Once most people make their last bow out of the full-time music scene, they wallow off into a corner somewhere, a shell of their former glory and sulking that the industry didn't come with them. The better of them leave the game after achieving all that they wanted and go back out into the world to strike out anew. Henry Rollins has been doing that for the past decade, even while people will bemoan the fact that he no longer sees the need to put on his little black shorts and sing "Liar," Rollins instead has chosen to get his doctorate in world travel while other punk legends his age stay in country and continue to slog it out touring behind 30-year old songs that may not even apply to them anymore. His public-speaking tours, like the one that stopped at House Of Blues Tuesday night, prove that Rollins can still captivate an audience with just his words and presence. The man just needs a stage and mike, which he still thankfully holds in his trademark style, with the cord wrapped through his knuckles while he stands in his old Black Flag battle stance.
Rollins spoke onstage for nearly three hours, to a reverent punk and indie crowd who fully understood who was standing before them. Every word was met with rapt attention, and every time he mentioned another punk luminary cheers went through the room. Those words coming from a man who actually lived and breathed such heady, tumultuous times is like hearing a war hero recounting his death-addled nights at Iwo Jima and Pusan.
Starting with a plea for us Texans not to secede from the Union, Rollins tore through recollections on the 2008 presidential election, the succinctness of Barack Obama, and the implications the president has with race relations in the country. We got to hear war stories about his travels through the greater part of the Far East through China, Indonesia, West Africa, and back through Saudi Arabia.
The man truly wants to see the world and every inch of it. It's inspiring to see someone thirsting for the information the way Rollins does, and a few times we wanted to jump up and sell all our own possessions and take the same world-trekking track.
He also told stories about his friend William Shatner, who he met through Ben Folds and Shatner's raucous Monday Night Football parties, with Rollins sitting on the side laughing at the masculine spectacle.
He dropped the news that he will be on the new season of RuPaul's Drag Race and voiced his trepidation at having to watch semi-attractive lady-boys all day. He was filming his parts for the show while still making time on the FX biker drama Sons Of Anarchy - staring at drag queens one day and affixing a fake-tattoo swastika to his neck the next to play a white supremacist.
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In many ways, you could say that Rollins' musical journey was his bachelor's program and now his world excursions are apart of his world-citizen doctorate studies. Why else would someone visit the site of the 1984 Bhopal Union Carbide disaster to visit with the families of the over 5,000 people who died in the accident? Or go to China and Tiananmen Square to view tyranny firsthand and protest the Chinese occupation of Tibet? The things he has seen have transformed him, something you can read on his face when you see him up close.
The most heartwarming story, at least to the nerdy Aftermath, was about his visit to Sri Lanka, where he introduced a teenage death metal kid to the joys of the Clash, P-Funk and the Stooges.
When Aftermath first heard Rollins and Black Flag he was all of eight years old and it was on some MTV special about punk rock. Something clicked even then as we sat on the family couch and stared at the screen agape at how loud and mean they looked. It was like telling a kid "You have no idea what you are in for..."
Last night we felt the same thing, except now we have been over the mountain seen what he was spitting at us twenty years ago. If Aftermath sells his car and ends up in Moscow or Capetown in a year writing a blog about his travels, blame Henry Rollins.