REVIEW: Henry Rollins talks Trump, Lemmy, music, individuality, and more in sold-out Wilkes-Barre show
If his world-spanning stories and thoughtful observations of the human condition don’t leave your mind spinning, his nonstop pace certainly will.
Part animal, part machine, all performance artist, punk rock vocalist turned vocal entertainer Henry Rollins engaged the sold-out crowd in the Chandelier Lobby of the F.M. Kirby Center in Wilkes-Barre for two and a half hours, barely taking a breath as he covered everything from the presidential election to his personal conversations with the late David Bowie and Lemmy Kilmister to smelly penguins in Antarctica during his plainspoken spoken word show on Sunday, Nov. 6.
Standing on a small riser near the lobby’s front doors in a simple, no-frills setup, Rollins put “the punk in punctual,” as he later put it, and started right on time at 8 p.m., noting right away that, while he had been to Pennsylvania many times, this was his first time visiting Wilkes-Barre as far as he could remember.
“If that’s the case, well, I’m glad we’re finally getting together,” Rollins said to applause from the crowd seated from one end of the lobby to the other.
Tackling the presidential election right away, just two days before Election Day, he noted that election coverage has become more like entertainment than news, mocking it as the “WWE Presidential SmackDown” and pointing out that this may have started with the outrageous reality show-like coverage of the O.J. Simpson trial, which culminated years later in a TV movie with smiling stars walking a red carpet after portraying a horrendous real-life double homicide.
While he said he doesn’t care who you vote for and won’t try to sway anyone, as everyone had likely made up their minds by then anyway, he does get asked about Donald Trump a lot no matter where he goes – this was the 104th show in 19 countries since his tour started in January, after all. His opinion of “this angry guy with an interesting hair concept with an uneven orange complexion,” of course, wasn’t favorable, particularly because of Trump’s racist remarks.
“White Power is not an energy policy,” he joked.
He defended millennials who often get labeled as the “pussy generation,” or P-gen, as he affectionately referred to them, for fighting for political correctness which, in his view, is simply not tolerating racism, sexism, and other outdated points of view that people like Clint Eastwood defend. The 86-year-old star recently said that Trump “said a lot of dumb things” but people should “get over it,” which Rollins took issue with because he feels that archaic thinking like that has held up progress for so long, particularly with issues like gay marriage.
This led him to lighter topics, like how he met famous drag queen RuPaul back in 1995 and they have remained friends ever since. While some might find their friendship strange, he always saw RuPaul as “punk rock” both in his fashion sense and attitude, inspiring others to be themselves and be proud of it. That is how, many years later, he ended up serving as a guest judge on “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” which he took very seriously, as he does all things. This made contestants work even harder to get his attention by dancing around sexily and, while Rollins identifies as heterosexual, he humorously admitted that this opened up “new rooms” in his mind that he didn’t know he had as he fought back an erection. Later, while hanging out in public with RuPaul, people who saw him alone every day at places like the grocery store assumed that they were dating, finally explaining his perpetual singleness. When Rollins’ fans e-mailed him about it, he further perpetuated the rumor with hilarious responses just to mess with them.
His opinionated column in LA Weekly and appearances on TV shows often attract fan mail and hate mail (particularly from Christians who don’t act very Christ-like), but what brings everyone together is music, which may be his favorite topic.
“I don’t know much about your town, but I know a lot about PA because Pennsylvania has always been very, very good to me, albeit a bit violent at times,” he said, referring to the thousands of shows he played in cities like Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Harrisburg as the singer of Black Flag and Rollins Band.
Punk rock singer turned spoken word artist Henry Rollins sold out the Kirby Center in Wilkes-Barre on Sunday, and we've got a full review of the show up now on nepascene.com! If you're feeling down about the election, his inspiring words in this article will pick you back up! #Scranton #ScrantonPA #WilkesBarre #Luzerne #LuzerneCounty #NEPA #NEPAScene #henryrollins #rollins #election #trump #donaldtrump #president #chalk #chalkdrawing #kirbychalk #kirbycenter #fmkirbycenter #show #review #spokenword #soldout #punk #punkrock #music #singer #vocalist #art #artist #article
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Recalling how his mother provided him with a steady supply of vinyl before his friend Bert started loaning him his first punk records by the Ramones, The Clash, and Sex Pistols, giving him something more to identify with, Rollins talked about how music saved him from loneliness and social anxiety. Punk house parties in Washington, D.C., helped break him out of his shell and, in many cases, placed him in hilarious situations, like helping The Cramps singer Lux Interior slide his extremely tight pants off with his best friend, Ian MacKaye, who would go on to front Minor Threat and Fugazi. They stood outside after the show to sheepishly return his pants and, to this day, Rollins has never lost that fanboy awkwardness, even after years as a vocalist himself, and gushes whenever he meets one of his musical idols.
