The popular image of Henry Rollins is one that's rather hard to dispel. Ripped with muscles, covered in tattoos, and pissed off enough that not only will he eat your children, but he'll ask you for condiments and a side salad. Anyone that's spent any time with records from his Black Flag days, or since Flag's breakup through as recently as last summer with the (reunited Weight-era) Rollins Band, would attest to that. Rollins, quite simply, was out to destroy you, and made no bones about it.
But fans of his "spoken word" work have had a glimpse into a whole different Henry. That's not to say he isn't angry -- far from it. But he articulates it in an entirely different manner, using his growing mastery of storytelling and humor (oftentimes self-deprecating) to communicate with his audience. On self-released spoken releases such as Eric the Pilot and the Talk Is Cheap series, Rollins keeps listeners glued to every word, recounting stories of obsessed fans, the current American administration, the Ramones, and William Shatner.
Scanning the audience over both nights of Rollins' recent two-night stand on September 25 and 26 at The Theatre in West Palm Beach, it's clear both sets of fans were in attendance. From the middle-aged Mohawk a few rows up to the college students huddled together in the row across, a generous cross-section showed up to hear what ol' Hank had to say. It's safe to say no one was disappointed.
The theme of much of Rollins' work has been his desire for work and to continue working. In a marked departure, Rollins focused the majority of his time to vacation -- Rollins-style. Syria and Iran were both on Henry's vacation itinerary as he wished to relax while seeing what it's Really Like. This leads to another one of the main themes running through Rollins' work: The Experience. He constantly reminds his audience to take chances and keep an open mind. As Rollins told his audience on both nights, just as all Americans are not the clones of George W. Bush, Iraq is not a country full of Saddams, nor is Iran chock-full of Mahmoud Ahmadinejads, either. Listening to Henry recount his tales of a Syrian taxi driver's hospitality, or the cult of Oprah Winfrey that exists in Iran, one can't help but feel the world shrink just a little bit.
Deep down, however, Henry Rollins is nothing if not a rock 'n' roll fanboy at heart. The evidence lies in his tale of singing with the reunited Ruts over the summer (which also served as a benefit for their guitarist, Paul Fox, suffering from cancer). Listening to Henry talk about his continuing to be star-struck in the company of punk luminaries such as the Damned's Captain Sensible and Charlie Harper of the UK Subs stirs the rock fan with a Sharpie and digital camera in all of us (as well as makes at least one person rush out to purchase a Ruts CD...but that's another story...).
Each night, Rollins put in close to three hours onstage before thanking his rapturous audience and walking offstage after acknowledging a standing ovation. The merch table was swamped with fans waiting patiently to purchase books and T-shirts afterwards, and others were on cell phones anxiously recounting stories as best they could -- a sure sign that Rollins put in yet another Successful Day's Work.