Motivational speaker, comedian, manic street-preaching poet, all of the above?
The outspoken Henry Rollins stops off in Brooklyn, New York to deliver “Provoked” before heading to the mid-west to finish up his spoken-word tour.
Why pay $30 to hear someone talk about themselves for three hours? I’ve been doing it since I first saw Henry Rollins perform his spoken-word shtick in 2001, and like clockwork, I’m always back for more. The charming and oh-so outspoken raconteur is at it again with “Provoked: An Evening of Quintessentially American Opinionated Editorializing and Storytelling,” the title of his new spoken-word performance.
Seeing him at the Warsaw Polish National Home in the heart of Greenpoint, Brooklyn—a retro ballroom of rental chairs where “pierogis meet punk rock,” or something to that extent—was easily candid, and a drastic change from the formal concert halls I’ve seen him do.
Highlights of any Rollins performance are always his humbled and hilarious experiences as a foreigner visiting un-expecting countries, and “Provoked” certainly doesn’t fall short of this. More so than before, Rollins focuses on international issues—the Iraq War, the AIDS epidemic, and the effects of Western presence on the people of the Middle East. His humanitarian sympathies haven’t changed much from the last tour, “25 Years of Bullshit” in 2005, but his travels have. Instead of some madcap rush into the Russian tundra, this time around he decided to take his winter break in Islamabad, Pakistan, and relates his experience of being witness to the aftermath of the Benazir Bhutto assassination. Other countries he’s visited since 2005, through personal travel as well as his spoken-word performances with the USO: Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel and South Africa.
Despite what some might think are dangerous or harrowing situations to be retold in all seriousness, it takes someone as anomalistic as Henry Rollins to make them both entertaining and contemplative. He interjects his sense of frank, self-deprecating humor into these stories, poking fun at himself for being a ‘crazy’ guy who walks around politically unstable countries at night, defying any concierge who might try to dissuade his ruffian-style, DIY pursuit of knowledge and justice. Rollins is something of a Gonzo journalist—his stories’ livelihood rely on something other than strictly delivering information, but we trust that his endearing ‘crazed lunatic’ self-parodying doesn’t distort the facts, only makes them interesting. And his conversational delivery makes his stories believable.
Rollins has been telling stories for a large part of his life, publishing numerous books of poetry and vignettes beginning with his days on the road with West Coast hardcore punk band Black Flag, and starting his own publishing and record company 2.13.61. Even throughout his time with the Rollins Band beginning in the late 80’s, Rollins continued to publish books, release numerous spoken-word CD’s like the jazz-backed Everything, tour, host his own radio show (Harmony in My Head), appear in various TV programs for major networks, and host and star in The Henry Rollins Show on the IFC. He’s also made appearances in various films, such as Lost Highway and Johnny Mnemonic. During the Brooklyn ‘Provoked’ performance, he talked about his upcoming role as a priest—yes, a priest, of some variety—in a film starring Cuba Gooding Jr. He admits, he’s a workaholic and can’t turn down a job opportunity. It seems like he would spontaneously self-combust if he didn’t have a variety of outlets to contain his lion’s share of energy.
He’s become something of a self-made sub-cultural icon, and for all of his fans, it’s OK to admit that we all want to be him, just a little bit. We all want to travel around and have wild experiences with his level of tenacity, gut-gravel, and conviction, whether playing the hero or the fool. “Provoked” does a good job of letting us live vicariously and retrospectively through Henry’s experiences, abroad and at home. He talks about his teenage years—his relationship with Ian Mackaye of Fugazi, his obsession with Ted Nugent and Van Halen, and his punk revelation via the Sex Pistols—and fast-forwards into his post-Black Flag years, when he’s made friends with the likes of David Lee Roth, Ozzy Osbourne, and Nick Cave.
All of the references to music’s elite might seem like inconsequential filler in between the more politically-charged content, though Rollins’ impersonations are memorable. But the man’s got a gift, and that’s his ability to run on at the mouth, and to do so like an Exacto knife — with lucid precision and a controlled delivery, and of course not without wit and some poetry. He is given to fits of severe digressions, but that’s what he does best.
Rollins continues to roll “Provoked” on through the U.S. throughout March, and then he’s off again to travel Europe, Australia and New Zealand, and possibly Southeast Asia in between hosting his radio show and finishing up some new literature.
Catch him before he splits:
4 – Rochester, NY – Harro East
5 – Pittsburgh, PA – Rex Theater
6 – Indianapolis, IN – Egyptian Room
8 – Memphis, TN – New Daisy Theatre
11 – Tulsa, OK – Cains Ballroom
12 – Lincoln, NE – Rococo
13 – Des Moines, IA – Val Air Ballroom
14 – Sioux Falls, SD – Orpheum Theatre
15 – Fargo, ND – The Venue
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