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An interview with Henry Rollins may seem like an intimidating one -- not only because the punk rocker, actor and spoken word artist’s hulking frame, myriad of tattoos, steely brush cut and bristling stare leave him looking like a discharged drill sergeant. His demeanor seems to hold an even deeper intensity, especially during his impassioned spoken word rants about current affairs that he’ll bring to the Crest Theatre June 3.
That intensity was also showcased in the questions he posed to his guests on "The Henry Rollins Show." He would sit on the edge of his seat, posture rigid, each query rapidly fired as he pounced on subjects with a rigorous vigor that could leave any reporter worried he might answer questions with equal aggression.
“Angry? I wouldn’t classify myself as such,” Rollins said of the flimsy, leftist labels the media tries to pin on him. “I get onstage and tell it like I see it, which takes a lot of vigor, because I’m genuinely into what I do.”
When Rollins steps onto to the Crest Theatre’s stage, that searing sincere monologue will touch on everything from the personal to the political, the hurdles in his own life and the divides all of America has to bridge.;
“What it boils down to is people like apartheid, and the complaints come from those who were born to benefit from it,” he said of the partisan partition that he feels is plaguing the nation. “We have to overcome that. We can, and we will, by pushing new legislation, by people coming down hard. But it’s also a generational thing, we have to wear out people like my dad, who probably hates everything the Democrats are doing. He’ll pass away eventually, and when those people do, we can truly move on.”
Henry made his first effort to move on by forgoing his father’s surname, Garfield, in favor of a new public alias that was an homage to his hero, jazz icon Sonny Rollins, when he was invited to join the punk-rock band Black Flag in 1981.
From there, he went on to play bit parts in movies like "Heat" opposite Al Pacino, and host his own talk show where he interviewed the likes of Jeff Bridges and Christopher Walken. Along the way he released and toured behind a slew of spoken word albums that have given him free range to rant religiously.
But before all that, he worked an equally eclectic jumble of odd jobs with even more persistence because it was a matter of survival -- everything from manager of a Häagen-Dazs ice cream store to courier of liver samples for the National Institutes of Health.
“What am I trained for? To park your car, I have no illusions about that,” he said of the minimum-wage work that the rest of his life is rooted in. “I’m not good at anything I do. I always just go for it because I don’t have a long way to fall. Whatever it is, just go for it, and you’ll be lucky to have a background of knowing where a buck really comes from, how hard it is to get just a few of them.”
That affinity for worn and weathered work ethics helped him relate to the artists he interviewed on "The Henry Rollins Show." He tried to forgo the usual choreographed banter of most talk shows in favor of conversations about the nature of his guests’ art forms, and the tenacity it took to sustain their crafts. And none of those exchanges left a deeper impression than the one he shared with Gore Vidal.
“That was very intimidating. I worked on prep for that for weeks,” Rollins said of questioning the renowned author of "The City and The Pillar," which is now widely recognized as the landmark novel of the gay experience. “He blew my mind, like when (Vidal) was talking about John McCain being a prisoner of war, saying ‘He got caught, so how smart can he be?’”
Rollins said trying to reach that fearless level of frankness is another one of his major motivators.
“I was really taken aback when Gore said that (about McCain),” Rollins added about the interview, which was conducted before the historic 2008 election campaign. “But that’s something someone of that calibre can say because he’s spent 80 years earning where he is, a place where he can say those kinds of things that need to be said.”;
Henry Rollins will perform at The Crest Theatre at 8 p.m. on June 3. For more information, visit his myspace.com/henryrollins.