Speaking his mind just comes naturally

February 11, 2003|By Mike Morris | Mike Morris,SUN STAFF

Henry Rollins is on a mission. To end racism. To rid the world of Jennifer Lopez records. To make you think twice before purchasing that SUV.

Rollins - punk rocker turned rant artist - brought his crusade to Johns Hopkins University's Shriver Hall on Sunday where he spoke/read/shouted/recited before an eclectic, sold-out crowd as part of his "Spoken Word" tour. For 2 1/2 hours, teen-agers wearing metal-stud bracelets, middle-age men in khakis, jocks and Goth/glam girls in all black sat and listened attentively as Rollins read from his journal, provided biting commentary about the state of the world, and just went on about whatever happened to be on his mind.

Bits and pieces of ideas and admonishments spattered from his tormented stream-of-consciousness like beer at a frat party.

On Britney Spears: "The whiteness that comes off of Britney Spears is intolerable."

On reality TV: "I wish they'd stop calling it `reality TV' and start calling it `Humiliation TV.'"

On politics: "I'm done with politicians. We've been left on our own."

Rollins, a tattooed punk-rock legend, exploded on the underground music scene in the mid '80s as frontman of the pioneering group Black Flag and later started his own outfit, Rollins Band. His aggressive music and brash lyrics are a far cry from his current stand-up routine, which includes speaking to his hand in a French accent.

Though perhaps best known as a musician, Rollins is an accomplished spoken word performer. He's made 11 spoken word (monologue) albums since 1987, even winning a Grammy for his 1994 Get in the Van: On the Road with Black Flag.

Now he's on a 50-stop tour spouting off his signature blend of blunt social commentary, stand-up comedy and thought-provoking (even inspirational) messages - all while finding a way to insert four-letter words into nearly every sentence.

"We'll have a nation of SUV-driving, dull [bleeps]," Rollins said of America's future. "We'll have more Ben Affleck movies, more J.Lo records."

Despite the seeming haphazardness of his remarks, Rollins weaves into them big-picture questions about society. What it means to be an American, the nation's current state and its future formed the major threads of his performance. He opposed war with Iraq, suggested serving Saddam Hussein's head on a plate to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and insinuated President Bush was high on drugs while delivering the State of the Union address.

"I wonder what the rest of the world thinks of us?" asked Rollins, who turns 42 on Thursday. "America is always in the spotlight because we're No. 1. And we're the most brightly colored; we do the craziest things, and we have the most resources. And we're blowing our brains out more than anybody. Our children are fatter and more depressed than any other nation.

"I just wonder what the rest of the world thinks of a bunch of fat, depressed kids running around with their own cell phones, credit cards and their own entourage of people when there's kids all over parts of Africa and Asia, all over the world, all they get is camel dung and a stick to play with."

The performer's own childhood was turbulent. Born Henry Garfield in Washington, he was enrolled in a military academy after his parents separated. If he's polite as an adult, he said, it's because it was "beaten into him at an early age." A self-described misfit in his youth, Rollins was the kind of kid who always got sent home early from birthday parties. "Fun is not good for me," he confessed. "I'm too weird and intense for fun."

He doesn't have time for fun, anyway.

After his current spoken word gig wraps up this May - his last stop is in Australia - Rollins and his band will hit the road. Then next fall, it's back to spoken word performances. He also completed a minor role in Bad Boys 2, which opens this summer and stars Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, and is co-host of the current series Full Metal Challenge on TLC.

Actually, it seems Rollins will do just about anything. He does commercial voiceover work for Life cereal, writes books for his own publishing company and even has dabbled in porn (as an actor).

"A real artist is a loner," said Rollins. "It's someone filled with bitterness, pain and misery. Not someone who stands around with a bunch of guys drinking wine at a party, saying, `Yes, I really am intense.' "

Rollins has taken this as his personal philosophy: He doesn't attend parties, hasn't danced since 1979 and it's been 16 years since he's gotten any new tattoos.

"I've been avoiding adulthood since I was 20," said Rollins, whose hair is starting to match the gray of his pants better than the black of his shirt.

So how will the world know when Rollins enters adulthood?

When, "someone hands me the Best of Sting and I can't resist," he said.

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