Friday, February 29, 2008

Henry Rollins at Warsaw

At some point during Braveheart, Robert the Bruce and his father are having one of their creepy fireside chats where Mel Gibson beats us over the head with the internal evil/external corruption symbolism that the father's character represents. No one would deny that the elder Bruce is not a loathsome person, but he makes an interesting point during this particular conversation. As Robert gushes over William Wallace's passion and contemplates joining the revolt to establish Scotland's independence, his father silences him with a salient bit of wisdom: "You admire this man, this William Wallace. Uncompromising men are easy to admire."

I've applied that piece of thinking to my own measurements of admiration many times, and the same truth always emerges: as someone who embraces compromise with perhaps a bit too much alacrity, uncompromising men are always easy for me to admire. That doesn't mean I agree with their principles - I express admiration for both Gene Simmons and Ted Nugent though I find Simmons' thoughts on music as art shortsighted and Nugent's ideas on cultural values disturbingly unenlightened - but I do admire their confidence of expression.

Henry Rollins, though...Henry Rollins is different. I've written in the past about how much I admire the man and his work, but Rollins is the exception in my list of admirable celebrities, because he consistently states his principles in a way that invites discussion, not defiance. "Don't let anyone else live your life for you or make your opinions for you," his stories say, and not because it's the "right" or "wrong" thing to do, but because you'll have a less fulfilling life and miss out on so much. His principles aren't swinging dick objectifications, but just a desire to really live life to the fullest in the way that makes the most sense to him. It's inspiring, not bull-headed.

That inspiration was on full throttle last night at Warsaw, a converted Polish social hall in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn where Rollins performed on one of the first stops of his Provoked spoken word tour. For three hours, Rollins became a conduit, his stance in an aggressive foot-forward position of the hardcore singer (with but the occasional deviation of movement to illustrate a point), his gaze locked on a point at the back of the hall as the stories flowed out in rapid-fire succession, connecting through complicated segues that all somehow resolved themselves into a single theme he brought up at the beginning of the performance: exercise your critical thinking skills, because the moment you don't is the moment you're vulnerable to influence from fear. He talked about his lifestyle, how he's channeled his energies into a work ethic that keeps him going from job to job and city to city so that he's always doing something, always kicking life's ass. He talked about his fundamental curiosity about other people that motivates him to visit Islamabad and Damascus and Beirut and Tehran and Johannesburg and Cape Town (all in one year) just to see what other people are like, shake their hands, make connections, and try to bring everyone a little closer together, despite the perception of danger. He told stories about how meeting his rock idols turns him into a self-conscious music nerd, about the sad, beautiful story of Paul Fox and his goodbye benefit concert, about how he obsesses about making every performance as awesome as possible. He spoke without whining or preaching about his deliberately lonely lifestyle, and how he uses his lack of deep personal connections to motivate himself to go out and do more.

It was a powerful performance, a pure and simple demonstration of Rollins' ability to capture an audience with the truth and beauty of his storytelling and communicate a point, to inspire new thoughts and personal reflection. If you get the chance to see Rollins on this tour, go: immerse yourself in the flood of energy from the stage and revel in it.

No comments: