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Poet to poet, punk icon Henry Rollins speaks his mind

Promoters are billing Henry Rollins' upcoming performance in Clearwater as a spoken-word show. But Rollins prefers a different term: "talking show."

"I think 'spoken word' sounds completely pretentious. It sounds like a Kumbaya moment, it sounds like nothing that I'd ever want a part of, and it sounds like something that would put me to sleep," Rollins told tbt* by phone during a tour stop in Houston. "I felt that way as soon as I heard that term around 1984. Someone said, 'Do you do spoken word?' I said, 'I hope not.' "

On stage, Rollins offers opinions about whatever's on his mind, from dating to the stuff you aren't supposed to talk about on dates: politics, racism, the environment. Born Henry Garfield in 1961, Rollins takes his act all over the world, including USO tours.

But "talking shows" are just one performance vehicle for Rollins. In the '80s, he fronted the punk band Black Flag. He later became lead singer of his own rock group, Rollins Band, before embarking on an acting career. He also hosted the Henry Rollins Show on the Independent Film Channel.

Whether or not Rollins considers himself a spoken-word artist, many in the spoken-word community revere him. So we invited Pedro Jarquin, who has emceed and performed at spoken-word events throughout Tampa Bay, to interview Rollins for tbt*. Jarquin, 26, of St. Petersburg, shares his thoughts at

Here are excerpts from Jarquin's conversation with Rollins.

I know you started out in the hardcore music scene. How was the transition between that and spoken word?

In 1983, I started doing talking shows along with being in the band Black Flag. I would do shows with local poets. They were very precious about their scene, and some regarded me with a bit of disdain that I was coming into their little setting. (I love to) break every possible bit of china in their store.

What is your purpose or your mission — to empower, to rock out, to educate, to incite s---?

I just report back. I go out as far and as wide as I can, and I come back with a story.

And what percentage of your audience do you think understands you and what you're trying to achieve?

I have no idea. … Judging from the mail I get, they enjoy the perspective. People say that they like the fact that I say what I want. It gives some people a sense of empowerment that I don't hold back my point of view.

What would you say to all the artists out there who do want to make an active, real difference in these politically charged times?

You can spread awareness. I think that's key — to spread awareness about things that you find interesting or worthy of people stopping what they're doing and paying attention to. I give a lot of money to a little orphanage in Los Angeles, where I live. It's not saving the world, but it's not nothin'.

You said in an interview once that the smart guy doesn't get enamored with fame; you get enamored with the work and what it takes. Are you still enamored with your work?

Yeah! It gets worse and worse the older I get. If you're young and have some fame, you have the looks. You're in that moment. When you're 50 and you look like me, all you have is the work, so you just get up every day and do it.

Are you ever concerned that you're going to offend someone in the audience?

I might say something that a racist might find offensive, or a homophobe, or someone who thinks that health care is for the privileged, or someone who loves war. They might find what I say offensive. And I say that's fantastic.

Henry Rollins

He'll perform his spoken-word (er, talking) show at 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Capitol Theatre, 405 Cleveland St., Clearwater. $29.50-$33.50. Tickets are available Monday through Saturday from noon to 6 p.m. at Ruth Eckerd Hall, 1111 N McMullen Booth Road, Clearwater. Tickets also will be available at the Capitol Theatre one hour before show time. Adult subject matter. Call 727-791-7400 or go to

Poet to poet, punk icon Henry Rollins speaks his mind 02/25/10 [Last modified: Monday, March 1, 2010 5:00pm]
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