Outspoken at 40
February 9, 2001
BY JIM DeROGATIS POP MUSIC CRITIC
Birthdays are a big thing with Henry Rollins--this is the guy who named his publishing
company 2.13.61 after the day he was born--so it's no surprise that he's making a big deal
about turning 40.
It might say something, however, that the former Black Flag front man turned aging
hard-rocker is marking the occasion with a spoken-word performance instead of the
testosterone roar of the Rollins Band. He's always said that when he reaches the point
where he can no longer deliver the intensity his fans have come to expect, he'll give up
the rock and concentrate on his other outlets, as a writer and a monologuist.
In the latter guise, he has just released a new spoken-word album, "Rollins in the
Wry," on the local Quarterstick label. While the material can seem telegraphed and
overly obvious, it's a lot more likable than his band's recent offerings--and in sharp
contrast, you're supposed to laugh at it. (There's precious little self-deprecation
or intentional humor in Rollins' music.)
Q.Why did you choose Chicago to celebrate the occasion of the big 4-0?
A. There's no place I'd rather be, actually. It's a surefire crowd, a no-lose
situation for me. People are very kind to me there. I first went to Chicago in 1981 with
Black Flag, and I just dug it immediately. It's one of my favorite days off--we arrange
tours just so I can hit all the record stores and Sanko; I love that Sushi place. Whenever
I'm there, I always look at apartments and say, "I could live here." Now, that
doesn't mean the audience will always reflect that. I love Hamburg, and I love Sydney,
Australia, but it doesn't mean people will give it right back to me in those cities. But
Chicago . . . I don't know, me and you guys always click.
Three years ago I was in Johannesburg, South Africa, and I called my manager from a pay
phone in the airport and I was like, "Get me a gig in Chicago for my birthday!"
And that was the House of Blues, and it became disc one of my last talking record [1998's
"Think Tank"]. Last year, I addressed the student body at Cambridge--I was part
of this lecture series; me, [Henry] Kissinger and the Dalai Lama. So this year, not being
in Europe or anything, I called up management and said, "OK--Vic Theatre." They
came right through with it, and we've made this really great poster for the show. This guy
who did the cover of the new record and "Think Tank" did this drawing of me with
no teeth, jumping up in the air with a cane. I'm all bald and old-looking and coming out
of a birthday cake, and it says "2/13/01."
Q. You have a riff about the portentousness of turning 40 on the new album.
Why is this such a milestone for you?
A. It's an interesting thing for a guy to hit that age. Me, I observe more than
interact a lot of times. Like, I go to a gig, I stand in back, I watch people. I keep a
low profile so I don't have to end up talking to people all night, getting recognized. But
I like to watch, and I kind of observe myself when I interact with people. It's just
interesting to be an adult male at this age, seeing people who are in their 20s and trying
to remember what that was like. It wasn't that long ago, but, man, it seems like a long
time ago! Just listening to their conversations and going, "Wow, I don't miss this. I
wouldn't want to have a girlfriend with this on her mind."
When I was like 23, a girl would say, "You look really good." And I'd be
like, "OK, you need your eyes corrected, but whatever." Now women say,
"God, you look really good"--and I wait for it--"for someone your
age." Thanks! I feel like I just fell on my keys.
Q. One of the things that strikes me on this album is how slick your delivery
has become. It's like stand-up comedy, but that's not a phrase you ever use.
A. To me, stand-up comedians are those guys on open-mike night on Wednesdays in
some bar. A guy like Bill Hicks, to me, is kind of a stand-up, but he transcends it. Lenny
Bruce transcends it, and Richard Pryor. My thing isn't a shtick. I'm just going up there
and letting it rip. Their thing isn't a shtick, either. I have a dime's worth of talent
compared to those guys, but it's never bada-bing, bada-boom to those guys.
Q. Do you think you're doing for Generation X what Bruce did for Jewish
hipsters or what Pryor did for African Americans?
A. No, but I do think that I serve a purpose. I'm a worthy participant in the
food chain in that I speak my mind in an unrestrained and hopefully entertaining manner
that keeps you riveted for at least 90 minutes, with no holds barred. And my intent is
never to harm. People say, "At the end of the day, what do you want people to get
from what you do?" I'm basically trying to strengthen and encourage and just be a
positive voice in all of this chaos. Hopefully, it never dresses itself up too righteously
like that. But here's one guy who's not trying to get elected president. I'm not trying to
get you to like me, I'm just going to go out there and let it rip. And the parts that you
disagree with, that's cool, too, because it leads to discussion and thought. It's a
catalyst, it activates, and that's what I'm trying to do, with all the good intent.
Pop music critic Jim DeRogatis co-hosts "Sound Opinions" from 10 p.m. to
midnight Tuesday on WXRT-FM (93.1). E-mail him via www.jimdero.com.
* 7 p.m. Tuesday
* Vic Theatre, 3145 N. Sheffield
* Sold out
*Super fun at the half
*Jim:I don't like 'N Sync or Britney or for that matter Nelly (I do think
Mary J. Blige is great), but I thought the Super Bowl halftime show was an enjoyable
enough spectacle--it was fast-paced, and seeing those pretty boys trying to act tough
onstage with Aerosmith while synchronized dancing at the same time was good, cheap fun.
*SquishFish via e-mail
*Jim: I have never been more justified in my belief that Mel Karmazin is the
anti-Christ. This corporate synergy crap has got to stop; I don't want my MTV! Is the
demographic of Super Bowl watchers 12- to 14-year-old white girls? What the heck is going
*Jason S. via e-mail
*Jim: Just a note on your review of "J. Lo" [Jan. 23]. I am not a
huge fan either, nor am I an authority on street slang, but I know how the kids love to
roast a critic if he makes a boo-boo, so I offer the following: Your mention of
"floss" as it's used in the single "Love Don't Cost a Thing" was
likely not a reference to the dental variety. Think more along the lines of Pink's
"Most Girls," which says, "I was a girl about the floss/It was all about
the cost/How much he spent on me." Lord knows where it came from, but I'm thinking
that "floss" is the now street for money or cash.
Gee, Mary, I liked the lyric better when I thought Jennifer had something stuck in