience Rollins left the stage with a quick bow – leaving an impact far greater than could have been anticipated.

And while leaving the venue, slowly wading through the crowd of satisfied fans, I thought for a moment – “how cool would that be to meet Henry, if only briefly, for a moment, shaking hands and smiling before heading to my truck and driving home.” Then I thought of the story he told, about how he in his ever-fan boy mindset can’t seem to allow him to honestly engage in meaningful conversation with his idols due to the pedestals he has placed them on. “Maybe in another ten years,” I thought. "Maybe in another ten years.”