Fans of provocative, unflinching political and societal commentary are in for a treat at the : Henry Rollins is returning to South Africa with his Spoken World Tour. The U.S. alternative culture icon can be seen in Cape Town on Friday, September 30, at the Baxter Theatre; and in Joburg on Saturday, October 1, at Gold Reef City.
Entertainment Weekly’s list of descriptives for Rollins includes: Punk Rock icon; Spoken word poet; Actor; Author; DJ. “Is there anything this guy can’t do?” the publication continues.
His passionate and lucid spoken word shows have proved a favourite amongst local crowds. Food for thought is planted between humorous observations and poignant verbal snapshots as Rollins recalls his travels to conflict zones and trouble spots, as well as wild work experiences in sharp detail and rapid-fire style.
PETER TROMP caught up with ROLLINS on the eve of his latest SA excursion.
Welcome back to SA. This is your umpteenth time visiting us. What keeps bringing you back to our neck of the woods? Is it our samosas? Our beer, perhaps? Our vibey “Rainbow Nationy-ness”?
There is an audience. That’s all it takes for me. The fact that I can put cities on a tour itinerary is a big deal. To be able to add a new country to that list after all these years is really cool.
TV Guide in the U.S. has called you a “Renaissance Man”, for juggling so many different performance disciplines. Is that a descriptive you feel fits? Is there anything you’d like to add to your resume along the way? Juggling maybe?
I just do things. I am not looking for a career. I don’t think I could hold that together. I have a direction: it’s forward, with death at the end of it. Between here and there, I am trying to keep it interesting. That’s all there is to it, really. I am an adventurist and an opportunist. In acting and speaking disciplines, I can sometimes pass for normal and get work. I am always surprised when anything comes my way. I am not trying to be that guy who does a lot of things. I am just someone from the minimum wage working world who wanted something more.
You talking about the US presidential race on your tour? If so, give us a little teaser of your state of mind regarding the contest. The whole world is fascinated by it; certainly serves as a nice distraction from our own turbulent political landscape…
USA, the idea of it, is pretty much over. When you purposefully under educate and wilfully coarsen a population, you fill battlefields and prisons more easily. When your biggest export is Democracy (weapons and their delivery systems) and your foreign policy is drone strikes, the president is nothing more than the Warlord-In-Chief. In a nation of gun loving, overeating science dodgers, Donald Trump makes sense. When he becomes emperor, he will make the America great again, right? That’s where it’s at. A lot of the electorate is mad, but they aim their shots at themselves and each other year after year and you have what you see now.
Nepal, Sri Lanka, Siberia, North Korea, South Sudan and South Africa, of course: these are all locations that you have visited and presumably performed in, that don’t form part of the normal itinerary of many international artists. What about these “off the beaten path” locations fascinate you? And I just have to know, specifically: what is North Korea like?
Out the six countries you listed, I have only performed in South Africa. All the others, I went to was for experience and edification. People tend to bring their mediocrity and their casual brutality with them, so I try for the places that are not in the brochure. North Korea was sad. Good people, bad government. I don’t know what will help them. Whatever could possibly make things better would take at least a century to implement and you would have to get everyone on the same page. I don’t think it will happen. If a country is to get better, you need to lead the electorate out of the darkness of ignorance to a better place. You have to really want a better outcome. Otherwise, you get what you have in a lot of countries. People are very hard to manage. We are too smart for our own good a lot of the time.
We appear to be at a critical nexus in history, with authoritarianism seemingly making a grand comeback in numerous parts of the world. How do you feel about the challenges we are currently facing as citizens of the world, and do they energise you as an artist, or exasperate you?
Authoritarianism is not making a comeback. It never moved. No one dared stand up to it after the first several million were slaughtered. It just pulled back the curtain and allowed you to see how it operates. Now you can buy shares. Natural resources are diminishing. Global climate change is not only real, but a persuasive force in molding this century. There will be winners and losers. The challenges? The challenges should have been renewable energy sources, education in areas hit by HIV to try and stop the spread, limiting emissions by any number of ways, etc. The “citizens of the world,” or at least their corporate masters, are not interested in those challenges. So, they are no longer challenges, but nails in the coffin of Homo sapiens.
The challenges instead, are pedantic fails like not getting shot because you’re black, gay or female; not losing your job or your healthcare plan, and so on. A focused effort to relentlessly beat the poor until they learn to beat themselves has worked in a lot of places. In USA, there is a thang called the War on Drugs. The drugs won, but not even the President can admit it. I think that humans are finally getting what they have been setting themselves up for since at least the Industrial Revolution. A lot of them will die off. It will be the water. The poor quality, or lack thereof. There are so many examples of human greatness – too bad they didn’t inspire enough people. I try to not be part of the problem.
* Book at http://online.computicket.com/web/event/henry_rollins/1019155539, Shoprite Checkers outlets and all House @ Home Stores.