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Henry Rollins

A Rollins in the Wry

(Quarterstick; US: 20 Feb 2001)

Henry Rollins took an odd, some might even say misguided, turn with the Rollins Band last year, dismissing the tight, jazz-influenced players and replacing them with a bluesy hard-rock trio. If he lost me a bit with that turn in his career, there’s no better way to win my attention back than with another of his spoken-word releases.

Rollins’ spoken word performances are, generally speaking, three-plus hours of his perspective on life. At times he’s like a super-cynical, punk rock version of Jerry Seinfeld or Woody Allen, taking the minute details of everyday life and complaining about them ferociously and hilariously. At other points he’ll comment on current events, rip on other musicians, give detailed reports about places he’s traveled, deliver self-deprecating treatises on relationships, and tell touching stories from the lives of people he’s met. In short, he’s all over the place, but he never sounds like he’s rehearsed his words, or like he’s trying to put on an act. He just gets up there and talks. Some of what he says is funny, some of it interesting, and some of it a bit overbearing, but it’s rarely boring.

The single-disc A Rollins in the Wry is another collection from one of those appearances, recorded during two shows in the spring of 1999 in his home-turf of Los Angeles. Both shows were part of a weekly stint at a club called Café Luna. While none of the funny parts are quite as funny as some of his best recorded pieces (especially those on the two-disc collections The Boxed Life and Think Tank), and none of the more serious tales are as moving as his best work (like on the video Talking From the Box), it’s still an entertaining collection filled with interesting tales and humorous, timely quips.

Humor and emotion are subjective things, so each listener would no doubt have a different opinion about the funniest or most interesting parts. For me, the best parts of A Rollins in the Wry are when he tells interesting stories that happened to him in his life, such as his trip to Israel, which he relates with the giddiness of a little kid, or the letter he received from a fan from the Czech Republic. The most dull parts, for someone who has heard many hours of his spoken-word gigs, come when he falls comfortably back on some of his favorite topics, like the awkwardness of buying condoms or the intensity of Black Sabbath. Still, throughout he manages to make me laugh and think and pay complete attention, which is the most I’d expect. With his spoken-word performances, Henry Rollins has managed to mine out his own unique territory: Not quite comedy, not quite autobiography, not quite poetry, but always compelling and always a whole lot of fun.

Dave Heaton has been writing about music on a regular basis since 1993, first for unofficial college-town newspapers and DIY fanzines and now mostly on the Internet. In 2000, the same year he started writing for PopMatters, he founded the online arts magazine, still around but often in flux. He writes music reviews for the print magazine The Big Takeover. He is a music obsessive through and through. He lives in Kansas City, Missouri.

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