Thursday, March 6, 2008
Interviewing Henry Rollins for an online magazine was one of the first paid writing gigs I ever had. I was living in northern California at the time, and Rollins’ publicist got me an e-mail interview with Hank, kind of like the one Scott Mervis did for the Post-Gazette this past week, and hooked me up with tickets to his show on the campus of nearby Chico State. That was a number of years ago, and since moving to Pittsburgh, I’ve also caught his act at the mercifully defunct Rock Jungle in Station Square, and later at the Byham Theater Downtown.
So when the over-caffeinated road warrior showed up to do his thing at the considerably more humble Rex Theatre on the South Side on Wednesday, I was there. As were a number of other people: Promoter Mike Elko told me had sold out three weeks ago. It was a seated show, but a handful of stragglers like myself ended up squatting or leaning against the wall for most of the night.
Rollins’ act mostly focused on his travels in the Middle East, his middle-of-the-left politics, and his familiar topics of traveling for no good reason (except that he can, and makes his living do so) and getting to hang out with his fellow punk-rock-star idols. Thankfully, he’s shed most of the men-vs.-women type of material that has long made his act veer a bit too close to standup comedy cliché. And, like any showbiz pro, he had some location-specific anecdotes — some “back in the day” Pittsburgh tales of playing the Electric Banana with Black Flag, and patted us all on the back for surviving in this harsh climate. Yay.
Much of his 2.5-hour spiel boiled down to the exhortation to go live your life and be informed and not be an asshole, because if you don’t, the end is just “Rogaine and regret.” Which I’m sure hit home for many in the late-20s-40s crowd.
Walking back across the 10th Street Bridge to Downtown after the show, I jammed some Nick Cave and thought back through what Rollins had said. Don’t get me wrong, seeing his show is a good time, and it’s kind of cool that such a thing as a punk-rock motivational speaker exists in the world. But for most of the people at the show, myself included, what are we supposed to do with this information afterwards? Quit our jobs the next morning and fly to Syria with a backpack? Go hang out with all our theoretical rock-star friends? I suspect that this kind of agenda really only works for one person — and he’s the guy up onstage we’re paying to see.
But I suppose most of us could be a little more proactive about getting outside this walled city of ours once in a while, and taking a look around.
For more info, visit http://www.henryrollins.com/