The Barrymore Theater was the target of a full-on verbal assault Wednesday night as performer and author Henry Rollins manned the stage for three hours on his “Shock and Awe My Ass” tour.
Built like a Sherman Tank and littered in body art, the proclaimed “renaissance man” has held nation-wide audiences captive with his hilarious spoken-word performances. The former front man of the punk band Black Flag mixed the flow of the evening by covering topics on touring, masturbation and the Bush administration.
Rollins worked the stage by tying humor and personal accounts into a political awareness message that attacked the White House’s blatant open-business agenda and its concern to reach Mars over dealing with world problems. His approach, however, did not preach as much as poke fun at what he believes to be obvious violations of presidential power.
In a recent interview with The Badger Herald, Rollins said he is not a political advocate. This seems contradictory, considering the majority of his material focused on the Bush administration, Iraq and contained a get-out-and-vote segment. Rollins also said in the interview that he is not a bad ass. This coming from a man who still picks fights at 43 and has the brute strength to crack most men in half.
Rollins, however, stands compassionate on stage, and his sensitive side comes through as he discusses gay rights to marriage, supporting U.S. soldiers in Iraq and the positive aspects of the Catholic Church. But get him going on an issue that irritates him and it is easy for the neck veins to pop and the energy to sky-rocket to that of a Black Flag concert.
The spoken-word tours are a welcome change from his musical tours. Still active with the Rollins Band, these softer, light-hearted performances show the intelligent side of the artist that is often missed during his screaming concerts. He is up to date on politics, current events and is looking for a woman that reads more than the Harry Potter series. But in the high-glamour lifestyle of the West Coast, Rollins believes it is hard to find a girl whose artistic tastes stretch beyond that of Nickelback.
Rollins started playing music first and moved into the spoken-word routines in the early 1980s. He was reading poetry but was encouraged to drop the literature and focus more on the stories that he told in between readings. Rollins stated that he does not prefer one performance style over the other and that sharing the roles as a singer and speaker does not bother him.
“I just started doing [spoken-word performances]. There really wasn’t a transition,” Rollins said. “It’s different only in regards to that — there is a lot more policing in a band, with the instruments banging you into form and to keep you on pace. Playing in a band is easier, but more physical.”
Following the end of the “Shock and Awe My Ass” tour, Rollins will head back to the West Coast to continue his acting career. He has already appeared in more than 11 feature films, including “Bad Boys 2” and David Lynch’s “Lost Highway.”
With another leg of the tour left, Rollins plans to continue discussing politics and stands by his notion that he is not trying to influence people politically. His goal is simply to entertain his fans, and since there is a lot going on in politics, it gives him a lot of material. Rollins said if people leave his shows thinking about politics, that is fine, but that it is not his intention. But if you want to know, he is more than willing to tell you were he stands.
“I think [if Bush gets re-elected, it] would be a travesty to the environment, people’s perception of us and to the future of Americans.”