Henry Rollins brings a ‘talking show’ to the Hoogland

Former Black Flag singer is on a tour of state capitals

Henry Rollins is no Abe Lincoln.

But that doesn’t stop the 51-year-old punk rock icon, TV personality, author and blogger from incorporating sections of the 16th president’s 1838 speech to the Young Men’s Lyceum in Springfield as part of “Capitalism,” his current spoken word tour of all 50 state capitals, which touches down at the Hoogland Center for the Arts next Thursday, Oct. 11. “I talk a lot about Lincoln, just because he’s a very meaningful American to me,” says Rollins in a telephone interview. “I just like the way the guy thought.”

Rollins, who first came to attention as the unnervingly aggressive, tattooed vocalist for seminal Los Angeles punk band Black Flag, has concentrated on the somewhat gentler art of spoken word in recent years. Not quite stand-up comedy or performance art, a Rollins “talking show,” as he prefers to call it, can be equal parts conversational and confrontational, combining the anecdotal and the polemic. The current tour is bringing his unique performance style to some locales, including Springfield, that are often left off his usual itineraries. “There hasn’t been any real Red State-Blue State hostility, so far. Yesterday we were in Pierre, South Dakota and we met the mayor, and she and I planted a tree. The show was at the high school theater, and most people were just there out of curiosity. But then there were a few people who looked at me like I was a glass of water in the desert,” he chuckles.

The upcoming presidential election is the primary subject of the Capitalism tour, which will end, not coincidentally, in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 5. “I talk about voting,” he explains. “I wouldn’t tell people who to vote for, ’cause that’s just rude, but I urge them, if they can, to vote. Our version of democracy really needs you to weigh in, and the more people in the pool, the more fair it’s going to be.”

While he wishes to stop short of stumping for any one candidate, preferring to promote the electoral process itself, it is not hard to deduce that the famously opinionated Rollins is no fan of Mitt Romney. “He’s just a bored gajillionaire. He can have anything he wants, might as well try and be king. It’s just a hobby, he runs out of boredom. And he got the nomination because he’s the most malleable to the interests backed by people like the Koch brothers, the oldest possible money. It’s just an older way of going about things, where the world will just shut up and do what it’s told, where America gets to leave its messes and the brown people clean it up. But that’s all changing, whether conservative groups want it to or not.”

As a musician and orator who has toured internationally for decades, Rollins has a unique perspective on the role of the United States, describing a striking contrast between the hostility and wariness he encountered abroad as an American during the George W. Bush years and the gregarious enthusiasm that has greeted him since 2008. “You see the difference in people’s faces, you see that it really does matter who you vote for, it matters in the world who the President of the United States is. It makes you see what a big damn stick this country carries, and some administrations have been not as careful with that stick as others.”

While Rollins draws positive parallels between presidents Obama and Lincoln – seeing them both as leaders in difficult times who share a resolute commitment to serving the entire nation, rather than just their own party’s interests – he observes that the situation confronting voters today is far from clear-cut. “It’s an interesting time in America right now,” he says, hitting on what will surely be a major theme of Thursday’s Hoogland appearance. “Americans are making some real hard choices that are nonpartisan. They’re looking at their bankbooks, they’re looking at their future, and they’re having to vote. Everything comes into play.”

Scott Faingold can be reached via scottfaingold@gmail.com.

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