Henry Rollins’s latter-day career rests on twin pillars of cheesiness. For the first, there’s the onetime Black Flag front man’s “art,” currently equal parts ponderous, strained metal and humorless stand-up comedy–I’m sorry, “spoken-word performance.” The second is his reprehensible work as a tool of advertisers (the Gap, Apple) looking for youth credentials. We’re supposed to appreciate Rollins as a thinking-man’s punk, one whose philosophy of brooding, pumped-up self-reliance can rationalize his ad campaigns and incessant MTV self-promotion. But his lack of depth is appallingly on display in his spoken-word compositions, basically rock-star tales told by the dinner guest from hell. Their great length and grinning self-congratulation are constructed on a foundation of dreary moralizing and mind-numbing solipsism; that these are lapped up by youthful fans merely confirms the teller’s impression of their worth. Rollins bears some similarity to Jello Biafra, who like him fronted a punk band and has parlayed that into subculture-spokesperson status. But at root Biafra has merely confused his worldview, a resentful, pinched sarcasm, with humor. Also, Biafra at least has some subversive social theories. (They are lunkheaded and irritating ones, but definitely out of the mainstream.) Rollins’s philosophy basically comes down to “men are bad, particularly overmuscled, rock-star boys like me, but I just keep getting into these wacky situations.” Those of us who grew up in the punk generation took it as an article of faith that our stars, our heroes, would somehow spare us the crushing betrayals of previous generations. We had no idea they’d be even more embarrassing. Friday, 7:30 PM, the Vic, 3145 N. Sheffield; 472-0449 or 559-1212.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Ross Halfin.