Henry Rollins showed up at the Carnegie Lecture Hall on Saturday with the same all-black garb and arms dotted with tattoos that he has been sporting for years. One thing about the appearance of the singer/comedian/actor/columnist/poet was noticeable different, though: His signature buzz cut was half-way gray.
During his performance of “spoken word” (a term that still clings to Rollins’ shows even though “stand-up comedy” is probably more accurate), the 51-year-old one-time punk rock singer made several comments about his own age. These ranged from the zany (jokes about how Black Flag, the band that made him famous, toured in the 1850s with John Adams and Mark Twain in the audience) to the existential (an anecdote about sitting in a New York City diner as the clock struck midnight on his birthday last year and wondering if black coffee and tuna sandwiches would taste any different to him in his 50s).
Rollins can still talk at any entire book page’s length a minute (so you’ll have to forgive the lack of full-sentence quotes in this blog post, as it’d be impossible to get one without bringing and then reviewing a tape recorder) and tightly packed material into his nearly three-hour performance.
He started on politics, roasting the “clown car” of Republican presidential candidates in ways that were a little hackneyed. Like, have you noticed the “frozen face” and “weird hair helmet” on Newt Gingrich’s wife? Also, ever think that gay-obsessed Rick Santorum might secretly want to hold a warm pair of someone else’s balls? Rollins had even memorized CDC statistics for the sake of shooting down Rick Perry’s abstinence policy (yeah, that and a few Herman Cain jokes were obviously written months ago), making the whole routine sounds like a sweaty Keith Olberman “Special Commentary.”
Rollins likes to talk about how often he offends people but, really, one of the keys to his success is that he always comes off as a really nice guy. In mocking Perry, Rollins was quick to interject that there are some “really cool people” in Texas and also clarified that he has no qualms with Chinese people before describing a depressing trip to Tibet. He speaks with an earnest sense of relativism when it comes to cultures, calling a recent encounter with a Pentecostal church’s blues-y gospel band as “the best rock show I saw last year” and recalling his years in the early ’80s punk circuit as a minefield of stabbings, thrown objects and near riots.
The show was a mixed bag as Rollins switched from aging to his Black Flag days to current politics to his appreciation of Abraham Lincoln to the next in his unending line of projects, a Nat Geo show for which he traveled from North Korea to India to Vietnam to Tibet to Uganda to Haiti last year.
Rollins described himself as a “fading alternative icon,” a phase that is somehow both self-effacing and self-aggrandizing. He does always seem to want to have it both ways, possessing both a forceful tough-guy attitude and pleading need to continually have his fans’ attention through a variety of projects. But all great stand-up comedians are a mess of contradictions and Rollins, as always, came out likeable and funny in the end.
A couple weeks ago, we premiered a new video from Bluebird Midwest, the new project of Roger Harvey (also of White Wives). This week, the song is back as our MP3 Monday track. It''s called "I've Always Loved You," and you can stream or download it below!
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Howdy! Happy Friday! Here's the second (and FINAL) part of our Anti-Flag interview, after the jump. If you missed part one, read it here first!
This week's main music story is my piece on Anti-Flag, the political punk band that started in Pittsburgh in the early '90s. The band is releasing a new album this month, with a show at Altar Bar this Sunday. I had a long sit-down interview with Justin Sane and Chris #2, and thought it'd be nice to share a long version for those of you who like Q&A stuff; since it was a really long interview, I'll share it in a few installments. The first, which I'm posting here, deals with the band's recent tour in Southeast Asia.
So you just got back from a big trip to Southeast Asia — how was that?
Chris #2: It’s kind of like — I feel like being in a band for as long as we have, you get to a point where all the self-consciousness of being in a band and having people come out to your shows, and expect certain things from your records, it gets to where you either cave to that or you embrace it. And I think this year we’ve just been like, “Fuck it, let’s do things we wanna do.” And we’ve always wanted to go to China. And it’s not financially smart to pay $7,000 for plane tickets to go play shows where you get paid not very much money. But we were like — we’re putting out a record, we’re gonna go do the cycle that we always do, but how do we keep it exciting for us? And I think that trip and this record and all of this stuff has been about making sure that we leave behind a thumbprint that we’re happy with. It’s kind of an arrogant way to think about it, but after you’ve been in a band a long time, you realize, the records you put out — the whole reason all of us make music is to leave something behind after we’re dead. And why not leave something behind that we’re happy about, and that we didn’t just play the same 12 cities?
Justin Sane: And I’d add two things — one, I really believe that there will come a time in my life when my nieces and nephews or my kids and grandchildren will look me in the eye and say, “This world is really fucked up. When you look back in history, a lot of things that happened during your life contributed to this world being really fucked up. What were you doing when they were invading Iraq? What were you doing when this rhetoric about bombing Iran was being ramped up?” And I would like to be able to look those kids in the eye and say, “I was fighting for righteousness.” You know? And I understand that it’s only in my own small way. I’m acutely aware that my fingerprint on making social change and fighting injustice is really small compared with a lot of other people. But just to be able to look myself in the mirror and look the people who come after me in the eye — I think that’s important.
