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edge staff writer


Henry Rollins is a fierce force of nature in ‘Keep Talking, Pal’

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Henry Rollins in a scene from his Showtime special "Keep Talking, Pal." Henry Rollins in a scene from his Showtime special "Keep Talking, Pal." (Image courtesy of Showtime)

Nobody keeps it real like Henry Rollins. Whether it was as front-man for ‘80s punk band Black Flag (set to embark on a rare reunion tour in April) or the eponymous The Rollins Band or his spoken word albums or various campaigns for world hunger relief and other causes close to his heart, Rollins has always been one of our most gifted and effective communicators, regardless of medium.

Rollins’s 2018 Showtime special “Keep Talking, Pal” finds the seemingly tireless artist in front of an adoring crowd in Portland, Oregon. It’s now available on iTunes, Google Play, Amazon, Microsoft Xbox, Vudu, Spectrum and Dish Network.

Though he’s quick to remind you that he isn’t a comedian, you may be convinced otherwise after watching Rollins deliver an hour of absorbing tales – some of which had me laughing out loud.

From meeting RuPaul and David Bowie (Rollins added the Bowie story to his set as a way to deal with the grief of losing him) to expressing why he believes that women should rule the world, you can almost hear the synapses in his brain firing as he moves around the stage; his audience entranced.

Rollins checked in with The Maine Edge to talk about his new special and how he prepped for it.

The Maine Edge: I really enjoyed “Keep Talking, Pal.” In the special, you talk about how you’ve done more than 3,000 shows and you say that taking on a project like this can be nerve-wracking. How did you prepare for it?

Rollins: When the material is still forming before I begin a tour, I walk and talk it out. There are neighborhoods here in southern California that virtually close up at night because they are in retail areas. You might see joggers or dog-walkers but not much else, so I’ll walk a mile each way here in the San Fernando Valley, telling these stories out loud to myself.

It sounds weird, right? I look like an old gray-haired man talking to himself, so people let me pass. I actually do a lot of my preparation and editing by hearing myself do it. Or I’ll come up with an idea and subject my manager to it and will kind of self-edit. By the time I’m on the road, the ideas are already there. Within a few nights, they’re really burned in.

The title of the special – “Keep Talking, Pal” – basically means keep talking so nobody can punch you out (laughs). In other words, talk yourself out of a beating. I was very dialed in for this special. I don’t use any notes onstage – just a ton of preparation.

The Maine Edge: You had a great audience for this special. You mentioned during the show how important Portland, Oregon, has been for you, dating back to the 1980s when you were in Black Flag. They know you and they obviously love you there.

Rollins: Crowds are tricky. You can be sincere, but it comes off as you blowing the proverbial smoke. When you tell a crowd that you’ve always had a good time there, they inevitably think, ‘Oh, here we go.’ But I tour for a living and I’m in these cities a lot. At this point, I’ve been coming to that city longer than those people have been alive. When I’m in my favorite cities, I let them know. It’s never hyperbolic and I hope they know that. I need these places more than they need me so I’m always looking to get along anyway.

The Maine Edge: Did you approach this tour – or the special - differently from others that you’ve done?

Rollins: I’m usually on stage for at least two hours. Sometimes the material has humor in it and sometimes it doesn’t. There’s nothing funny that I can tell you about what I saw in South Sudan. (Note: Rollins has also visited and photographed troubled hotspots like North Korea, Pyongyang, Baghdad and Nepal, among others). It was really tough when I was there, and I have to respect the reality of what I saw and I can’t make light of it.

For the Showtime special, I kind of prioritized more of the funny stuff that I was doing on that tour. What you see is about half of what I had in my bag that time around. You’re basically seeing an edit. I’m withholding some information to focus on more of the fun stuff just for the sheer restraint of the time.

The Maine Edge: I had no idea that you are somewhat of a fan-nerd and I really enjoyed hearing your stories about meeting some of your heroes. Who is at the top of that list for you?

Rollins: People I would like to meet? I’d love to meet Harry Belafonte. He’s led an incredible life and has met everyone from Martin Luther King to Frank Sinatra. I’d like to meet Barack Obama – that would be pretty cool. I’m not much on politicians on any side of the aisle. I have a very Jeffersonian, jaundiced eye toward any politician, but I’d like to shake his hand.

Mainly the people who interest me are journalists and a lot of college professors – historians who I admire. I’m a fan of people and I have a huge list of people I’d like to meet, including some older musicians that I’d like to meet before they pass away.

The Maine Edge: You’ve always challenged your audience in a good way and have left them with a great story to tell. You share some of those tales in this special, including a wild night when someone in the crowd sent a deer head up to the stage and another that ended with you ingesting a cup of your own perspiration. Most stand-up specials are full of fabricated scenarios, but it occurs to me that you don’t have to invent stories because you lived this stuff.

Rollins: There was a club called Flynn’s on the Beach in Miami and we played there on Halloween 1984. I sent an empty 12-ounce cup into the audience and told them to fill it with money and they’d see something gross. I ended up with about three dollars in sweaty pennies. So I filled this cup by wringing the sweat out of my socks and they were saying ‘Don’t do it, just keep the money,’ so of course I drank the whole thing. It tasted just like I described it in the special, but I remember the omelet I had at Denny’s after the show tasted pretty good. Those days were kind of hand-to-mouth, but that story absolutely happened. (Note: You can hear 17 minutes from a bootleg recording of this incident on YouTube. The audience did indeed try to convince Rollins not to drink from the cup).


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