by Josh Gross
Old and young punks alike packed into the Knitting Factory Sept. 18 for a spoken-word performance from ex-Black Flag singer and media polymath Henry Rollins.
Rollins visited Boise as part of a tour of all 50 state capitals as a run-up to the presidential election in November. And though the tour is titled Capitalism, Rollins dismissed it near the top of the show, saying that his complete feelings on capitalism could be summed up in two words—which he never offered.
What he did offer is a running dialog that began with his experiences in downtown Boise, rolled into his feelings on states' rights, the importance of the upcoming election, tour stories from his time in Black Flag and his travels to North Korea, and then went off on eating rats in Sudan. He spoke for two and a half hours straight, without water, commas or any appearance of breathing. It was like watching Kerouac write a novel.
A major focus at the outset of Rollins' rant was his remarkably bipartisan feelings on the upcoming election and his insistence that voting is crucial, no matter what part of the country you live in or what political tribe you prescribe to.
"There's a lot of maps you can look at, but I can't stand the red and blue," said Rollins. "It sounds corny, but I'm red, white and blue. I pull for Team America. Democracy needs you."
But Rollins discussed that, by its very nature, democracy doesn't always works out for everyone.
"That's democracy," Rollins said. "If it sucks, you suck pal. Take some responsibility."
Rollins said many times that he would never have the audacity to explicitly tell anyone who to vote for.
"But, that said," he added, "don't come to me after watching the RNC and the DNC and tell me there is no difference between the candidates."
He said he had a lot of problems with Obama, but that Romney was "the emptiest suit," and that he sympathized with Republicans because that was what he had felt voting for John Kerry in 2004.
From there, he discussed his time in Black Flag, "a band that existed around the end of the Bronze Age."
"Tours were very arduous," said Rollins. "There were no vans. Just horse-drawn carts."
Rollins discussed sleeping on floors, watching fans get stabbed in the parking lot outside shows, and seeing the Hollywood underworld destroyed by drugs.
After that, he dove into some of his world travels for National Geographic and the hazards of wrestling alligators while being filmed by a surly Australian cameraman.
For a guy who described himself as "150 pounds of charismatic anger," he was one helluva lover. Every country he mentioned: "Wonderful place, you have to go there." Everyone he met there: "Beautiful place, fabulous people." Even the whale of a punk that knocked a girl's eye out of her head stage-diving at a Black Flag show was probably "a good guy who learned from the experience."
It wouldn't be hard to reach the end of the profoundly raw, funny and bizarre show and wonder what the heck the point of Rollins' presentation was, since it certainly wasn't capitalism. But somewhere near the end of the marathon, he summed it up concisely.
"I want this to be the century that we figure things out, because we're not going to be around for the next one," he said.
I don't know that I left having figured things out. But I do know that I want to be Henry Rollins when I grow up.