Man of many faces
This article is from 2007.
After more than 25 years as a performer, Henry Rollins still gets nervous in front of an audience. He tells Camilla Pia why
It’s a wonder Henry Rollins has time to sleep. When the Black Flag legend is not writing books, hosting his own television and radio shows, acting in Hollywood and hopping from gig to gig, he is performing his quick-witted spoken word pieces around the world. When I catch up with him in his LA-based office, I find a warm, charismatic big tattooed bear of a man who talks excitedly about his remarkable experiences from his beginnings on the punk and hardcore scene through to encounters with Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler, Ozzy Osbourne and Isaac Hayes and a lifelong unquenchable thirst for learning.
This month Rollins will appear at the Fringe for the first time, and like every other project he embarks on, the Grammy Award-winner can’t wait to get started. ‘I am really looking forward to getting to Edinburgh. People have been very kind to me every time I’ve been, which is nice because you don’t want to piss off any Scottish guy. He will punch you into the middle of next week,’ he laughs.
With 26 years of intense onstage antics and an average of over 100 shows a year to his credit, it is a surprise to hear that Rollins still gets nervous. ‘I love performing, I would pay to do it but spoken word is much harder than playing music. In a band you have this wall of sound behind you so if you screw up no one really notices, but me on my own? If I go blank, it’s curtains. The hour before I go on is the worst, so I tend to just concentrate on getting my facts and statistics straight so that I back up everything I say accurately. Plus I’m a perpetual student so learning about stuff is a turn-on.’
A plethora of hate mail from irate right wingers, recent trips to Syria and Lebanon and subsequent questioning from US customs officials have given Rollins a wealth of material for his forthcoming appearance. Add to this his compelling observations on the current political climate and in-depth knowledge of and passion for all sorts of music and you have one of the most unique shows on the Fringe.
‘Being in this business for over 25 years and still getting to do it is an honour,’ he says. ‘It’s hard to still draw an audience and be relevant and to keep people with me without having to resort to bigger, more garish displays like pulling my own liver out or getting a tattoo on my face. Turning up and being my sweet self seems to be enough for people, which is just great. I want to be doing this until I’m 60.’
Henry Rollins, Gilded Balloon Teviot, 668 1633, 19–22 Aug, 11.15pm, £15.