Meeting David Bowie at a festival, he was flabbergasted to find that “the Bow” was not only a fan, but had read many of his recent interviews and wanted to discuss them over lunch. His stories about Lemmy Kilmister received the most applause (just at the mention of his name) and only added to the Motörhead frontman’s legend. Among tales of his infamous heavy drinking was a quick anecdote about Lemmy’s apartment, which was littered with piles of stuff everywhere, leaving only little pathways to walk through, and how he gave Rollins a 102-year-old curved sword from Morocco from his collection as a sign of friendship.
“Whenever I knew I would see Lemmy, I always would bring an album of his to sign, and Lemmy rarely gave me an even break; he’d rarely say something to me straight without giving me a twist of humor or a mild insult. He just wanted to keep your blood thin,” Rollins remembered.
“He had a whole lot of fun. I bet if you were to wake him up right now and go, ‘Lemmy, would you do anything different,’ he’d say, ‘Yeah, I would have started when I was 5!’”
It wouldn’t be a Rollins spoken word performance without at least one story about his world travels, so he talked about going to Antarctica and how fellow passengers were overly excited to see the penguins, only to find them covered in their own foul-smelling feces. What got him through was listening to The Stooges’ “Raw Power,” which is one of many albums he copies and gives to people he meets around the world, recalling one kid in particular in Sri Lanka whose life changed forever hearing music he may have never discovered otherwise.
Today, as the news comes in that Donald Trump has won the presidency, his parting thoughts on Sunday may resonate the most.
“There’s going to be a new president in a few days, and obviously it matters but, in a way, things will always be the same in that you’re going to wake up the next day and you’ll be hungry and you’ll want breakfast or lunch, whatever meal they’re serving when you finally tear yourself off the futon. That is to say, life will go on, and the only thing that will be different is your attitude going forward living in this very interesting country that is not going to get dull any time soon. So hopefully you will vote. Who you vote for, like I said, is none of my business, but beyond this election, I don’t understand the idea of ‘we’ … I don’t think that we shall overcome. I think that individuals, however, will do great things. And so I rely on you, the individual, to make things better, and that’s what I want going forward – an upgrade from you and an upgrade from me,” Rollins mused.
“So hopefully we’ll all keep on going no matter what happens. And so if you are depressed about this election, as some of you might be, and you might be even more depressed after you get the result, don’t dismay because you are still here and your friends are still here and decency is still really the law of this land and, as far as all my travel has informed me, humans still steer towards dignity and respect, and it is our job to keep that going. That’s the job not only of a person but, to me, as an American. It’s not necessarily patriotism, ‘love it or leave it,’ it’s to be cool. It’s to be taller. It’s to be smarter every day than you were the day before, to keep upgrading yourself. And you want to make America great? That’s how you do it. It’s not a law, it’s not a president. It’s been the same thing it’s been since the Europeans first arrived here; it’s always been the individual, so it’s always been you.”
Knowing that audience ass cheeks were becoming numb at this point, the 55-year-old hardcore orator closed by revealing how his able to never pause to take a drink of water during his almost three-hour sets – he has a phobia that audiences will leave as soon as he turns away.
“So I never take my eyes off you until the very end. Thanks for enduring me. Good night!”
With that, Rollins bowed and promptly left the stage after a standing ovation, leaving the extensive corridor of the lobby filled long after he exited with fans of all ages, many dressed in their punk rock finest, ruminating and discussing the many subjects he covered before dispersing into the chilly night.
by Rich Howells
Rich is an award-winning journalist, longtime blogger, photographer, and podcast host. He is the founder and editor of NEPA Scene.