Oh, Henry

Henry Rollins doesn't have a lot of spare time. He is well into his second decade of dividing his energy among careers as musician, author, actor, publisher, commercial spokesman and general heavily tattooed man about town. His most interesting and unique gig has got to be the so-called "talking shows" that he continues to perform whenever the mood strikes.

Best described as a mutant combination of standup comedy and self-psychoanalysis, these shows consist of Rollins alone on a stage with a microphone and a few thoughts to get off his chest. Sometimes he goes for the laughs by relating some absurd adventure of life on the road as a traveling punker. Other times the shows consist of Rollins in a more pensive mood venting his righteous anger at a world that still can't let go of stupid prejudices and unfounded hatred.

One moment he can be full of himself and completely pretentious; the very next minute he is likely to be pointing out just how much of a goofed-up knucklehead he is and having a laugh at his own excesses. Somehow the whole thing is a fascinating and entertaining bit of insight into a peculiarly American artist.

A Rollins in the Wry is his newest spoken-word live recording. Along the lines of Think Tank, Rollins' last non-musical release, it's a creative combination of humor, observations, common-sense philosophizing and rants against stupidity. Subjects covered range from the sense of awe experienced when visiting Israel's ancient historical Biblical landmarks to his appreciation of Bill Clinton's mastery of the English language and on to what it means to him that he is nearing the age of 40.

As a guy whose reference points tend toward being impressed by working at a club where Black Sabbath once played, he is absolutely struck speechless at the immensity of standing at the spot where Jesus was last seen walking the earth. The best this motor mouth can come up with at that moment is a Keanu Reeves-ish "whoa."

During Clinton's five hours of testimony on "how he didn't get it on with that girl," Rollins figures that Clinton displayed the finest grasp of the English language ever displayed. When given direct questions answerable with a yes or no, he turned them into these trapezoidal abstract queries (how do you define "is"?) and ended up just walking away. You or I couldn't even talk our way out of a traffic ticket!

But the real meat of this recording comes with the reflections on maturity (or, more specifically, the lack of it). His reenactment of a fully deserved 10-minute-long dressing down he received from a woman who "read him like the Sunday paper" is a thing of rare beauty. He spares nothing of this conversation when he was "taken out to the curb and had all the dumb shit I had just said explained back to me." It's alternately hilarious and sobering. Human interaction has rarely been portrayed quite so directly. Henry might be a jerk sometimes, but he sure is a self-aware jerk.

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David Gofstein