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Punker turned pundit

Who knows what would have happened if that white supremacist hadn't tried to kill Henry Rollins' guitar player. Maybe Rollins - the punk icon turned lecture-circuit regular - wouldn't have seen his spoken-word career take off to the point where i...

Henry Rollins

Who knows what would have happened if that white supremacist hadn't tried to kill Henry Rollins' guitar player.

Maybe Rollins - the punk icon turned lecture-circuit regular - wouldn't have seen his spoken-word career take off to the point where its popularity makes him assume it's all about ready to implode.

If he weren't doing what he calls his "talking shows," he certainly would not have started 2007 visiting Tehran, ended it in Pakistan (during the time Benazir Bhutto was assassinated) and spent the months in between hopping around to Israel, Jordan, Scandinavia, Europe, Australia, Syria and Lebanon.

Rollins will be at the Fargo-Moorhead Community Theatre on Saturday to talk about his recent travels and whatever else is on his mind. Once again, partial thanks to the anonymous Mr. White Power.

In the early 1980s, Rollins was still just a kid bellowing for pioneering Los Angeles punk band Black Flag when a promoter asked him to do 10 minutes at a weekly show of performance artists and poets. Rollins was dubious but agreed to do it because he needed the $10 - which he later spent on a Denny's meal.


Just a few days before, the supremacist in question had tried to drive his car over Black Flag founder and guitarist Greg Ginn, a thank you to the band for sharing practice space with Samoan and Mexican gangsters."So I just kind of reel it off, like, 'Oh, by the way, somebody tried to kill Greg,' " Rollins said via phone last week.

The response was gangbuster. Soon he was opening for those same poets - to their dismay - and by 1985 he went on his first cross-country "talking show" tour, honing his mix of political commentary, behind-the-scenes dishing, inspirational speaking and comedy.

Nineteen spoken-word albums later, he's still at it. In an excerpt of the interview below, Rollins reflects on those days, deflects praise and projects he'd get whipped in a Fox News debate.

Forum: When the talking shows started taking off, did you feel torn (between music and lecturing), or was it pretty seamless?

Rollins: Oh, no. It was just more. Throw it in the pot. Just sleep less. I'm kind of a workaholic. But mainly, I know that all of this comes to an end. I come from the minimum wage working world. I know what I'm qualified to go back to, and I don't want to go back there too soon. I know that at some point, everyone goes, "OK, we've clapped for you a lot. Now we're moving on." That's just how it is unless you're Ozzy Osbourne or Mick Jagger. I'm not.

If you didn't have an outlet for what you do in the talking shows ...

If I didn't have what I do all the time, the books and the talking shows and all this stuff I get to do, I would probably be very, very hard to be around. I wouldn't be able to keep my misery at bay. There are a handful of people I've met in my life that there's just no other place to put them except on a movie set or on a stage. "Oh, give him a microphone so he'll shut up," you know? A guy like Iggy Pop - what are you going to do with that guy? He's never going to be able to park your car. He's never going to check in 9 a.m. every day at the library. ... He's born to be seen. I have a little bit of that, but I really just like what I do. I'm nothing special. These people are special. I'm just hard-working. There's a big difference between talent and tenacity.

Do you think tenacity is one of the common threads between what made you a compelling front man and what makes you a compelling speaker?


Yeah, if you can call me those nice things. I really mean it up there. I have something I really want to tell you, and I'm crazy enough to think that you should listen to me. It's not a thing where I think I'm smarter than you, and I have big knowledge. I just want to tell you these stories. ... I'm nothing, and the audience is the man. That's how it is for me. I am in awe of audiences. I'm also in fear of them. That's the thing performers should have more of. They should be trembling at the idea of failing an audience. I do. I freak out if I feel like I haven't given them a good enough show.

What do you think some of the main American misconceptions about the Middle East are?

That everyone wants to kill them. That they're rude, stupid, filthy people. That all of them are religious psychos that say, "Death to America." I've walked all over the streets of the Middle East, and I've never had any aggression exacted toward me. I'm no expert. I'm sure you could have a rough time in parts of Pakistan, like if you went to the south or to the west on the Afghan border. I wouldn't walk around Kabul on my own. I've been to Kabul a couple of times, but I wouldn't advise just kicking it. ... But that's like Detroit, too. And Cleveland and Miami and Tokyo.

If you could debate one U.S. pundit or politician, who would you take on?

Gee. That's a good question. I don't know if I have the intellectual sap needed. I'm sure I could be outtalked or cornered into something where I hang myself very quickly by even a lowly Fox News pundit. Even the coffee boy could string me up.

You could do a little better than that, couldn't you?

I don't know. I see what I see. I go where I go. When I look at the numbers, when I look at the history, I come to my conclusions. Other people look at the same information and tell me American's safer, the economy's strong and there's no such thing as global warming. And we're looking at the same numbers. Maybe these people know something I don't know. I don't know. I think I'm right.

If you go


- What: Henry Rollins

- When: 8 p.m. Saturday

- Where: Fargo Moorhead Community Theatre

- Tickets: $29; for more information, call (701) 235-6778.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Roepke at (701) 241-5535

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