Henry Rollins & the Spoken Word

As all of us in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic are riding out Sandy, I wanted to share a few thoughts on Henry Rollins. Last Thursday night at The Egg in Albany I had the chance to be at one of his spoken word appearances for the 3rd time, and my first time since 2005. Henry's music really isn't my thing, but I have really dug his spoken word since 2002 when a friend of mine let me listen to some of his CDs on the way back from a high school band trip to Virginia Beach. I have such a distinct memory of the bus pulling into the high school parking lot as we were getting back from the trip while I was listening to the track called "Marius" on Think Tank. I was transfixed and I had to wait until that particular story was over before I could be bothered to get off the bus. I was hooked.

A large focus of Henry's non-stop 2 1/2 talk on Thursday was about community - the coming together and connections he made as part of the Washington, DC, punk community back in the 80s, as well as that which our country is capable of and how strong we can be. He touched on the impending election next week, but not in the very specific way that I was expecting, though he did note that it's pretty easy to tell who he is going to be voting for. Instead, he spent a lot of time discussing Lincoln, and the former president's view that the US could not be taken down by outside forces. America's demise, Lincoln argued in a speech well-before the outbreak of the Civil War, could only come about as the result of internal conflicts, and it was a very appropriate topic given the current political climate in the country. In the past week or so, blogger Andrew Sullivan began making the case that the United States of America is in what he calls a Cold Civil War. We very well may be.

But the thing about Henry Rollins that truly strikes me is his range of topics and emotions. He goes from funny to serious in a matter of seconds, and the subject matters transition together seamlessly. So many things are discussed during the time he's onstage that by the time you get to the end of the night you can't possible remember everything that he talked about, or how you so easily got from 8PM to 10:30PM. There is a reason why I keep re-listening to the spoken word CDs of his that I have, and why I keep wanting more - because he says so much that you can't catch everything he says in one shot. And even if you can catch it, its fleeting, and you surely can't truly absorb it all at once. At least I can't. Always engaging, always thoughtful, and always real, Henry's ability to tell a story and entice a reaction is probably what keeps bringing me back, and why I find myself interested in organizations like The Moth.

"Words. Words when spoken out loud for the sake of performance are music. They have rhythm and pitch and timbre and volume. These are the properties of music and music has the ability to find us and move us and lift us up in ways that literal meaning can't." -President Josiah Bartlett, The West Wing, Season 3, Episode 6

If you're interested in listening to some Henry Rollins, I highly recommend starting with Think Tank or A Rollins In The Wry.

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    © STEVE SCHULTZ