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Concert Review: Henry Rollins

By Joel Rosenberg
Arts Editor

Rollins stormed on stage right after the lights dimmed and graciously accepted his welcoming ovation. "Good evening, good to see you." He then proceeded to talk until the lights came back up two-and-a-half hours later, this time on a standing, cheering crowd. And the man deserved every hard earned clap he got.

Author, musician, and poet Henry Rollins played the Berklee Performance Center on Sunday night, "a tough room to work." His hulking frame and tattooed forearms contrasted with his black ribbed T-shirt and charcoal slacks. But his appearance played second fiddle to his incredibly eloquent and thoughtful spoken word performance. Covering everything from Lewinsky (of course) to his stalkers to growing older, he proved time and time again that he has something to say, and doesn't give a shit what people say about him.

His storytelling style is compelling, using a recursive format to embed stories in stories. Each new digression seems more interesting than the story he just left, that is until he returns back to the story you've since forgotten about, this time with a new perspective from the background material he just infused you with.

The evening began with a description of this guy he sat next to on a plane, a businessman he dubbed "Powerman." Rollins was forced to play name-that-tune as Powerman shuffled through selections from his personally-compiled mini-discs. One of the tunes, by jazz pianist Ahmad Jamal, brought up a story about the time Flea interrupted one of Jamal's live concerts by yelling "Fuck yeah!" during a particularly intense solo. After returning to Powerman, who garners attention from stewardesses, wait staff, and the like by distributing dollar bills from a pad of them he makes himself, Rollins segued into the movies he has recently done, and explained how he serenaded co-star Kelly McGillis after watching Top Gun for the eighth time the previous weekend. He kept this pace up the entire show.

On politicians: "I have no interest in meeting any politician. After spending enough time on stage, I have a pretty good idea of what those guys are going for."

On the presidency: "Do what you're gonna do. Just don't get us blown up, and don't overcharge us."

On being booked for the Rosie O'Donnell show: "If I went on that show, I don't think I'd be able to restrain myself around her. I'd just have to yell, Idiot! Idiot! Idiot! Idiot!'"

On men: "Us men could evolve if we could leave our apparatus home."

On his one groupie: "There I was, with a naked girl outside my door, probably the only time it's ever gonna happen. And in what should have been my Warrant moment, my Motley Crue epiphany, all I could say was, Go away.'"

On the girl who claimed that for the past year Rollins and Michael Stipe of REM were listening to her thoughts: "Sue, I stopped listening six months ago, but you know Michael."

On being self-righteous: "It's not like I can count on anyone else to be righteous for me."

Rollins discussed the sad state of the music industry, specifically blaming MTV for setting musical evolution back years. He read entries from his journal twice, one (straight off his Powerbook) about a letter he received in English so broken it was poetic, and one on his trip to Africa, and the incredible beasts he encountered there. It wasn't stand-up comedy he was after, although much of it was incredibly insightful and funny. Instead, he wanted to convey his thoughts to the audience, whether they had closure or not, whether there was a punchline or not. A fascinating presentation, I was impressed with it's candidness and directness, made all the more remarkable by the never tiresome duration

I was, however, bothered by a comment he made about journalists being parasites: "If you like the show, good; if not, good. But in a year I'll be back, and you might not have a job." I can understand his frustration, since his stuff hasn't always been received well by the press. But I think critics are just doing their job, trying to find stuff that's worth the public's time, encouraging people to check things out they might ordinarily not consider. To quote Rollins himself: "If I lose the light of the sun, I will write by candlelight, moonlight, no light. If I lose paper and ink, I will write in blood on forgotten walls. I will write always. I will capture nights all over the world and bring them to you."

Well, I've tried to bring you a night in Boston, written on a computer in a well lit room. Next time he comes around, I think you should check him out for yourself. But hey, I'm just doing my job.