Henry Rollins strolled onstage promptly at 8 p.m., dressed entirely in black and poised for an insane marathon session of stories and armchair political quarterbacking. Over the years, we’ve heard far less of Rollins as a hardcore punk hero and more of Rollins as the poet warlord. He hasn’t released any records of his own in eight years and, outside of the occasional guest spot on a William Shatner record, shows no sign of picking up the mic to scream “TV Party” at us ever again. Instead, his performances these days are part one-man show, part stand-up comedy and part lecture in world history and constitutional law.
Unlike Jello Biafra, the founding Dead Kennedys singer and Rollins’ closest equivalent in the aging punk rocker talking circuit, Rollins never stops. In the three hours he spoke, he never stopped for applause, never paused for a drink of water — we’re not sure he even stopped to breathe. Nashville was the last stop on the North American leg of his “Frequent Flyer” tour, so his material was well-honed and designed to fill every available moment.
Rollins essentially broke his stories into two broad halves. He immediately launched into a series of topical rants, targeting disgraced general Stanley McChrystal and the Rolling Stone article that effectively ended his career before moving on to some good ol’ punk rock anti-capitalist bile directed at BP’s colossal fuck-up in the Gulf. The political soapbox portion of the gig gave Rollins an opportunity to lay into Barack Obama, calling him a “corporate president,” before regaining his liberal cred by dissing Ann Coulter. Rollins is a smart guy, but his politics aren’t exactly surprising. He more or less toes the line of attacking those in power for their corporate interests while trumpeting causes that benefit the little guy. He’s a walking, talking version of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States.
After defending a gay Mississippi high school student whose prom was canceled ostensibly because she wanted to bring her girlfriend, reciting the preamble to the South African constitution from memory and, for reasons we can’t determine from our notes, using the phrase “trick-ass bitches,” Rollins pushed the soapbox aside. We remember what it’s like to be young punks donating money to Food Not Bombs and flipping the bird to the man, but now that we’re older and wiser, the whole “hopelessly naïve and Utopian” (his words) political chatter gets exhausting awfully quick.
We got our second wind as Rollins started in on the latter half of the show, about his brief stint as a neo-Nazi in Sons of Anarchy and his life in show business. “You should never let an astounding lack of talent preclude you from getting in way over your head” was his mantra for everything he’s done outside of his comfort zone. Encouraging words for people who don’t know what the fuck they’re getting themselves into all over the world. We found ourselves far more engrossed in Rollins’ tales of judging drag queens on a reality show hosted by RuPaul — which included an observation that Sylvester Stallone’s epic arm-wrestling picture Over the Top is a metaphor for masturbation — than his opining about the liberties granted by the Constitution. We’re not sure if that’s because we’ve matured or because we haven’t.
At show’s end, Rollins told the crowd, “If I don’t have you here, I’ve got nothing.” Then, finally, he put down the mic, took a swig of water and walked offstage.