by Mike Corrigan & r & I saw Black Flag in the fall of 1985. The band was playing in Spokane at a place everyone called the Grotto Hall. The most vivid memory I have of that show was of lead singer Henry Rollins standing next to me in the men's room as we both took a piss. His long, sweaty hair, perpetual scowl and chiseled, heavily tattooed physique were intimidating. Though I really wanted to smile and say "hello" to hardcore's reigning poet-king, I kept my mouth shut and eyes forward, figuring it was neither the time nor the place for such a casual greeting.
After reading Rollins' gritty Black Flag tour diary, Get in the Van, I was pretty sure I'd made the right decision. And when I asked him about it recently, Rollins didn't necessarily disagree.
"Wha... in the men's room?" he laughed. "Well, you know, a guy needs to concentrate on.... But no, I talk to people at every show I've done, from 1980 till now. So, you know, it's cool. Though I'm probably a little more approachable now than I was 20 years ago."
Pop culture's premier musician/author/publisher/actor/spoken word artist has undoubtedly put some distance between himself and the brooding young man of his Black Flag years. He still gets irate, but today, he has focused his anger, tempering it with humor into engaging and provocative conversation. He's also hilarious -- finding ways to get audiences laughing over topics that should have them either crying or throwing up. With the Rollins touch skillfully applied, the ills of modern society are much easier to endure, if not remedy.
Henry Rollins is returning to Spokane's Met Theater this Friday night for another nice, long chat with a local audience -- and he's hauling his "25 Years of Bullshit" with him. No fog. No lasers. No notes. Just a stool, a water bottle and Henry.
If the title of Rollins' current tour seems ironic, it's only because his honesty and candor are legendary. This guy is famous for not bullshitting you.
"That's just me trying not to take the title of the tour very seriously," he explains. "You have to call these things something for the sake of the T-shirts. I take a very utilitarian approach to touring because I tour every year. Basically, I take the work very seriously. I take the audience and the stage with grave seriousness. But not myself. That'd be losing the plot a little bit."
With dozens of albums, more than a dozen books, multiple film and TV appearances (including his own cable TV show, Henry's Film Corner, currently on IFC), Rollins has left an indelible mark on virtually every entertainment medium in Western culture. He never stops working, adhering to a strict work ethic that belies his middle-class roots. That ethos, coupled with an understanding of the fleeting nature of fame, has served him well throughout the years, allowing him to maintain a vibrant career as an entertainer while many of his punk rock peers have faded into jobs at Blockbuster.
Add to his resume "USO Entertainer." That's right, Rollins has now gone where few civilians have gone before: into the war zones and international pressure points currently populated by American men and women in uniform. Under the USO banner, he's entertained the troops in Iraq, Kuwait, Egypt, Siberia and South Korea -- six USO excursions in the last two years alone. Hell, he's probably spent more time "over there" than has anyone in the Bush administration. And no one was more surprised by this development than Rollins himself, who says the USO called him.
"I never would have thought of it," he admits. "Had they never called me, I never would have thought anyone would have ever wanted me for anything like that. But they called and said, 'We don't really know who you are, but we give sign-up sheets to soldiers asking them who they want to see and your name keeps popping up.' They asked me how I felt about the troops, and I said, 'The troops, I like. They just go where they're deployed. It's their masters that I have a problem with.' And they said, 'So you'll do it?' And I said, 'Sure, I will.' I was surprised they were asking for me, not because they were military but because of the age group. I was like, 'Oh. The kids still like me.' I've since met literally hundreds and hundreds of soldiers in the last couple of years. It's probably in the thousands now."
And they shared with him their stories, some of which have found their way into the current spoken-word show. Rollins says it's some of the most incredible stuff he's ever heard.
"What these guys go through for a living -- what their 9-to-5 is like -- it's completely mind-blowing. These are the people with their boots on the ground, 22-year-old boys. Not smart, funny guys in college. Not the guy with the lampshade on his head, blowing pot into the dog's face. It's the Wal-Mart people. They're the one's getting chewed up in this thing. They got handed a lemon. And it doesn't take them very long to figure that out."
Obviously, there's some bullshit out there after all -- and it's worthy of discussion.
"Oh yeah," says Rollins. "Right now, it's a very interesting time to have an opinion and a microphone. There's a lot going on. I read books constantly -- on Afghanistan, Iraq, the Taliban, the Russian-Afghan War and everything leading up to 9/11. I chain-smoke these books because I want to know. And the more you know, the more Iraq looks like the last place to fight terrorism. It's not a Grisham novel. It's real time, it's real life, it's real death. And unfortunately, it's also really fascinating. And Fox News and the Bush administration are trying to boil it all down to 40-second sound bites. It's insulting. And it makes you crazy with anger. It doesn't matter which side of the aisle you vote with. Even if you're a Bush guy, you have to admit that there's more to the discussion than we're good/they're bad. Nothing is simple besides hunger and thirst. Beyond that, everything -- relationships with people or countries or religions or cultures -- is a complicated conversation.
"There's a lot to talk about."
Henry Rollins at the Met Theater, 901 W. Sprague, on Friday, Nov. 11, at 8 pm. Tickets: $20. Visit & lt;a href="http://www.ticketswest.com" & Tickets West & lt;/a & or call 325-SEAT.