Henry Rollins: “You and I are brilliant. WE, however, aren’t doing so well….” Live Review at Boulder Theater, May 16, 2015
“WE are not gonna make it,” asserted a more-grim-than-usual Henry Rollins to a standing room only audience at the Boulder Theater last Saturday night. “YOU will be fine. YOU and I are brilliant, and will do magnificent things. But WE don’t look to promising.”
To understand Rollins’ point, best to be familiar with his belief system. At many points in the past 4 decades, Henry Rollins has been a cultural revolutionary, a social weathervane, more than a few rock stars, a repeatedly successful actor (in films and TV series of varied critical acclaim, and sometimes dubious value), a radio and TV host, a writer, a motivational speaker, and a historian. But, most consistently, Rollins has been the definition of a self-made, blue-collar renaissance man, erring more often than not on the optimist side of human potential, constantly railing against a tendency for too many humans to do stupid, obstinate and short-sighted things.
Not so much this time, though.
The “WE” Rollins kept bringing up during his non-stop two-hour rant in Boulder (during which, ironically, he spoke about the Ramones’ non-stop, no-break live shows) is the collective, misdirected group-mentality that now seems to permeate so much of the media and collective thought in America, at least from his point of view. Between most of his stories throughout the evening—from his tales about travelling alone through much of Central Asia and balking at the archaic practices of arranged marriage and mind-boggling defenses of both Vladimir Putin and communism, to his experiences in Cuba “…just before Starbucks moved in”—he kept harping on the hopelessness he’s been seeing in the American “WE.”
“…no one was wolfing down five pizzas at a time or enacting weird scenes from “Reefer Madness”…. The police – the police were hilarious! They were like Maytag Repairmen!”
“WE are not going to make it,” he growled, deep into the second hour. “WE are slipping straight back into the primordial ooze, frantically looking for a tail to stick back onto our asses and cutting into the sides of our throats to re-form gills so we can crawl back into the seas, and backwards in evolution.” Optimism be damned—apparently we’re too far gone for hope, or at least that giant group of us is.
He wasn’t negative through his whole speech, though.
Rollins spent a considerable amount of time praising Colorado for the success of the new “weed culture” growing here, and thanking the local population for leading the way. He described—at length, and in the environment of his most consistent current project, the show “10 Things You Don’t Know About…” that he hosts on History Channel’s H2 network—the 2014 “Cannabis Cup” held in Denver, where he and a large crew came to document the progress.
“Nothing was on fire,” he pointed out. “Everyone behaved themselves as adults (for the most part), no one was wolfing down five pizzas at a time or enacting weird scenes from “Reefer Madness”…. The police – the police were hilarious! They were like Maytag Repairmen!” He then went on to thank Coloradans for taking the first sane steps in the drug wars, and for lighting the way for everyone else.
He also spun a positive story about a Commencement Address he’d delivered to Burbank’s Woodbury University the week before—his second to a graduating class over the past 6 years or so. In his address, he told the soon-to-be graduates that “…this is the most amazing century to be alive in,” quite passionately, by his own account. Maybe even angrily.
He noted that, after he spoke, he counted a vast majority of obviously foreign students graduating from Woodbury, which he took as a mixed sign. “These graduates are coming to America, from places where they’ve learned to value education, to get an education in the best schools in the world and take it back to their homes,” he said. “[Soon] they’ll be back, with inventions, with innovation that will change the world. Want a solar panel? BZZZAP! There you go! We made that! We invented that! What have you been doing?”
Switching seamlessly into the hopeless, American “WE” guise, he uttered, “Rubbing sticks together and hating [homosexuals].” Like he said, WE aren’t showing much promise.
In a strange—but poignant— way, Rollins schooled all of us in optimism, inside what may have been the bleakest content over the past few times he’s stopped in Boulder to dispense his brand of Punk Rock wisdom. He left the stage with a giant grin, though, apparently pretty certain he’d made a few impressions. His words may not have changed many of the innovative minds he’d met here, but I’d like to believe those words helped to solidify some strong, youthful optimism that we all can carry on.