On Monday night I attended the weird spectacle of Henry Rollins in Kitchener...almost as weird as Elton John in Kitchener, which happened on the same night. I've never been a Henry Rollins fan -- in fact I've been more annoyed by him than anything else -- but I'd never seen his spoken word and I tried to keep an open mind.
Well, it took a while for him to warm up, and most of the time he was "preaching to the converted." Extolling reproductive rights, global understanding, and "sticking it to the man" was hardly a unique perspective to the crowd who came to see him. In fact the most significant statement he made, I thought, was that he himself is pretty much "the man" nowadays, which was nice to hear him admit at least.
His first ninety minutes were pure gold. Of course, there's such a thing as TOO MUCH gold -- visiting my Italian uncle's rumpus room was enough to make me queasy, for instance -- but Rollins managed to pace himself pretty well, staggering his funny stories with "heartfelt insights." He railed on American politics, patriotism, and isolationism. He poked fun at his own shortcomings -- his inability to have normal interactions with people, his need to always be frantically doing something -- and he tackled the usual suspects of the American right-wing.
He was funniest, though, when he simply told stories about the small children in his extended family circle. His anecdotes about the twelve-year-old daughter of his manager (who speaks like a jaded drag queen and constantly puts Rollins in his place) were the best of the night. I think he's right, little girls ARE potentially excellent liars, and he handled this material PERFECTLY.
But then he said he was going to tell us a "little punk rock story," and in the next ninety minutes I saw the egocentric, self-concerned, disconnected, and not particularly critical part of Henry Rollins, otherwise known as "the fanboy."
In short, this story he told was about Rollins being invited to perform at a very significant benefit show for a band he had always idolized (The Ruts), his extreme anxiety about the event, and how it all turned out well in the end. This would make a good ten-minute anecdote, but it just kept going on...and on...and on. He stuffed it full of colourless reportage about people's names, playing style, and previous affiliations. His insights were shallow and pointless. Since Rollins never tells you in advance how a story will end -- and since his tales perpetually telescope with "And so the next day..." and "That reminds me of..." elements -- the whole Rut story took AN HOUR for him to tell, and it was pointless from beginning to end.
It was unbelievable. People were fidgeting and coughing as we watched him string the story along. It was like being stuck at a dinner party where the host just simply MUST tell you about his WONDERFUL vacation, and each time you think he's coming to the conclusion you find out that his vacation included ANOTHER trip, and then ANOTHER trip. I have never been so bored in my life, and I'm including a lot of dull university lectures. Rollins just didn't seem to understand that he was stretching out "his moment" too long, and that it wasn't really significant to anybody.
Then he told us that he was almost done...and spent an additional half hour telling banal stories about his trip to South Africa. Besides being intrinsically boring, it was almost midnight, it was Monday, and we'd ended up sitting there for over three hours. It was simply too much (and, in terms of substance, WAY too little).
So the fun of the first half was overshadowed by the crushing monotony of the second. I can only assume that Rollins is either testing out new material or that he needs some sort of medication. If you're going to attend this tour make sure you bring a pillow and a good book.