You don’t have to know much about Henry Rollins to know he has a lot to say. The front man and fourth lead singer of the seminal underground group Black Flag, Rollins once called America “a Gaza Strip that’s three thousand miles long,” and on Damaged, he emoted the aphorism: “I wanna live / I wish I was dead.”
More than 25 years ago, Rollins made a name for himself as a frenzied, tattooed front man. While many of his contemporaries have long since disappeared from the stage, Rollins is still performing. The free-associating wordsmith still dabbles in music, but also gives spoken-word performances. Recently, he has toured with the United Service Organizations (USO) and provided comic relief to U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Today, March 28, Rollins will fly through Castaways in a DSP production. Tickets are available for $16.50 for the 8 p.m. show.
“I will be talking about where I have been traveling to, things I have been up to, things that are happening in the news, etc.,” Rollins wrote in an email correspondence. “We are in interesting times, that’s for sure.”
Rollins wrote the book on hardcore music: loud, fast, and in control, so it should come as no surprise that he transformed his musical persona into a career of sharing a piece of his mind, nor that his spoken word performances are as captivating as that young man screaming at billiard balls.
Rollins, who has used his physical appearance to channel testosterone-fueled music, has devoted considerable time to his speaking performances: he has released more than a dozen spoken-word albums that offer his unfiltered, unblinking political and personal perspective.
“The talking albums are for the most part live,” Rollins continued. “Live musically, things tend to speed up and get a little ragged.”
Rollins last visited Ithaca at The State Theatre in 2004. This time, he’ll be stopping by Castaways, which is a club space. “[I approach my club gigs] same way I approach any other show I do,” he wrote. “It’s just a stage and an audience. I feel bad for audiences in the rock clubs because they have to sit in folding chairs in a place that smells like beer. Hopefully it won’t be too bad.”
“I hit (the) stage and talk,” Rollins continued. “The surroundings are pretty much the same to me. I am concentrating on the ideas, not the surroundings all that much.”
Though Rollins doesn’t seem to have any plans to record music, that doesn’t mean he’s not listening to what’s out there: “I listen to a lot of the younger art types, noise bands, the more of a racket, the better, I say. There’s a lot of great music coming out of Africa, great re-issues. I like XBXRX, Hawnay Troof, Dax Riggs, Wolf Eyes, Snail, Let The Night Roar, Tinariwen, Omar Souleyman.”
We reached Rollins by email on the day after the House voted to pass the health care bill and guarantee the dignity and welfare of U.S. citizens, and Rollins felt comfortable speaking his mind: “I am glad the bill passed,” he stated. “I am sick of insurance companies not having any real competition. I like that John Boehner was acting out last night and it didn’t work. It’s a small step, but it’s a step.”
Rollins is a very modest man. Asked how he perceives his music legacy, and how his current artistic work connects to that history, Rollins wrote curtly and frankly:
“I don’t think I have any real legacy. I made a lot of records. So did Poco, who cares? I just work, I am not trying to connect it to anything. I try not to rest on my laurels, I only want to move ahead and take it is it is.”