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We get a lot of special artists in our studio here at WERS, but it’s always humbling to be treated to a truly renowned guest. This Tuesday afternoon, Henry Rollins stopped through to do an exclusive interview about his new “Capitalism” tour for his spoken word. The KCRW host, spoken word artist, actor, and former Black Flag frontman had a lot to say on air and off, all wrapped up in his typical polite manners and worn tattoos.
The “Capitalism” tour has Rollins stopping in every capitol in America to perform some of his spoken word and to raise awareness about the importance of voting. Interestingly enough, a lot of the capitols didn’t have venues for him to perform in. The space he wound up using — often school gyms — wasn’t a concern. “The audience – that’s how I judge a place,” he said. Many of the capitols are places he’s never been in his many years touring: Juno, Alaska (“a beautiful part of the world”), Cheyenne, Wyoming (“I thought I’d see firearms safeties popping off, but everyone was so nice”), Helena, Montana (“just breathtaking”). According to Rollins, nothing stood out in these places “apart from the fact that they all stand out in their own way.”
“We load in from the back of a venue. Rarely do I see the lobby or hallways… Just the stage with no one in the seats, but you come out in two hours and see them all filled. Then you wait out in the back of the venue, sign the things, get on the bus, and leave. Maybe the back of the parking lot changes, but… You do that for 160 nights and it gives the lie that ‘Wow, you’ve seen a lot.’” he said in a sad tone. “Sure, I’ve been all over Australia… one parking lot at a time. I do a lot of work to get out of that.”
Soon the interview transitioned from poetry to song, specifically about his hardcore days in the early 80s. Henry Rollins touched on the DC scene and how his friends were “funny guys.” “Ian MacKaye and I pride ourselves in being able to tell the story,” he said. ” I liked being able to be onstage and think, ‘Yeah I got something to tell you.’ While they played guitars, I could fill in between the gaps.” Now, however, those twenty song sets are replaced by twenty poems with no snares, guitars, or drums to cover up mistakes.
It’s no secret that Rollins’ time in Black Flag helped shape and arguably form the likeliness of bands’ success in an independent lifestyle. Black Flag, along with other groups such as Minor Threat, Fugazi, Hüsker Dü, and The Minutemen, sold their albums, booked tour dates, and practically did every component of being and becoming a band themselves — no promoters or managers necessary. Rollins, however, shied away from taking credit or pride in this: “If you do that, it will color the performance. Just do your thing. Rumble, young man, rumble.”
Rollins is performing at the Berklee Performance Center tonight before moving on until the end of the tour, where it will finish in Washington DC on election night “and keel over on its side.” His show can be watched online for free for three days and then, as he so ominously said, “it belongs to me.”