henry and me

An intense self proclaimed aging alternative icon, I dig Henry Rollins. He’s a renaissance man if I’ve ever seen one: punk rocker, actor, writer, storyteller and lecturer. I really only discovered him recently though I known of him for years. It was earlier this year, when I spend 13 hours in a car with him over the course of two days that my admiration took hold. Of course the 13 hours wasn’t spend with him personally, but rather a collection of his spoken word recordings.

It’s pretty normal for me to immerse myself in an artist on the long drive from Rochester (were I currently reside) to Amityville (my home town on L.I.). I listened to Rollins talk of his time as the lead singer of Black Flag during his early 20’s, often reading journal entries he had written at the time. From there it was recordings of his speaking performances spanning the nearly 15 years since he left Flag. It was an amazing experience. I got to listen and understand the factors that created this intense, intelligent, funny and well-spoken individual. With each new CD and tape I heard his views and delivery evolve; how his worldview changed with each year, tour, and experience. Most importantly as I listened I found countless bits of wisdom and different lessons that I could immediately apply to my life.

So when Abby told me that Rollins was going to be at RIT as part of his speaking tour I was there. And to put it in Rollins’ speak “He just hit the stage and killed everyone.” The first thing he did was to wrap the mic cord around his hand. All I could think about was a picture on the inside cover of Get in The Van, his aural history of Black Flag, which features him at about 22 performing with the mic wrapped the same way. And make no mistake; at RIT he was just as intense as at one of his punk performances. Not as loud (most of the time), but just as intense. Once the mic cord was wrapped he went from there for 2+ hours. I can’t remember a single “Um” “Ah” or a lost thought. Some of the material was rehearsed. At other times he just went off the cuff. At time he was side splittingly funny, others deadly serious. It was an amazing night. And it didn’t end there.

I’ve met a number of performers in my time. It’s often a very mixed bag. In part because it’s usually right after a performance and they’re drained. More often than not it’s because they have no desire to talk to me. I don’t blame them. I don’t think I’d ever want to be accosted by people who think that they know me and don’t necessarily have anything to say (or just after I finished 2 hours on stage). Other times I’ve managed to make an ass of myself in the process (like the time that Roger Ebert thought I was stalking him at the Oscars). However sometimes I’ve gotten the chance to really talk to these folks, even for a moment, and they just blew me away. They were just the coolest people. So all of that weighed on my mind after the show, as a few other people and I waited to see if Rollins would come back out to talk with those of us who were hanging around the gym he performed in. I didn’t want to talk his ear off, or assume we would be friends forever, but just say thank you for his part in13 hours in a car that helped me wrap my head around a lot of life issues. So we waited. And waited. And waited. And he didn’t come out. It wasn’t meant to be.

So we started to head back to the car. The walk back to the parking lot takes us right by the ice rink entrance, which is often used to move equipment in to the gym. And standing there, surrounded by a small group of people was Henry Rollins. He looked tired, drained from the performance. He was talking about the works of Werner Herzog. I listened for a bit, and knowing a bit about Herzog I cautiously joined the conversation.

It only lasted a few moments. But it was great. Everyone else must have thought I was a jerk as it quickly turned into Henry and I discussing film. But I didn’t care. We talked about Herzog’s Nosforatu and Jim Jarmusch. And then he said that he had to get going and politely excused himself and was whisked into his ride. I didn’t even get to thank him. But it didn’t matter. We had talked for a moment, and it had nothing to do with him or his work. Just something we both were interested in. I don’t think I could ask for anything more than that.