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- Paradiso, Amsterdam »
- Henry Rollins »
This is a story about a man and his microphone. One man. One microphone. And a whole lot of soul.
Walking into the Paradiso’s_ Groote Zaal, I am greeted by a sea of over-animated, jubilant faces. I can pick up hints of the Canadian twang and American drawl dotted throughout the crowd; the kids have come a long way for this show. I am quick to learn that it is indeed uitverkocht_, first hand from a lovely Spanish couple who have just arrived in Amsterdam for their honeymoon. The remainders are primarily 30-somethings; ex punk-rockers reaching stale middle age, still clinging onto the bare threads that are left of their youth. And then little old me, stuck in the corner on the only seat available, pen and paper in hand, ready to witness an onslaught of frustrations by a true wordsmith.
Henry Garfield, once lead singer of bay area punk outfit Black Flag, and known to the world as Henry Rollins, takes stage and goes on to pour his heart out to us for a solid three hours. Armed with just a microphone and a bottle of water (from which he only drinks once) Rollins delivers the goods. He rants, jokes and relays heartbreaking tales covering a diverse list of topics: getting older, his worldwide travels, Saddam, Christmas (what he refers to as “a major retail fuckfest”) movie stardom, globalisation, and his most favourite topic of them all, Dubya. He rips the piss out of George W. Bush, slighting him explicitly for his inability to master the English language. He sees Bush, much like we all do, as a raving idiot. He “reinvented the English language like Thelonious Monk reinvented the piano,” Rollins expresses, with a disdained, ironic smile on his face.
Nearing 50, Rollins is still one of the hardest working men in the business, avoiding nights off like the plague (“my mind eating my mind”). A self-proclaimed bullshit artist and “fucking hustler”, Rollins is entertaining, that much is true. He is enlightening and informative, that is also a fact. What Henry is not is tired. And at this rate, it doesn’t seem like that will ever be a possibility. Whenever the man has a spare day, he immediately searches for any available opportunity to spew his personal accounts of the life of Henry Rollins.
And this is what found him in Pakistan. His agent thought him a maniac for requesting a trip to a country with so much political tension, but this is what Rollins thrives on: chaos and the unknown. And, even crazier, Rollins found himself in the heart of Islamabad when former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated. This is what also found him in Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Syria (with_ “a sun full of hate”_) and Israel: curiosity. Despite several warnings from his agent about visiting such volatile areas, all he finds in these countries is hospitality and absolute sincerity. From personal invites to tea and dinner in Lebanon and Syria to tips on his love life by a gaggle of Iranian woman, Rollins is treated like family.
One thing Rollins displays, above all else, is passion, and his love for his work. He is a born stage man, making us split with laughter at one point with his spot-on impersonations of George W. Bush, Iggy Pop, Ted Nugent and Ozzy Osbourne, and with the next anecdote, moving us to tears as he tells us about his one-off gig with one of his favourite bands, The Ruts. Rollins gripes about the woes of not touring and how useless and bored he feels when he isn’t. An ego maniac, yes he is. An attention seeker, yeah, I would also label him as such. But in a good way. He strives to get in front of the crowd. He thrives on the undivided attention of the masses. More than that, he thrives to share his knowledge and experience with anyone caring to listen. “Knowledge without experience is bullshit,” states Rollins. “Books are nice,” he continues, “but when you have your feet on the ground, there’s the lesson.”
It’s true what they say: “Walk down the back alleys of the Paradiso, and you can find anything”. And so I did. Cruising by the dressing room, who do I see there, packing his equipment up at a most unusual speed? None other than Rollins himself. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about myself, it’s the fact that when I have to speak to someone under pressure, I usually buckle. Meeting Henry Rollins (who I only noticed when up close was wearing the years on his face) was no different. Afterwards, of course, about a thousand witticisms came to mind, but the only thing I could think of when I found myself face to face with the man was, “Where you off to next?” and “Good to meetcha”. He was only half paying attention to me, and it came across quite overtly in his weak handshake, very uncommon for such a fit guy. But it will be a memory that I will cherish forever: meeting a punk icon and political hero, full of passion for what he does, and a true love for life. Only if we were all so lucky.
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- Henry Rollins at Paradiso, Amsterdam, Wed 23 Jan