Watch an old Black Flag clip of an animal-like Henry Rollins raging through "Rise Above" or pounding his fist into a fan, and you'd never believe the same guy went on to have a career in spoken-word performances, publishing, talk shows and documentaries for Independent Film Channel.
These days, Rollins, a muscled and tattooed icon of the hardcore punk movement, is more valued for his brain than brawn. He's on the road with "Provoked," a new spoken-word tour that stops at the sold-out Rex Theatre on Wednesday.
Fans can expect Rollins, an avowed History Channel geek, to hold court on politics, his travels to Afghanistan and Iraq, visits to AIDS clinics in South Africa, pop culture and his days as a young D.C. punk joining the L.A.-based Black Flag ('81-'86).
He doesn't have much in the way of new musical exploits to boast about. He toured with the Rollins Band in 2006, but his last album with that was the Black Flag covers project in 2002. The last time he took the stage as a vocalist was last July to front a reunion of The Ruts, one of his favorite bands.
- Where: Rex Theatre, South Side.
- When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.
- Tickets: Sold out.
In advance of his visit here, Rollins agreed to answer some questions via e-mail.
You've spent a lot of time with the troops overseas. What do you talk to them about in your shows? And, in private, do they express doubts about their purpose there?
I am mostly reactive to them. I listen and answer questions. What I don't do is tell them what I don't like about the invasion and occupation of Iraq. I try to make them laugh. I reckon they can use it. I have many letters from soldiers that don't like the war and don't like their assignments. I get the idea that everyone there is doing the best they can.
I read that you recently shouted obscenities to Condoleezza Rice in Lebanon. If you could sit down with her (or the administration in general), what would you say?
I yelled [an expletive] as her motorcade of SUVs flew by a cafe I was in while in Jerusalem. She makes me mad because I know she is brilliant and knows better. If she used her considerable intellect for good, America would be all the better for it. I would ask any of them to tell the truth about what they knew and when they knew it. I know what they knew when they knew it -- we all do at this point -- but I want to hear them say it. I won't get what I want, I know that.
What are your thoughts on the Democratic choices? And could you live with the prospect of President McCain?
I am not a fan of Hillary Clinton but will vote for her if she is the Democratic candidate. I think there is a very good chance I will have to live with President McCain.
On to music: You toured with the Rollins Band in 2006. Was that rewarding and what are the future prospects for the band?
It was at best, strange. I think the shows were good, but it felt a little old or something up there, and the idea of getting into the practice room and making songs, if we could, for several months just didn't feel like what I wanted to do with the better part of a year. I have no band plans at the moment. I would like to think I would make some more music before it's all over.
Most bands seem to reunite at some point for one reason or another. Would you ever take the stage with Black Flag? If so, under what circumstances?
Black Flag deserves to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. A lot of punk musicians seem to say they don't care but then (like Patti Smith) accept it as an honor. Would you?
It's nothing that interests me at all. I wouldn't want to stand on a stage with my old bandmates and accept some award. If it were to happen, they would no doubt use one of the other singers that people like better. I won a Grammy once, I gave it away. It's nothing I can use.
You recently took part in a Ruts reunion. What was special to you about that band?
They were just a tremendous band. Great everything. As soon as I heard them, I knew they were one of the best bands I would ever hear and about that, I was right.
In 1981, it seems like it was obvious what kind of music or music scene was the most vital at the time. Do you see anything now that stands out in that way?
I don't know of a single band that stands out, but there are definitely a lot of great bands happening at the moment. Wolf Eyes, Deerhoof, Sunn 0))), The Evens, Joe Lally from Fugazi is touring, Dinosaur Jr. The Meat Puppets are touring now and are really great. I like a lot of the noise bands like Viki, Yellow Swans, Hair Police and stuff like that. The Dax Riggs album "We Sing of Only Blood or Love" is amazing I think. XBXRX is great. Music is really good right now.
What are your thoughts on people file-sharing music? Should musicians have to find another way to support themselves?
I would never take a song from a band and not pay because I want to support them. There are some sites, like Freesofree.net, the Dinosaur Jr. download site, where you can get a ton of live stuff of the band. I have at least 50 downloads from that site. It's band approved. I think that's really cool. I already have all the albums so it's not like the band has missed a payday on my watch. I don't mind when people download my stuff, I would rather be heard than paid. I feel bad, though, when bands get ripped off when they are barely scraping by.
Do you like the fact that the music scene is more fragmented, that the iPod era may contribute to people's tastes being broader?
I think there is more than one way to consider the iPod thing. It's great that people are perhaps checking out other musics one song at a time, I just fear what it does to the idea of an album and people's attention spans. On the other hand, there's nothing like the cool mix tape. Now you can make great mixes in iTunes. I do it all the time.
Scott Mervis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2576.