Friday, October 31, 2008

Henry Rollins at Town Hall

I've made no secret of my love for Henry Rollins, but as it turns out, there are some fundamental differences between seeing him speak the first time and seeing him speak twice. The first time, it's a completely new experience, even with any preparation taken from recordings and the mind boggles at the sheer awesomeness of it all as it tries to take in both the experience and the knowledge pouring forth from the fountain's mouth. The second time around, expectations are in place: Will the product stand up to scrutiny?

Of course it does. That was a silly question and you lose five points for thinking about it. Rollins for the second time is just as mind-blowing as he is for the second time, albeit in a different way. There were pieces of the stories from the Provoked tour, sometimes with additions, sometimes in a different mix. There was some political commentary - this was the Recountdown Tour, after all - and whole crop of new material. But the message, the overarching theme, had changed. It wasn't politics, so much, or the "question everything" stance of Provoked, but a criticism of the society we've set up, a condemnation of a world where, despite the enormous amounts of wealth we generate, working hard doesn't mean you can stop worrying about the necessities. For example, he told a story about a guy he met who worked in a Subway in Seattle, an encounter that led him to wonder how much of a sandwich's $6.50 price went into the worker's salary and how long he had to work just to be able to afford one of those sandwiches, let alone things like rent and gas for his car and food for his family.

The message was an effective send-off, but the most powerful thing Rollins told us all night was a story about going to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, to visit the Killing Fields outside of the city. During his walk, his guide stopped him and asked him to look at the ground. Confused, Rollins asked what he should look for. "Just look," the guide told him, "and tell me what you see." Rollins spotted what he thought was a stick and picked it up, only to realize it was a human femur. Turning to the guide, Rollins says, "I thought you guys got all of the bodies out?" "We thought we did," replied the guide, "but the rain moves the soil around and new bodies come up all of the time. You can put the bone over there; someone will come along to take care of it." Afterwards, Henry saw the ground in a new light: everywhere he looked, there were pieces of fingers and teeth and bits of cloth from clothing, all mixed together in one enormous monument to humanity's ability to adopt the guise of bestiality at the drop of a hat. Fight for change here in America, Rollins told us, because the descent into the madness Cambodia experienced isn't as far a jump as we might all think.

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