Last night: Henry Rollins at the Birchmere.

10 March 2010

I don't remember exactly who it was that got me into Henry Rollins' spoken word stuff. It might have been Mika, who gave me a two disc set for a long drive a couple of years ago. It might have been Lyssa, who tends to follow literature of all kinds. It might have been a couple of episodes of his television show on IFC that I caught online once. Hell, for all I know I've had those CDs since undergrad and I completely forgot about them. It's happened before. What I do know is that when Mika told us that Rollins would be in town on his (300+ location) world tour, we jumped at the opportunity and kept last night open on our calendar come hell or high water.

After a few missteps after I got home from work, Lyssa and I hit up Whole Paycheque for a quick dinner which we'd unfortunately mistimed. Normally their hotbar's pretty good but if you get there just after everyone else in the city stops in on their way home from work some of the fare is... a bit dodgy, to be honest. From there we headed over to to Hasufin and Mika's place, where we parked the TARDIS on a side road, piled into their SUV, and hit the road for the Birchmere Music Hall in Alexandria, which is something of a fixture in NOVA.

You know, I really don't understand why they have a "no photography" policy at the Birchmere. Amanda Palmer spoke about that before her last show in DC, and she's got a point. There isn't a whole lot to see there, it isn't as if the background of the stage is a big artistic endeavour that people pay through the sinuses to look at. People pay to go to shows of some kind, and often you don't even know about the background. Their backdrop looks pretty much like the generic backdrop you see on standup comedy shows on cable television: a painting of what looks like the rear of a restaurant or club, with some stairs going down, a few windows looking into nothing, and a lamppost. There isn't a whole lot to it.

There. Now you know. Moving on...

It seems that we arrived just in time - there was no one standing around the foyer of the club (which has a restaurant, incidentally; Lyssa and I could have gotten dinner there) and the recording of Henry Rollins airing on the televisions mounted to the wall... wasn't a recording. We were a couple of minutes late. Henry Rollins was already on stage in full swing, and I'm pretty sure that he could teach the SubGenii a thing or two about ranting. Rollins is kind of an unassuming guy to look at until you realize that his biceps probably pack more muscle tissue than my torso and he exhibits a stage presence that commands attention from the moment he sets foot on stage. His crewcut's going a little gray but his voice has lost none of its power or speaking range. As the man said, he tries to pack ninety seconds into every minute to blow Time up. Rollins possesses a singular wit and an exceptionally discerning intelligence, capable of laying waste to anything he desires - American or international politics, mass media asshattery, technology, music, society... you name it, he's given it consideration, written about it in a notebook stuffed into his backpack, and has half a dozen monologues armed and ready to launch on stage. When Lyssa, Hasufin, Mika, and I walked in he was already discussing at length the shenanigans of last presidential election, and through the course of the night he also opened up on racism, playing a role in the second season of the television show Sons of Anarchy, and of course doing his own stunts.. which lead right into what it was like being an aging punk.

Some of the tales he told had us in stitches; others left our jaws on the floor in astonishment; a few I suspect were tall tales, or were at least tattooed a bit (sorry, I can't see Rollins wearing anything embroidered), but then again I've been known to have tea with some larger-than-life people so I'm inclined to give him the benefit of a doubt. A few of his stories from the road involved gifting several hundred gigs of music to a teenage boy living in a village in Sri Lanka, backpacking to a music festival in the Sahara Desert, waging memetic warfare in Beijing, hanging out in a Saudi prince's mansions and riding shotgun in one of his million dollar cars, giving the commencement address at Sonoma College, or flagging off General Than Shwe of Burma... you have to wonder how many passports he goes through in five years. Rollins seems amazingly well traveled. I know of only two or three people who are on the road even half as much as he is, and I don't just mean when he's on tour.

It didn't feel like three hours went by last night, not one bit. It certainly didn't feel like we'd spent three hours standing at the back of the Birchmere in rapt facination. Unfortunately, around 2330 EST5EDT the show was over and all of us were gently ushered out of the club, and so headed back home by way of the Birchmere's gift shop to pick up tour shirts and a couple of CDs for the road.