Henry Rollins needs to talk.
The spellbinding Grammy-winning spoken word artist hasn’t toured since 2018. He had planned to tour in 2020 and 2021, but we all know what happened.
“We’ve all been through something and I’m no different,” Rollins said in a phone interview. In just four days, he would open his extensive 80-show North American tour. It stops at the Carnegie Music Hall in Homestead in Munhall on Wednesday.
It was a tour that was supposed to include stops in Europe and Australia, but the pandemic wiped them out, he said.
“Covid just has this unbearable speed,” Rollins said. “So, (in 2020) I no longer have a job, I am relatively lucky to have a house to lock myself up in. My life will never be what it was. So, I had to say goodbye to that.
But Rollins clearly isn’t saying goodbye to touring. During his “Good To See You 2022” tour, which kicked off last Saturday in Royal Oak, Michigan, and ends June 4 in Montreal, he’s only scheduled six days off.
Rollins, 61, has a lot of pent up energy and a lot to say about what’s happened over the past two years, including recent events.
“I’m still angry, if you will. I had three legs for the tour this year. Two of them left. Europe left just before Christmas Day and Australia left two weeks ago,” he said. “I was supposed to be in Russia three weeks ago for a concert in Moscow. It would have been interesting.
Curiously, Rollins’ last concert before this tour dates back to 2018 in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital. He said it was awful to think about it now “because there’s no one in my audience that night who isn’t living much different than three months ago. Who knows if they are still in kyiv.
Rollins (whose original name is Henry Garfield) is clearly a man whose true empathy belies his badass image. That image was forged from his days as the intense vocalist of groundbreaking 1980s punk rock band Black Flag, who would occasionally trade blows with audience members, and its follow-up, The Rollins Band.
His fans also remember his performance as main antagonist AJ Weston, a white supremacist, in the second season of FX’s original series “Sons of Anarchy.” They enjoyed her performance on that show so much that some fans told her, “I love hating you,” Rollins recalled.
However, in the interview, Rollins – who claims to always be an “angry person” in real life – gently prompts his interviewee to share with him that he had friends who died of covid during the pandemic. “Oh, I’m so sorry,” said Rollins, who went on to say that was the very reason he was loath to complain about the impact of the pandemic on his life.
“We have common ground from that and me being the only person in the building with a microphone every night on tour, I have to be very careful how and how much I moan about it. It can’t be ‘poor me,’” he said. “So I very carefully developed material with all of that in mind.”
Rollins has always taken a meticulous approach to his material. He began touring as a spoken word artist in the mid-1980s while still a member of Black Flag. Over the years, he’s created some fascinating albums, including “Get in the Van: On the Road with Black Flag,” a 1994 double-disc recording of him reading his Black Flag tour diary of the same name.
An excerpt: “When they spit on me, when they catch me, they don’t hurt me. When I push and mutilate another’s flesh, it’s so far short of what I really want to do to them.
Rollins ended up winning the 1995 Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album.
These days, Rollins said he enjoys doing spoken word a lot more than being the lead singer of a band.
“I like being alone on stage because there is no substitute,” he said. “It’s more real than being in a band for me because there’s no snare drum to get you out of trouble. There’s no guitar noise to cover up the fact that you messed up the chorus.
“When you’re alone on stage, it’s just you and you’re going to be evaluated on the quality of your material. You cannot call. You can’t phone in a single comma. You can’t fool them.
And how does Rollins prepare to give his audience the show he feels he deserves?
“Every tour I really try to take it up a notch,” he said. “I didn’t make any of that damn material. It’s all veal. What I’m going to do is constantly edit. Never be boring. This is rule number one. And you get to the point where it’s “all killer, no filler”. By the time I get on stage, I’m about 97% there after weeks of preparation. By the time I see you guys (in Homestead), I’ll be Bruce Lee in “Enter the Dragon,” greased up and banging hard.
So the man who takes the stage in Homestead Wednesday is not just a successful rock and spoken word artist, actor and radio and television host with stints on MTV, National Geographic and History Channel, but also a prolific author. During the pandemic, Rollins wrote three books, one of which – “Stay Fanatic!!! Volume 3” – he will sell on his current tour.
“I worked on a series of music books,” he says. “I’ve been collecting records since the Carter administration and I just decided to do some crazy write-up where you take a seven-inch record and you show every pressing, the test pressing, the promo sheet, where you go so deep in the weeds… and they are loved all over the world.
Would Rollins ever see himself playing in an energetic band like Black Flag or The Rollins Band again?
“It’s definitely in the rearview mirror,” he said. “About 20 years ago I woke up and I was like ‘Wow! I’m out of words. It just hit me like ‘ding, it’s time to go’ and I said to my manager, ‘I’m done with music.’ I called my bandmates and said, “Guys, I’m out of toothpaste in the tube.”
“I don’t want to go on stage and sing something I wrote when I was 23. I may not disagree with the lyrics, but my emotional register is not that of a twenties. Things are different. You could offer me any amount of money and I couldn’t do it.
For now, Rollins is strictly looking at the massive tour ahead of him and he said he’s really looking forward to returning to the Pittsburgh area.
“I’ve done a billion shows in Pittsburgh and never had a bad time,” he said. “Pittsburgh has always been very good to me. It’s a difficult audience. It’s a tough city. It’s cold. It can be quite gray and people are born with a bit of a winter coat. In Pittsburgh, they’re just perfectly honest. But if you really bring it, they’re like ‘OK, we accept you.’ ”
Paul Guggenheimer is a staff writer for Tribune-Review. You can contact Paul at 724-226-7706 or firstname.lastname@example.org.