The Charmingly Onbstinate Tour.
I’ve seen Henry Rollins on stage many times and been a fan for years, but I have never gotten used to when he walks on stage and I realise that it’s his presence that makes him seem much taller than he actually is. Opening up the show, being respectful as always, he firstly thanks the crowd for making it out on a Sunday night despite the obligations of a Monday morning. Next he outlines his visit that morning to his “Irish Grandmother” Philomena Lynott, describing her as hilarious, glamorous and smart as a tack.
As might be expected, he discussed the recent passing of David Bowie. Rollins has always been a huge fanatic of David Bowie and it was his zealous interest that partly helped form my own fascination with Bowie’s music many years ago. His anecdote of meeting Bowie was thoroughly interesting, not least because it was a firsthand account of how one of my heroes reacted to meeting one of his heroes. Even more intriguing is how this random meeting and subsequent lunch date resulted in Henry being contacted by another fallen hero of rock: Lou Reed. While having lunch with Bowie, Rollins mentioned that he had a great idea to record Hubert Selby reciting his works to guitar by Lou Reed. Bowie, excited by the idea, arranged a telephone call between Rollins and Reed. An email I later sent to the man himself confirmed that while the Selby bits were recorded, Lou Reed was too busy to complete the project.
After a brief overview of his childhood, Henry recounts how he got into punk rock. Being an awkward teenager, pumped full of Ritalin and feeling like an outcast, the music of his old favourites like Zeppelin and Van Halen no longer seemed to capture what he was feeling. And then he heard the Ramones first record, followed by The Clash’s first record, followed by “Never Mind the Bollox”. All of this led to the first time he heard one particular album that, as he describes it, crushed his entire collection of punk rock records. It was the Ace of Spades album by Motörhead, which bring us neatly on to Rollins recounting his many meetings with Lemmy.
By contrast, this segment was much more in-depth and involved than his meeting with David Bowie. From the first time they met while touring Europe to the last time they met in September 2015, the stories described a straight up, sincere and articulate individual who would do his own thing no matter what, but was also susceptible to loneliness and ultimately was limited to the same mortality the restricts us all . Most interesting of these stories, for me, was the recording of “Rise Above – 24 Black Flag Songs to Benefit the West Memphis Three”. Initially describing the recording of “Revenge” with Tom Araya, he then moves on to the recording of “Thirsty and Miserable” with Lemmy. The song has always been a favourite of mine, but the version with Lemmy on vocals is superior to the original takes.
It’s at this point that my bum is feeling a little numb, having been sitting for 2 hours straight. But Rollins hasn’t even stopped for air or water and there’s no sign of him relenting. Next up is studying Gentoo, Adélie and Chinstrap penguins in Antarctica, the very real impact that global warming is having there, and being the first man to listen to The Stooges’ Raw Power record at the South Pole.
Ultimately the evening concludes with some sagely advice that while at times the world may seem like it’s fucked, it’s important not to lose faith in humanity. And he speaks from experience, illustrating that in the 80 plus countries he has visited, including Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, he has never felt threatened or unwelcome. Other assignments include “doubling down” on the number of gigs, books, etc. you plan to experience in the coming year in response to the events in Paris last November, as well as the importance of purchasing a headlamp (a lesson a good friend of mine taught me many years ago – I highly recommend it).
At the end of the show, as the crowd waddled like penguins to the exit, I was hit with the familiar feelings I have had at the end of every Rollins gig I have been at; inspired to get out there and do more, exhausted at the thought of all the things I could be doing and confused about where to start. All-in-all I think it was nicely summarised by a friend of a friend, Daniel Sayer, who said “I didn’t imagine that after listening to Henry Rollins talk nonstop for three hours I’d want to give him a hug”. I never thought he was the hugging type. Now, I’m not so sure.
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