Rollin’ with the punches: an interview with Henry Rollins – touring Australia this June/July
Henry Rollins is a jack of all trades: author, musician, radio announcer, political activist, tv presenter, even animal tackler… But what he’s most famous for is his live spoken-word performance.
Packed with biceps and covered in tattoos, on first impression he looks like your average truckie, or perhaps even a nightclub bouncer. But get chatting to this guy and it becomes very clear he’s one heavily clued-up spokesperson.
Following the announcement of his ‘Good To See You’ Tour of Australia this June/July, Henry Rollins chats with Cream about that preconceived tough guy image, his travels to troubled destinations, and his thoughts on media censorship.
Rollins’ extensive 18-date tour will take him from regional centres – Margaret River, Alice Springs, Cairns, Sunshine Coast, Bendigo, Ballarat, Thirroul, Newcastle and Launceston – through to capital cities in each state.
Interview by Antonino Tati
Hi Henry. To many people, you represent a kind of ‘pin-up’ for the butch sensitive new-age man. Who do you see when you look out into your audience?
I see 16- to 60-year-olds, about 50/50 male/female, primarily white. Past that, they are the audience and I’m there to serve them. I don’t look too closely!
Do you find your image still throws people off to this day, what with all the muscles and the tatts?
I honestly don’t notice. I don’t take a lot of time to wonder how I’m being evaluated by my appearance.
It’d be wrong to categorise your style of performance as solely stand-up. Your subject matter veers more towards serious topics than the average stand-up does. What would you call your delivery style?
For me, it’s never been anything more than a talking show. That’s what I’ve always called it. If I called it comedy, there would have to be more humour.
“I’ll usually be drawn to the person texting, the person sleeping, the visibly bored, the person trying to secretly film me. I’m drawn to the distraction basically.”
Do you feel there are some people in your audience who shed tears during your shows, torn between crying with joy at your jokes and with sadness through the epiphanies your discussions might trigger?
I’ve been told by people post show that that’s what has happened although I’ve never seen it myself. I guess people run through all kinds of things at the shows. The topics tend to bring a lot of emotions into play.
When you’re delivering what I would call spoken word, are you tempted to look out into one part of the audience or do you constantly move your attention around the room?
I’ll usually be drawn to the person texting, the person sleeping, the visibly bored, the person trying to secretly film me. I’m drawn to the distraction basically. Past that, I usually just look straight ahead.
What do you think of other spoken word artists and storytellers, such as Gil Scot Heron, Michael Franti or Laurie Anderson?
I don’t know enough about them, besides Laurie, who is just magic.
Do segues come quite naturally for you? Hope you don’t mind my asking but have you ever gotten stuck and stammered in the middle of telling a story?
I’ve gotten momentarily lost in a story if I’m really tired and have lost a little traction, but I do a lot of preparation so I rarely get off-track. It happens though. I’m not stuck for more than a second. Not being high helps.
I’m sure it does. How would you describe your radio DJ-ing style?
Loose, prone to error, but heartfelt and enthusiastic.
Are you one for censorship on radio? Outside of the obvious swear words that might be censored, do you believe in full freedom of speech via the medium?
I don’t believe in censorship but curse words on the radio wear thin for me. I have satellite radio in the car. Some of these guys really let it fly. I wouldn’t dare to stop them but it makes it hard to listen to at times. To me, it’s just lazy speaking.
What do you think of contemporary democratic media, like the net? Will there come a time when we’re censored on that, too?
I’m sure there’ll be attempts. I wouldn’t be surprised if that came from the left side of the aisle. There is a lot of freedom to be had. I think it all depends on how much governments see things as a true security threat and what they see as a way to minimise that problem. Past that, there’s a lot of money to be made, so people will try to regulate it if they can make a buck.
Tell me a bit about the television show you hosted on National Geographic, Animal Underworld – was it a risky, dangerous job at times?
Slightly dangerous. If you go the wrong way with a venomous snake, that could be bad for you, but for the most part, no, not all that dangerous. I wish it was a bit riskier, actually! Keeps the blood thin.
“I am not trying to be brutal or callous, just clear-sighted. In many cases, the only person feeling bad in an impoverished environment is me; everyone else is just getting on with things.”
Travel is a big thing with you. What/where are three of the world’s best kept natural secrets?
Good question. I don’t know. Most of the places I have been where there are not many people are pretty harsh and it’s not a wonder as to why they are not often travelled. I’ve always liked Southeast Asia but that’s a well-travelled bit of territory. Parts of Africa are very nice and not all that tourist-infested. Kenya has some nice parts that make you feel like you’re somewhere really different.
You’ve travelled to some rather troubled destinations – Siberia, Burma, Bangladesh – how do you continue doing so without getting too depressed about some of the sad living conditions in these places?
I wouldn’t be all that effective if it becomes all too much. You have to see past the bad parts to stay clear. I do see some sad situations and I do get to leave them and not get any on me. I don’t feel guilt or feel that I am lucky; just from a different situation. I try to see it for what it is. I am not trying to be brutal or callous, just clear-sighted. In many cases, the only person feeling bad in an impoverished environment is me; everyone else is just getting on with things.
What can the everyday guy do to help? Are there any particular charities you know of that really do help out?
Doctors Without Borders; Drop In The Bucket. Those two I have seen in action and they get the job done, big time.
What’s your checklist of things to do outside of performance?
Past deadlines to be met, good workouts and restorative sleep. When I’m on tour, I’m pretty much just about the shows. I find that being mission-specific really helps the show.
You come across as an all-round workaholic, constantly on the road performing, writing books, acting in films, presenting on radio and television, and making music. What’s left for Henry Rollins to do?
I reckon it’s for me to just stay with it. I don’t know of other things I want to do. I really like being onstage, with the audience. I feel a great duty to them, and I feel very lucky to have that outlet. Past that, I can’t think of anything on the list that needs checking off.
Henry Rollins ‘Good To See You’ Tour 2023:
Monday 5 June – Perth Concert Hall, Perth, WA
Tuesday 6 June – Margaret River HEART, Margaret River, WA
Thursday 8 June – Thebarton Theatre, Adelaide, SA
Friday 9 June – Araluen Arts Centre, Alice Springs, NT
Saturday 10 June – Darwin Entertainment Centre, Darwin, NT
Tuesday 13 June – Cairns Performing Arts Centre, Cairns, QLD
Thursday 15 June – The Tivoli, Brisbane, QLD
Friday 16 June – The Tivoli, Brisbane, QLD
Saturday 17 June – The Events Centre Caloundra, Sunshine Coast, QLD
Tuesday 20 June – Llewellyn Hall ANU, Canberra, ACT
Wednesday 21 June – Ulumbarra Theatre, Bendigo, VIC
Thursday 22 June – Civic Hall, Ballarat, VIC
Saturday 24 June – Hamer Hall, Melbourne, VIC
Tuesday 27 June – Anita’s Theatre, Thirroul, NSW
Wednesday 28 June – State Theatre, Sydney, NSW
Friday 30 June – Newcastle City Hall, Newcastle, NSW
Sunday 2 July – Princess Theatre, Launceston, TAS
Monday 3 July – Odeon Theatre, Hobart, TAS
Tickets for all shows are available through Frontier Touring.
Feel free to leave a comment!