Henry Rollins talks to Bush, Janet at Webster Theater show

By on February 19, 2004

“I’m sorry I haven’t been to Hartford in, well- like never,” says Henry Rollins, dressed in a black T-shirt and pants, the stage glowing ghostly with just a single light above him. Having never seen Rollins before in any context, I was excited to catch his spoken word performance last Wednesday at the Webster Theatre in Hartford.

Written off by some as a fanatical, tattooed meathead, Rollins instead comes off as a cogent, thought-provoking social commentator and a captivating storyteller. He is also funny as hell, and his rants (or targets) cover such topical territory as being forty-three, single, still bitter and angry.

During his Webster Theater performance, Rollins also commented on topical issues including Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl performance, gay marriage, Iraq and Afghanistan (including his visit to the troops in Kabul), wasted money on religious institution programs, and had a few choice words about Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy.

He spent a while with the President of course, citing his favorite recent Bush-isms. These include such gems as “the proliferators,” and when speaking on the Mars project, he thanks the “spacial entrepreneurs.” Rollins laughs, “There’s no ‘c’ in there, George,” and then ruminates on the market possibilities of being a ‘spatial’ entrepreneur.

Rollins also stressed that the website http://www.newamericancentury.org be visited; the homepage of a conservative think-tank that includes such luminaries as Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. The site has an archive of documents, some are letters sent to President Clinton that outline the need to invade Iraq, punctuated with familar rhetoric like “weapons of mass destruction.” Rollins’ satire takes a poignant turn as he says, “It seems this war was just waiting for the right President.”

He also charts the poor fate of “Emo boy” at one of his concerts (it involves a shoe, a water bottle and three angry thugs-use your imagination); the horrors of living in Southern L.A; crashing the “Kill Bill” movie premiere with director Adam Rifkin (the duo went for the free food given at the premiere) and “shaking the hand that beat Tina” when he bounces into Ike Turner at the after party (again, for the free food); and recording a track for producer Ben FoldsTon William Shatner’s new album (“at seventy-three, he’s even more intense than I am!” Rollins commented).

The Shatner segment, naturally, was priceless. In Nashville for the studio sessions, Shatner beckons Rollins out to lunch at his favorite restaurant. “My friend flies out here with scallops, hand-picked,” Rollins says in his best Shatner brogue, “and they’re from the eastern seaboard! He captures the scallops himself!” This allows Rollins to segue into a ponderous rant on how, exactly, do you capture a scallop? “Nobody has more fun being Shatner than Shatner,” Rollins laughs. Another stand-out bit was his recollection of the “most, surreal, absurdist conversation I ever had in my life”- which is with, of course, a burglar who tries to break into his house and asks at one point, “Do you want to let me in so we can talk about this?”

Rollins also defended his controversial move to put on a benefit concert for the “West Memphis Three,” three youths accused of murder. “There is DNA evidence and the state of Arkansas will not pay for the tests,” he explains. The benefit concert his band put on raised $10,000 for the cause, and was even supported by one of the mothers of the victims, much to Rollins’ surprise.

He kept the audience compelled for the entire set, which went non-stop firing on all cylinders for ninety minutes. He had a water bottle out there with him, but never paused to take so much as a sip. He spoke with great clarity and intensity, the material was strong and followed a trajectory that was of an orbit all its own. Rollins has a commanding yet very humane stage presence, and his intelligence and insight shine through all the wit and snappy one-liners. Wherever there is free food, it seems, there is Rollins. It is easy to like this guy.


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