No Time for Fiction, or the Anger of Human Kindness: A Polite Conversation with Henry Rollins

The great raconteur and renaissance man Henry Rollins turned 50 yesterday, and expounded on that milestone from the stage at National Georgraphic’s Grosvenor Auditorium. Actually, he didn’t discuss aging so much as his memories of growing up here in Our Nation’s Capital with future Fugazi frontman Ian MacKaye (who introduced him) and his recent, harrowing visits to Costco in Burbank and Pyongyang, North Korea. More inspiring was his visit to South Africa, a country he praised for its efforts in recent years to get on the right side of history. He even recited from memory the preamble to that country’s constitution.

The two shows were filmed for future broadcast and/or home video release. I attended the second, which got going at about quarter past 10, an hour after the first one finished, and lasted about 90 minutes. So it was certainly the shortest Rollins spoken-word show I’ve attended — I’ve seen him go for just shy of three hours — but the material was very sharp, very funny and almost all-new, and the preserved-in-amber version should come out great whatever form it eventually takes. (I had also come directly from the second of two plays I attended yesterday, reviews of which shall be appearing in this space in the next couple of days, so my attention span likely wouldn’t have been able to withstand a talkathon anyway. And it was a school night, after all.)

Among my friends in the audience was someone with whom I attended my first Rollins performance, on the campus of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg in 1997. I remember Rollins getting some big laughs during that show by referring to himself as an “aging alternative icon.” To begin his show last night, his longtime assistant (or to hear him tell it, boss) Heidi pushed him onstage from the wings in a wheelchair with a balloon tied to it. A good joke, that.

Anyway, we had a phone conversation about two weeks ago that you can read, in part, here. I’ve removed my offhand mention of Kindergarten Cop from my question about his “Born to Rage” episode of National Geographic Explorer because it was a poorly chosen reference that I immediately regretted, mostly because it seemed to irritate him a bit. We also talked about how brilliant his friend Nick Cave is, but everyone knows that already.

My 2008 interview with Henry dealt more broadly with the craft of oral storytelling, as well as the then-imminent presidential election. Read ’em both! It won’t cost you a dime.

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