February 12, 2004

Poet on Steroids

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I promised myself I wouldn’t put a personal pronoun in the “review” this early, but, like all things in this world, my promise was demolished under the tremendous, terrifying girth of three and a half hours of Henry Rollins. We arrived at the show under a shroud of occult nightfall, wrapping ourselves in warm tartans to stave off the frigid threat of Henry Rollins. Taking our seats in the rotunda of the extravagantly redecorated State Theatre on Thursday night, it was quickly evident this was not your average show. In fact, it was perhaps one of the most calamitous and momentous nights in the entire history of Earth and was certainly one of the greatest nights of my life.

First of all, I had been subsisting on three hours of sleep for that entire week. I had the flu as well. I was unable to ascertain whether the show had started for the first half-hour. In fact, I thought I was outside for most of the show and kept complaining that cars were going to hit us. I desired nothing more than a lazy show with a few hastily-written punchlines and maybe some quick anti-Bush proselytizing. While Rollins is a likeable, eminently respectable celebrity with charm and a long history to draw upon, I wanted nothing more than to be lulled into a few moments of sleep. This was impossible before the show. For one thing, a man at the bar kept clamoring for a ticket so he could get into the show. Needless to say, this caused some confusion as he was at the bar INSIDE the show. A man in front of me seemingly got out of his chair so he could find a better position to painfully and suddenly fall to the floor in a heap. This did not seem to affect the audience’s glee. They were a diverse mix with highly ornamented elderly folks, who clearly thought they were attending the Ambassadors’ Ball, gallivanting with crusty, urine-stained street urchins. The curtain rose. Silence. Or loud clapping. I forget.

Though I had been familiar with much of Rollins’s musical output and a few of his spoken-word recordings, nothing could have prepared the audience for tonight’s show, insanely and humorously (and somehow not humorously as well) entitled “Shock and Awe My Ass.” For those never given the opportunity to see one of his solo performances, here’s the modus operandi: Everyone gets quiet until Henry Rollins stands on a bare stage and talks to you about, you know, how things are going or whatever for three and a half hours of everyone’s lives.

The first thing one notices about Henry Rollins is that he yells. A lot. In the course of the evening, he yelled at the president, a pauper, William Shatner, Sheryl Crow, a man that made bombs for a living, the idea of masturbation, most of the audience, and himself. Needless to say, as someone fond of yelling, I was quickly inured to Rollins’s aggressive speaking style. Rollins began with a tirade against lethargic teenagers who become homeless to cheat the actual homeless out of their jobs as beggars. No one in the audience knew exactly what that meant, but we were all on his side nevertheless. Then, in a smooth transition, Rollins assailed the President for sending astronauts, Bush’s “spatial entrepreneurs,” to buy the moon. I also remember that this show was more than three hours of of watching some dude talk. Although Rollins did not focus as much on politics as he has in other shows, the core of the presentation was Rollins’s experience with the U.S. troops in Afghanistan as a member of a USO tour. Though his description of mortified, homesick soldiers and their daily routines was perceptive and troubling, I admit I was mostly entertained by the story where he yells about guns for a long time. That rocked. FUCKIN’ GUNS! A recurring theme was how Rollins spends his downtime at his L.A. home by masturbating till he passes out and breaks his neck on the floor. Another segment considered his conversation with a robber, while the last two stories/tangents/hours were about his infatuations with Sheryl Crow and Ann Coulter. The audience’s clear favorite, however, was Rollins’s tale of a Nashville recording session with Ben Folds, William Shatner, King Crimson guitarist Adrian Belew, and a man who eats scallops. Oh, and the show was more than three hours. Rollins’s Shatner impression is a true marvel, combining Shatner’s patented freeze-frame inflection with Rollins’s constant yelling. It basically had the whole audience rocking in fits that were equal parts laughter and vicious seizures.

Although the show was, get this, over three hours, it would be helpful to focus on his best line of the night: “A brick upside the head? That’s like getting a handjob.” Let the hardcoreness of that phrase settle in. The Hell’s Angels, Patton, Clint Eastwood, and Sugar Ray Robinson are shuddering in horror. For Rollins, the most intense pain in the world, a portion of an entire house pulverizing the place WHERE YOUR BRAIN LIVES, is equivalent to ecstatic sexual pleasure. Now that’s a tough guy.

Archived article by Alex Linhardt