As the former frontman of hardcore punk bands Black Flag and Rollins Band, Henry Rollins is best-known for his caustic lyrics and an intense, raw delivery of opinions. The outspoken activist hosts a weekly program on the public radio station KCRW and performs spoken word events, or “talking shows,” all over the world, averaging more than 100 shows a year for the last 28 years. This Thursday at Hawaiian Brian’s, Rollins begins his Capitalism tour, which hits the capital of every US state and ends on the eve of the election in Washington DC. Smooth itinerary.
What makes your performances different from going up there and basically lecturing your audiences?
Well, not a lot. I try to be careful that I don’t go into lecturing dad mode because the audience doesn’t need a lecture–definitely not from me–and so that’s why I do a lot of storytelling. I go all over the world . . . in an effort to bring the audience back stories from pretty much every continent. But it’s not for me to tell you about how you should be or how you are–that requires a level of temerity and chutzpah that I just don’t have.
What are you looking forward to the most with this tour, and with your stay in Hawaii?
[This is] the first talking show I’ve ever done in Hawaii. I think this tour overall is going to be pretty challenging in that there’s some states of the union who are pretty set in their ways. I think there’s going to be some pretty cold nights on stage . . . so it’s my job to remain cheerful and optimistic at all times.
What do you think is the biggest issue in the upcoming election?
I think it’s going to be healthcare and . . . the economy: jobs, jobs, jobs. It’s not really [the] president’s fault–the executive [is] one of three co-evil branches of government–and so it cannot be the do-all and end-all. When you really see why your employment opportunities have left America, that needs to be addressed in a non-partisan way, which I think is fairly impossible at this point, but I have my hopes.
How did you get into spoken word?
In 1983, there was a local Los Angeles promoter who was doing really interesting shows at small clubs. I knew a lot of the people who were on stage and one night the promoter fellow said, “Well, why don’t we get you up there one of these nights? You’ve got a big mouth, you’ve got a lot of attitude [and] we’re paying 10 dollars a person.” I went, “Oh, in that case, I’m in.” I liked that way of being on stage, so I sought to do more . . . and by ‘85, I was doing my own little tours of America.
Who inspired you?
I grew up listening to comedy records, which is in a way what I do, and so people like Lenny Bruce were inspiring–George Carlin, Bill Cosby, Richard Pryor–because they told the truth in their own kind of wonderful way. And I really liked the Bill Cosby records as a young person because . . . the storytelling really grabbed me . . . and so that’s perhaps something that I’ve incorporated. But am I trying to mold myself after somebody? No. I’m not good enough to really emulate anyone–I just kind of go up there and tell you what I saw and what happened.
Do you miss the music?
Sometimes. But I also know that there’s nothing legitimate, in my opinion, that I can bring to it to justify myself being on stage in front of you, demanding your time and your interest. I’m 51, which isn’t ancient, but it’s not young, so I really don’t have any interest in repeating the past and that’s kind of what you do when you go on stage and play the old songs where it might be fun, but so is eating pizza, and I can’t make a hobby of that every day, either.
What kind of tour do you have more fun doing?
Well, I would never really ascribe the word fun to any of this. I don’t take myself seriously (thankfully), but I take the fact that there’s an audience there, I take that really seriously. The band tours were, in a way, a lot easier, in that you’re on stage with other people so you’re responsible for a fraction of the output . . . but when I’m on my own, if I don’t speak, there’s no sound up there and they’re like, what’s going on with this guy? So it’s up to me to keep this thing going and that can be challenging, hence the amount of seriousness and preparation that goes into these shows.
How does travel affect how you look at your own country?
A lot of the places I go, . . . I see a lot of basic mortal uncertainty, and so it makes me appreciate what I’ve got with a mind to conserve it. I think that’s, to me, a really worthwhile pursuit. I really like not forgetting that.