Musician, author Rollins recounts a familiar theme in Aspen | AspenTimes.com

Musician, author Rollins recounts a familiar theme in Aspen

Stewart Oksenhorn
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO, Colorado
Ben Swinnerton Henry Rollins brings his spoken word tour, Recountdown, to Belly Up Aspen on Sunday for a 10 p.m. show.
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ASPEN ” When Henry Rollins speaks of his role models, he doesn’t speak in terms of what they accomplished, but the extent to which they drained themselves in pursuit of their achievements. So he doesn’t mention the swinging beauty of “Satin Doll,” but the fact that Duke Ellington used to spend his time in the bathtub composing. Another hero is John Coltrane, who would practice his licks in between sets of a concert.

But possibly the best analogy that Rollins brings up is the two lounge singers played by Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty in the film “Ishtar.” Unlike Ellington and Coltrane, the “Ishtar” duo is talent-less. But Rollins, with admiration, recalls the scene of the two crawling across the Moroccan desert ” composing their next song.

“I think that is the right thing to do,” said the 47-year-old Rollins from Kansas City. “People who kept up their focus and stayed with it. If you want to do your thing, it’s going to hurt. I think your face should look like Serge Gainsbourg.”

Rollins ” former singer of the punk groups Black Flag and the Rollins Band, the author of several books, film actor, host of a radio show and a cable-TV series ” brings his latest project, the Recountdown Tour, to Belly Up Aspen on Sunday. Recountdown is basically the same tour Rollins started early last year ” only the entire show, a spoken word performance that runs near two and a half hours, has been entirely rewritten since the last time Rollins hit Colorado.

“I’m not going to come to your town and do the same show. They call that a rip-off,” he said. “And I’d get bored and fall asleep.”

The two-plus hour show, however, is only the start of Rollins’ night. “I hang out by the bus after the show and talk to people. That’s the encore,” he said. “I don’t eat much before the show” ” actually, his pre-show routine is running 5 to 7 miles ” “so I fairly crawl onto the bus, extremely hungry. I’m committed to it. I definitely want to get my point across.”

Over the years, in his guise of social commentator, Rollins has been a vocal proponent of homosexual rights and an advocate for American soldiers. Not surprisingly, however, his current topics of choice have to do with the recent election and related matters. He said he wanted to be on tour at the run-up to and culmination of the election, to be in touch with the issues and drama that arose. On his website, the purpose of the Recountdown Tour is said to “celebrate the end of the Bush era.”

But although Rollins is pleased with the election of Barack Obama, he reveals some genuine empathy for the current president.

“I do think he’s a moral creature, a moral man,” he said. “Maybe we’ll see him as America’s most famous patsy, that he was set up to push this agenda. As the ghosts of dead marines shuffle by him, he’ll go, ‘Jeez, I killed a lot of young men.'”

Rollins is happy to see Obama take the White House, and relieved that his own prediction ” that the presidential vote would be declared so close that there would be a replay of the 2000 Bush v. Gore trauma ” did not come to pass. But he doesn’t think that it’s all roses and sunshine ahead.

“It was not a ‘Ding, dong, the witch is dead’ moment,” said Rollins of McCain’s decisive defeat at the polls. “Because the government is so broken ” it’s like coming back to your house in New Orleans and seeing that it’s been run over by Lake Pontchartrain. There’s not a lot to celebrate. It’s, put your shoulder into it and do some reconstruction.”

There are few shoulders as ready to be put to work as Rollins’. He hates the word “vacation”; and noted that he spent last Christmas in Islamabad not expecting to have a nice time but figuring it might be a valuable experience. (It happened that Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated while Rollins was there.) In his recent book “A Dull Roar,” a journal about putting his Rollins Band back together for a 2006 tour, he repeatedly writes about his willingness to put in the hours, sweat, energy and muscle required for any task. “It’s all about the work, the schedule, the deadlines and the delivery. It’s pretty much all I care about,” he wrote.

Underlying that energy is an earnest belief that his natural talents are seriously limited. “I’m not going to be a world-beater. I’m not going to make ‘Godfather II’ or ‘Blonde on Blonde,'” said Rollins. “I’m hell-bent on getting from ‘A’ to ‘B’ doing my work. And I’m not good at it. I’m kind of a mediocre guy who tries real hard.”

Rollins admits that that sort of work ethic can lead to frustration. Here’s a guy pushing himself as hard as possible to fulfill his potential, surrounded by a world that consistently falls short.

“I don’t think we’ve even popped the hood on our great potential,” he said. “When you see what science really wants to unleash ” yeah, it can get pretty frustrating.

“World hunger is something we could stop. Homophobia ” that’s just a joke. There could be a real peace dividend. The blue-and-green Mardi Gras fun ball spinning gently in space, having fun ” we could be that.”

stewart@aspentimes.com


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