Chris Schulz is the deputy head of entertainment for the New Zealand Herald.

Meet Henry Rollins, a man 'born to be on stage'

Henry Rollins loves to talk. It's just as well - that's exactly what he's coming here to do. Chris Schulz meets the raconteur ahead of his Auckland show.
Henry Rollins performs his spoken word show in Auckland on Saturday night.
Henry Rollins performs his spoken word show in Auckland on Saturday night.

If you see Henry Rollins walking around the streets of Auckland talking to himself this weekend, don't worry. He's not insane.

"I find stretches of sidewalk and I walk alone and I tell stories out loud to myself," the former Black Flag rocker says of his rehearsal method for his latest spoken word tour, An Evening With Henry Rollins.

"I get on treadmills and I talk in a low roar. When I get too enthusiastic someone will look over and say, "Excuse me?' I'm like, 'Sorry. I'm a weirdo. I'm not talking to you'."

It's an essential part of Rollins' preparation for his lengthy spoken word shows, which he brings to Auckland's Crystal Palace this weekend after two dates in Dunedin. He also performs in Wellington on Sunday night.

Words are his thing, they always have been. And he's been doing his spoken word shows since 1983 - doubling up as the front man for hardcore acts Black Flag and The Rollins Band.

Rollins says he never gets sick of telling his stories, which are derived from the extensive travelling he does between tours.

"I need to bring really good stories to the stage where you're leaning in going, 'Woah' ... when you look at your watch and two hours have gone. By the time I get the story to the audience, it's a lean mean, fighting machine," he says.

"If I have good material, I can give you a good show."

Armed with a notebook and a camera, Rollins visits as many far flung places as he can, meeting people, documenting events and trying to experience as much as he can.

Rollins has a simple test for whether his story works in front of an audience: "If it blew my mind, it will blow someone else's mind."

But it's not always immediately apparent what form the story will take.

"It takes days, weeks, or months for the wisdom of that story (to appear). I went to Haiti with a bunch of money. I said, 'I'll help people,' and I did. But I did it the wrong way. I gave out 300 bars of soap, and started a fight. People were beating each other up for three cent bars of soap," he says.

"At first I thought, 'This is horrible how people are treating each other.' But that's not the story. The story's about an asshole, me, who thought he could help by putting a band aid on a shocking chest wound. If you want to help in Haiti, show up with 150,000 gallons of water, or don't show up at all.

"That's the lesson from the story. It took weeks for me to get that. And that's the story I tell on stage."

You might think all that travelling might have led to some dangerous situations. But Rollins says he's rarely been caught out.

"Bad things can happen. In Morocco a guy tried to lure me into an alley. I've had to convince a couple of people that they're not going to take my camera from me. That wasn't cultural, it's just the world," he says.

"Wherever you live, you can find a neighbourhood to get your ass kicked tonight. I live in Los Angeles, you can get stabbed four blocks from where I'm sitting right now. You can also get the best sushi you've ever had in the world."

With all of those shows, as well as his columns, radio shows and interviews, you might think Rollins might occasionally want to take a break from words.

But it turns out there's only one time he didn't want to be on stage - and he still turned it into a memorable show.

"The only time I had difficulty this year was waking up in Newcastle. I turned on the internet, and David Bowie had died. That was 9am. By noon I was really sad. By the afternoon I wanted pizza, sleep, comfort food and solitude. I really felt sad and didn't want to be be in front of an audience. I really was a fan.

"I was like, 'Come on man'. Then I thought ... 'I'll tell them how I sad I am, maybe they're feeling sad too, we can be all sad together ... we can all lose some of that sadness. Within 20 minutes I couldn't wait to be on stage.

"I just have to work past it ... I'm born to be on stage."

Who: An Evening With Henry Rollins
Where and when: The Crystal Palace in Auckland on Saturday
Also: Playing at Wellington's Paramount Theatre on Sunday.

- NZ Herald

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