Henry Rollins brought his Good To See You tour to Auckland’s Sky City Theatre last night. The 13th Floor’s Robin Kearns was there.
In the elevator up to the theatre, the other occupants are all in black. Coincidence or allusions to Black Flag, the punk group Henry Rollins fronted in the 80s, I wonder? Inside an audience of mostly grey hair, more black clothes, and modal age of mid-fifties. I’m a newcomer, but I fit in.
On the dot of 8pm, he walks out. Tall, in black, in a bright oval of spotlight. A bare stage with only a mic stand. That’s it.
He gets the audience on side from the outset, extolling the virtues of our government’s approach to covid and deriding his homeland as a mad parody of itself. A land where Anthony Fauci, top doc during the pandemic, was branded a “commie” for daring to promote the common good.
Rollins is full of self-deprecation, labelling himself “an aging lizard man”. Recounting relatable stories. Like standing in the biosecurity line on arrival at Auckland Airport, being honest and opting to have ‘Something to Declare’. Then an hour later having an officer wave you away in a mix of irritation and mirth for only producing a chocolate bar. America, Henry says, is different , “a sad reality show” where people’s impatience might have led to guns being pointed at the ceiling.
A force of nature from the get-go. After 45 minutes of meandering narrative, he says “Good to see you”, name-checking this tour’s title.
My mind wanders. What other performers have abandoned the medium that launched them (in Rollins’ case, punk music) to find greater fame in another? Not many. Poet Leonard Cohen who became a singer maybe. Or comedian Billy Connolly who began as a folk musician. They’re a rare breed.
Rollins is adept at using his mic and mouth to produce realistic sounds, Especially of guns discharging bullets. Talking about his homeland demands as much. He coins a new identity –“ammosexuals”. In one macabre but strangely heartening fantasy he digresses into imagining women as being the empowered majority, armed by the state to shoot any man who persists in harasses them: everyone from bottom-touchers through to those who overturned of Roe vs Wade, those “angry ancient white men with too much power…”
If all that sounds heavy-going, Rollins also offers lighter narratives. Such as when he worked as for Hagan Das ice cream and got recruited into Black Flag (“I’m telling you this because that’s what brought me here”) . And when his mother (“such a drunk she ate birds alive”) was cremated and her ashes were divvied up into teabag-like sachets and tossed into the trees and stream at her favorite park only to be consumed by unsuspecting ducks.
He’s a self-confessed “hyper-active angry man”, who used to be “ a ritalin-addled monkeyboy”. But he’s also a big-hearted talking machine : “I talk fast. Its not that I want this be to be over. It’s just I have a lot to get through and I only have five hours”.
From his fraught family background, he offers insightful gems: “there’s no compass in kids whose parents can’t control themselves” . He’s clearly found direction now, however: “I eat a lot of spinach, work out each day and sleep at least three hours a night”
Two hours later I need to leave for the ferry and he’s still in full flight recounting a creepy episode when a Scandinavian stalker tried to enter his house in L.A. There’s something magical about getting to the ferry knowing Rollins is still holding forth without a break. A minimalist master of monologues: funny without trying to be and forever gazing into the heart of a flawed humanity with both cynicism and compassion. Extraordinary.
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