Henry Rollins is new to me – and I’m pretty sure I’m not even on his radar to I guess I’m so new I’m unknown to him. Unless he does read his email. Or Google himself. (Not in the Tracy Jordon/30 Rock sense.)

Less than a year ago I went along to see Henry Rollins on his Frequent Flyer Tour. For those that know me – have met me at least – you may ask why I’d be interested in hearing Henry Rollins. After all, isn’t he a loud mouthed American misogynist? And Gus, you don’t listen to punk music – except that Dead Kennedy’s album you borrowed from a friend – and that time in high school when you played bass in that band. Gus, you’re all about new Australian plays. Why are you reviewing an old punk rocker doing spoken word? What? What is this? What are you doing? What’s the appeal?

A couple of things.

The greatest thing an artist should fear is apathy. And it is definitely a daily fear I live with. I fear the soft-bellied shrug of society – the slippery slumber that those who are easilly overwhelmed slip into. I work hard. Really hard. I pour my self, my mind and my body into all that I do. Theatre is an unrelenting, insatiable, unforgiving extreme artform – it’s transience leaves you at square one constantly. It is highly competitive and demands a high level of attention and endurance. Theatre, like life, demands a high level of attention and endurance. Theatre is spontaneous and immediate, living in the intimate spaces of someone’s heart and mind. It has the power to transform. The philosophical musings/rants of Henry Rollins is completely inline with these principals. He demands people to stand up, stop being lazy and apathetic, he demands his audience to self educate, to talk, read, listen, engage with the world.

I am compelled by the contradictions in Henry Rollins – or his persona (depending how cynical one is – I am utterly gullible (I call it trusting) and so I believe that what you see is purely him, not merely a character or a persona). He is infantile in that he has moments/tendencies to act out/be silly/rage/rant/scream… and yet he is polite, calm, congenial, respectful of his elders, in awe of his heroes. He is an adult boy. Playful, modest, militant and yet self-effacing. If he was “man” or “boy” I think I wouldn’t be so fascinated – but he is both – and I enjoy watching that shift and change. Mature Punk rock. Age appropriate punk rock. Interesting. He uses mainstream media for his counter media views – I think that is clever and interesting.

I’m interested in the discourse of men – good thing too because it makes up the majority of history. I’m interested in the leaders that men appoint for themselves – I’m interested in how they portray and view women, I’m interested in how men talk to each other – how they communicate – how they teach each other to be strong, capable, independent. I’m interested in the how as much as the what when it comes to masculine identity. I think Rollins is a leader for many because he is blunt, bold, playful and never denies his own rage and those parts of himself which are biological needs. We all need great examples of strength – and men need reminding (as much as women do) to step up, be brave, be engaged with the world, participate, think, do, fight, question, celebrate. I believe strength comes from the mind and I think that Rollins exemplifies that.

And lastly – I think I live a counter culture existence. I don’t drink, smoke, eat meat, I don’t watch TV as a general rule. I don’t consume tabloid media. I read books. I have a watch that is 37 years old. My car is old and loved. I believe in storytelling, I believe in mechanical, analogue, I believe in hand-made, I believe in conversation. I feel like I’d make a great Amish person. I’m anti-consumerist and I feel pretty counter culture. I live simply, and I care about the world and about people. And frankly, I don’t think you can get any more punk rock than being a theatre director.

First published on www.australianstage.com.au

What happens to punk rockers when they turn grey of hair and long of tooth? For Henry Rollins they go on tour “to be 50 in front of people.” Like a healthy lung, Rollins lives his life in a cycle of inhaling and exhaling. Inhaling – a year away from touring. Exhalation – a year touring. And though it is true, he does breathe actually breathe– this cycle of inhalation goes a little further, a little deeper than the gas exchange in his alveoli. He’s not just inhaling air- he is inhaling the world. Henry Rollins inhales the world. It is his life source. Rollins voraciously seeks out ideas, seeks out understanding, gnaws at the pastel veneer of what is, exposing the brutal, exciting, invigorating, silly, unbelievable, inexplicable, surprising, unjust, ignorant, the passive, the lame, the impossible, the elevating – recharging his mind – reconfiguring, re-setting, conserving before blasting forth – exhaling – over the world, over a set of speakers, filling up the gasping audience desperate to inhale something ultimately nourishing, ultimately essential – knowledge.

In plain black t-shirt and pants, a microphone in his right hand, it’s cord wrapped several times around a veined fist. He speaks quickly. Real quick. Sliding in references to his history, his youth, his bands, his friends, punk rock, pop culture, politics. He talks quick because he has a lot to say –and he’s conscious that the seats at The Gaelic Club are uncomfortable. He talks about the audience, the amorphous body in the dark. It’s clear he needs an audience – admits he yearns for attention “like an eight –year- old who doesn’t want to go to bed.” He talks hard and fast, plosively bashing noise into the microphone – he doesn’t stop for water, applause, heckling, laughter – and leaves the stage drenched in sweat – having explored the corners of experience – admitting when he has been caught “acting out”, admitting his awe at his heroes urging all to be insatiably curious. “Life is short, my friends, live memorably.”

Rollins is amongst history’s great orators – partly because of what he is saying – but mostly because how he is saying it – and a large part of that is the huge, swelling mass of experience behind him – all that he has worked as/for developed, created, written, screamed, tattooed, fought for his whole life.
He paints a picture of a lone wolf living in a “utilitarian hovel” with a microwave in California, driving a Subaru, being bullied and taunted by Heidi his assistant/right hand person.

Now, let me be clear, this is not an Anthony Robbins, Jimmy Swaggart conversion session. For those who wince at the curled ‘r’s of an American accent – for those who have enough of cheesy, corn-sweetened American propaganda – you will be pleasantly surprised. This is more in the spirit of Dr Martin Luther King. This is an ambassadorial mission with a vision– but not just for America for the whole world – on this occasion he is also on a mission of another sort to incite voracity.

He is 50. Grey of hair, long of tooth and ready to ignite the spirits of young people.