Standing on His Soapbox

“2122 hrs… I got in about four hours ago from Perth, Australia. I forgot how long that flight is. Eleven hours. Not many people on the plane, so it was not bad,” writes Henry Rollins on his website on May 13 from his hotel room in Johannesburg, South Africa.

He’s still got a long way to go before he makes a stop at the Yukon Arts Centre, but don’t expect to see a hint of fatigue from the 51 year old. He’s been doing this for a long time. I’m sure he’s used to it by now.

For those unfamiliar with the Virginia-born Rollins, he gained notoriety with Black Flag, one of the first hardcore punk bands, and one of the most influential.

The story goes that he got the job as their frontman in 1981 after hopping onstage and singing with the group as they played a small club in New York City. He was 20 years old and impressed them enough to join the already popular line-up.

Some choose different routes, but this is how he found his way out of the hometown bubble.

He has been touring ever since, musically with Black Flag and his own Rollins Band, and solo as a spoken-word artist and an activist.

The latter is what’s coming to Whitehorse. Pure and raw Henry—onstage and uninhibited. He is known for his gravel-voiced commentary, personal and political, whether it’s pleasant or not. When you see this side of him, likely he is the person you’d be with if you had a few moments one-on-one.

PHOTO: Heidi May

Rollins has travelled the globe and relays his findings to his audience, using his experiences as anecdotes to perhaps awaken those trapped in the bubble he was once accustomed to. Or maybe it is just to rile people up. Regardless, there seems to be no end in sight for his travels or hisrantings.

You may wonder how he ever gets a good night’s sleep after reading about his present life. In 30 years, he has released 17 musical albums, 18 spoken-word discs, and fouraudiobooks. Musician, spoken-word artist, poet, activist and publisher are some of the many items on his long resume.

His company, 2.13.61, has released discs of the Rollins Band as well as his entire collection of spoken-word albums and printed-word volumes. He is also active in social change movements, including LGBT rights, world hunger problems and anti-war groups.

He has toured with the U.S.O. and Lollapallooza—promoting those jobs as his way of protesting war and connecting with the U.S. troops.

Rollins also hosts a weekly radio program on California’s highly-acclaimed public radio station, KCRW.

Right now, he is on the road not only to hop on the Rollins soapbox, but to promote his new book Occupants—a collection of pictures from his journeys that spans some of the most media-demonized countries, namely Afghanistan, Iran and North Korea.

“Many years ago, I started working on a collection of photographs for eventual publication,” Rollins imparted to

“I do a lot of travelling and as much as I write when I am in these places, a photograph speaks a different language.”

He doesn’t consider himself a photographer, “just someone with a lot of visas in his passport and a camera on his shoulder,” so with each picture comes a caption, entailing where the picture was taken and his impression he got from viewing it himself.

Often the images and ramblings are meant to be unsettling, and definitely meant to cause a stir within the reader. He tries to strike an activist chord in each of us—oh, I’m sure he’d have something to say about that pun.’s review of the book puts it best: “Rollins has shown that the greatest statements can be made with the simplest of acts: to just bear witness, to be present.”

If you have never seen Rollins take the stage, you may want to do a little YouTubing before getting all gussied-up. Expect reality, which is both beautiful and ugly, intelligent and nonsensical.

Rollins will be in Whitehorse June 3 at the Yukon Arts Centre, sponsored by Triple J’s Music, Tattoos and Piercings (writer’s note—how fitting).

Connor Matak is a singer-songwriter, working on home recording and living in Dawson City.

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