Henry Rollins still talks the talk on his 'Long March'

| Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Henry Rollins prefers the rigors of the road to the comforts of home.

Appearing Saturday at Carnegie Music Hall in Oakland as part of his spoken-word tour, "The Long March," Rollins had already done about 40 dates in 2012 by early March. He cites one of contemporary music's sagest voices as inspiring his peripatetic nature.

"Part of my ethic comes from Bob Dylan," Rollins says. "One of his quotes is something like 'If you're a musician, you go out and deliver your songs,' but he's very humble about it. He makes no bones about it and I've heard him say it in a couple of different ways. It's really cool to see a guy like that keeping doing it when he's written enough great songs to probably keep the sandwiches coming in."

Rollins' travels have taken him to Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other destinations not listed in Michelin Guides. Last year, he traveled to Haiti. Voluble on most subjects, he seems to have been left at a loss about his travel to the earthquake-stricken nation.

"I just don't know what to do about it," Rollins says. "I was so blown away by what I saw. I know there have been billions of dollars raised and I don't know if there's corruption, but you walk in downtown Port-au-Prince and it's just destroyed. You're ankle-high in rubble. It was basically hot squalor, confusing and kind of hopeless. ... I spent a week there visiting camps, buying soccer balls to give to little kids and stuff like that."

Rollins quickly adds that he doesn't know if he made a difference, but he couldn't sit back and do nothing. The drive to travel and listen to unheard voices in the streets of Damascus or Islamabad or Port-au-Prince, to see things most Westerners can't imagine, informs his performances.

"I travel to learn things rather than just read about them," he says. "I tried to go and get different information."

In a way, Rollins is a throwback to the travelers in the Middle Ages who would bring reports of the world to small villages. The difference is the volume and breadth of news available today. Everyone has access to the 24-hour news cycle, and everyone can post an opinion via Twitter or blogs or message boards.

All of this is good, Rollins feels, except for one thing: Anonymous posts that use vile language.

"I talk about it almost nightly," he says, noting he's especially been appalled reading posts using racial slurs to describe President Obama. "You have the right to say anything you want under the First Amendment, but to not sign your name and call yourself Patriot148 is just disingenuous. It's willful cowardice. If you're going to say it, stand up and wear it on your shirt. Don't hide behind the First Amendment, stand in front of the First Amendment and defend it."

Rollins started his career as a musician, first with Washington, D.C., bands before joining the seminal punk band Black Flag. Later, he formed the Rollins Band, which was active until 2006. There's no chance Rollins will resurrect his musical career because "I just don't know what else I would do except look foolish," he says.

But doesn't he miss the roar of approval that comes with delivering a song?

"Think about it," he says of doing spoken-word performances. "There's not that huge wall of noise, there's just that acoustic signal, just one voice. Talk about having impact. Oh, yeah, you get a reaction. It's goes both ways; there's great approval and great disapproval."

Additional Information:

Henry Rollins

When: 8 p.m. Saturday

Admission: Sold out

Where: Carnegie Lecture Hall, Oakland

Details: 412-237-8300 or www.warhol.org

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