On Saturday, March 27th, Henry Rollins returned to Syracuse for the first time since he appeared at the newly opened RedHouse in 2004; this time he was at the Westcott Theater. I have been waiting since January for this experience and knew little of what I would encounter other than I am very curious about Henry Rollins. My friends would ask, "Is he with a band or is it just spoken word?" I did not know. I was just going to go find out with little expectation but much anticipation.
Let me back up. I was not heavily into the punk scene when it blew open the music world. I have tragic tales of missing performances by great bands because I was not ready to be open to them. But Henry starting entering my periphery every so often, mostly in dramatic roles on the small and large screen and occasional encounters with Black Flag references. I felt obliged to pay attention.
When I expanded my cable t.v. choices, I found Henry's talk show. I was enthralled. I also found a special broadcast of one of his spoken word performances in Israel a few years back one lazy afternoon. I was held captive by Henry on the little screen.
Then I read a collection of his earlier writings early last year. Henry had me, hook, line, and sinker. I was appalled by the anger and frustration of his younger years. I was empathetic for the tenacity of his human self to withstand much pain and keep going. I was confused often as the writings blurred the boundaries of memoir, stream of consciousness, and fiction. I felt his righteous indignation and was angered by the responses of those around him in his catalog of days, moments, feelings, and beliefs. I was riding the Henry Rollins roller coaster and loving every minute, even those when I really wanted to get off but knew I had no choice but to finish the ride.
So this leads us up to Saturday: the line of folks stretched up the block and around the corner of Dell Street; people of all ages and levels of piercings and tattoos, from none to outlandish. Hair was gray, hair was purple, spiked and GQ. It took awhile to get everyone in the door but once the last person was admitted, the single spot over the one microphone was met with Henry just strolling across the stage, taking his stance, and the words started to flow...for 3 hours without a drop of water, barely a breath. Henry just pontificated on any and all matters of discourse and wonder.
My biggest curiosity has been, "What is Henry like as a middle-aged man?" He is everything a man of this generation should be: righteously indignant, full of questions, a mirror to the rest of us, fully invested in the evolution of rock & roll as well as humanity itself. What did I discover? Henry is a scholar of American History, almost of geek-like proportions. He is funny...very funny, in fact. He is caring. He loves all people equally, even the fools and the bigots, although he does not approve of stupidity and has no problem letting us know how intolerant he may be at times. Henry is a citizen of the world and takes matters very much to heart.
Mostly, I loved how much Henry loves language. He honors the word so fully. The abbreviated world of marketing and texting annoys him dearly. He busts on texters (of which I proclaim I am one) with relish. Henry seemed to be this era's Spaulding Gray, telling the stories of his curious life and constant state of inquiry to whomever will listen. He also expects that his audience is intelligent and can follow his thoughts, understand what he is saying. He couches things in metaphor, he plays with syntax and literary devices. The world of language is his home and he is astoundingly prolific.
Henry is also tremendously generous with his fans, meeting them by his bus, night after night, even though it appears he is not very comfortable in that setting. He stood in the parking lot signing books, album covers, ticket stubs, for nearly an hour in the cold March night.
Henry, we want you back...soon! This poet will be on a mission to find a way to bring you back to Syracuse so we can all swim through the currents of your thought, so we can be reminded that Why is the most important word any of us can employ, but especially those of us who are writers. It is our source and our responsibility to question.
You can follow Henry's dispatches and discover other Rollins-related items and info at: www.henryrollins.com
Georgia Popoff is a member of the DWC community, frequent contributor to this blog, and believes in having a crush on someone just because they are really articulate can be healthy.