By Melissa Fossum
By Lauren Wise
By New Times
By Amanda Savage
By Jason P. Woodbury
By Troy Farah
By New Times
With a combined age of 108, no one would bat an eye if you described Henry Rollins and Keith Morris as elder statesmen of punk rock.
It's not that Rollins, 51, and Morris, 57, are old in the strictest, let's-weigh-out-average-life-expectancy sense of the word, but both have continued the frantic artistic output they started as singers of seminal Californian hardcore act Black Flag, a band whose black-bars logo is tattooed on musicians 30 to 40 years their junior, well into middle age: Rollins became a prolific author, radio DJ, spoken-word artist, and weekly columnist at L.A. Weekly after leaving the band in 1986; Morris followed up his time in Black Flag (he left in 1979) by forming the nearly-as-legendary Circle Jerks, and currently fronts the hardcore combo OFF!, featuring Steven McDonald of Redd Kross, Dimitri Coats of Burning Brides, and Mario Rubalcaba of Earthless/Rocket from the Crypt/Hot Snakes, who've issued two collections of blisteringly fast, focused hardcore for Vice Records, including a self-titled collection this year, featuring 16 songs clocking in at just over 15 minutes long.
But how about calling them statesmen in the traditional sense?
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OFF! is scheduled to perform Friday, September 14, at Martini Ranch in Scottsdale.
Henry Rollins is scheduled to speak Saturday, September 15, at Crescent Ballroom.
"We do live in an amazingly great country," Morris says, talking a mile a minute, his words dripping with SoCal surfer attitude, "but we've been doing a lot of stupid things, and my question is: When are we going to start being a great country again?"
Rollins, currently touring the capital cities of the United States with his "Capitalism Tour" spoken-word jaunt, is no less proud of his country — or concerned for its well-being.
"As political I'll be getting on this tour is to gently remind my wonderful audience that we, no matter how we vote or how we think about things, from healthcare to immigration to whatever else, we have more commonalities as Americans than dissimilarities," Rollins says over the phone on Labor Day, just before departing for Honolulu and Anchorage, the two most geographically problematic of his upcoming stops. "It's easy to forget that, in an election season, and in the last few years [as] America has become astonishingly, depressingly polarized."
Though Black Flag's political stance could easily be categorized as "anti-authoritarian," Rollins and Morris have continued to develop political voices as their careers have progressed. Rollins takes explicit political stances (his 2011 collection of prose and photographs taken in the Middle East, Asia, Northern Ireland, and South Africa, is titled Occupants), while Morris keep things loose and angry, singing on 2012's "Borrow and Bomb": "You called up the drones / Destroyed beautiful homes," raging with more specificity than ever before.
"I'm not about taking our government over," Morris says. "[But] we do need to ditch all the corporate people, and we need to ditch both the Republicans and the Democrats.We need to come up with the 'worker's party,' even though that sounds very much like I'm a communist. But what about the middle class? The middle class needs to rise back up and say, 'Hey, here we are. Here we go. Get out of our way; we're not fucking around.'"
Rollins insists that the Capitalism Tour will feature as many personal stories and anecdotes as political thoughts, but he admits that it's hard to avoid the low-hanging fruit in an election season.
"I would never tell someone who to vote for," Rollins says. "That's just really rude. Who you're going to vote for in a presidential election is none of my business, and quite honestly, it's not interesting to me. I'm not trying to be rude, but that's up to you. It's up to you and your opinion, which is as valid as mine. My only concern is that you vote. Democracy needs you. Someone says, 'Oh, it's all the same, why bother voting?' That will get me going. But if someone says, 'I'm going to vote for Mitt Romney [or] I'm going to vote for Barack Obama,' [they should] go vote. Do your thing. Democracy needs you to show up, and that's about as far as I go with that."
Rollins' approach might surprise those who know him for his less-amenable approach (his free-form, free-wheeling radio performances on Santa Monica's KCRW find him as fiery as any Black Flag or Rollins Band record, segueing from The Cop's wiry pop-punk "It's Epidemic" into Earth's plodding, grating noise drone "German Dental Work" during a recent broadcast), but he insists that the Capitalism Tour isn't about stomping into towns and "explaining" their relation to the rest of the country.
"[Arizona] is a hot-button state, as it were," Rollins says. "A lot of people have a strong opinion on Jan Brewer or [Sheriff Joe] Arpaio or immigration in general and what it all means and what should be done. It gets right to the core of big problems in America: employment and the permeability of our borders . . . There's a lot of people who have a lot to say about Arizona, and rightly so, [but] the stage is perhaps not the place for that. I usually do Phoenix or Tucson on tour, and I say, 'Hey, it's good to be back here. I know some bands, or some people avoid your state, because there are people they disagree with. Well, I disagree with some people in your state, but I like you all. If you really love America, you're not going to play favorites. I really do like this place; it's been very good to me."