Coming back around to the tour we were just on, the place we went to are as foreign to us as any place we’ve ever been. I mean, Thailand, I was so ignorant about Malaysia, for instance. I don’t honestly know if I know anyone who’s been to Malaysia. Going to Indonesia and Hong Kong — these places are so foreign, and the way people live there is so different from the way we are. You go to Indonesia, it’s a country full of Muslims: That’s a very stark contrast to this country. What was so life-affirming about it was that all of the ideas that Anti-Flag has been putting forth all these years — you know, we’re not a color of skin, we’re not straight or gay, we’re not Christian or Muslim or atheist, we’re not countries or flags, we’re human beings — that simple message that this band has rallied around all these years was so affirmed in my heart as a result of this trip. And that’s why I love going to places like Japan and Russia and far-off places we’ve never been before. We had an incredible opportunity to spend time with the kids who we did these shows for, and it was so fun. In Malaysia, we went to this DIY punk show. And I was looking around the room and I was like, “That’s that kid I know from Pittsburgh; that’s that girl I know from New York.” It’s — the personalities are different, but they’re the same. They’re interested in the same things. The kids there are fighting for DIY spaces the same way kids here are.
#2: At one place, the kids told me they changed the entrance, because they don’t want the authorities to know — it was like, yeah, that’s happened at every club I know!
JS: That’s what going to these far-off places, to me, it still pumps me up. I came back from that tour so reinvigorated; I think like #2 was saying, you’re in a band forever, shit, it can become kinda routine.
#2: And you start to question your relationships, and all these things. But for me — we have this show where we just rock right away, we come out, we don’t say anything, it’s great, but we’re in China, and I’m just like — “Stop, stop! We’re in fucking China!” Looking at these guys — everyone in the audience is like, yeah, we know, we live here, but I look over like, “Good job, guys!” It sure didn’t make any sense to those people in the audience, but to us it’s like a tangible victory.
What’s it like going into places like that, especially places where you’ve never been, and back here you stand for everything that’s not the Ugly American, but over there, you can’t help it, you’re automatically the Ugly American?
#2: And it’s so indoctrinated it us, I’m just like — Oh shit, this is me in line, speaking really loudly, and — oops, it’s rearing its ugly head again! Going into China, we went in as tourists. We had visas everywhere else, and the proper papers, but they were just like, “You’re not gonna get ‘em, let’s go in this way.” So I think maybe we were over-analytical about our personalities going in there. We’re flying to these places with people, and we’ll have a little meeting beforehand where they’ll tell us how to act — we get briefed.
JS: We’d definitely catch ourselves in the airport, like, “Hey dude, go long!” and somebody’s throwing me a pillow or something. It’s like — you realize, we’re maybe being the ugly Americans right now.
#2: And we’re in Malaysia ... another part of being in the band for a long time, you don’t take things too seriously, so we’re sound checking and playing songs that aren’t really songs, and goofing off, and they’re politely trying to interrupt us to tell us that it’s prayer time. And we just don’t know what that is. So finally, we’re alerted that we’re making a ruckus for the building upstairs —
JS: “You need to stop!”
#2: ... and they’re saying their prayers!
JS: And we respect that, it just took us a little longer to catch on. But I will say that, going into somewhere foreign, where sometimes there’s an incredible language gap, and working with people you’ve never met before, the apprehension is really high. Because you’re not sure — everybody that is a contact for you is sort of hit or miss. Sometimes you’re with somebody who’s really sharp, understands
#2: And it’s almost overprotective: Here’s where we’ll eat, here’s where we’ll sleep.
JS: And then the other side of it is somebody who just picks you up, doesn’t talk to you, doesn’t explain anything, you don’t know what’s coming.
#2: You might end up in someone’s really nice house, where you’re holding an interview, and you’re like, what is this place? And no one’s talking to you, and you’re there for eight hours and nothing ever happens, then people come in and start taking pictures with you, and then they leave, and you’re like, what just happened? That happened to us in Jakarta.
[Read the rest of this interview here!]
This Monday's MP3 comes from local pop/rock/punk act The Composure. They are having a release show for their new EP Stay the Course at Altar Bar this Friday at 6 p.m. with special guests Kingsfoil, These Three Words, Trophies and Crossing Boundaries. Today we are giving you a taste of their new material with "The One." Check out the live acoustic version of it on their Facebook page. Also be sure to grab a copy of the City Paper this Wednesday to read a Q&A featuring drummer Cory Muro and guitarist/vocalist Paul Menotiades.
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