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Central African Rep
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Interview: Henry Rollins
Viantha Naidoo | Video: Jason von Berg | Thu, 17 May 2012
Images by Matt Ross.
Traveller. Intellect. Punk titan. Surprisingly well-versed Miriam Makebe fan. We caught up with multi-hyphenate speaker Henry Rollins ahead of his The Long March tour in South Africa, as he talks politics, touring and being bewildered by Melrose Arch.
Henry Rollins first shot to fame as the lead singer of 1980s/1990s punk acts Black Flag and The Rollins Band, but the 50 year-old performer has since earned acclaim as an accomplished and entertaining speaker, writer and the host of multiple television talk shows, radio programmes and podcasts, totaling 31 years in the entertainment industry.
During this South African visit (his third), Rollins will be performing in three cities, delivering roughly two hours of amusing and provocative global observations per set.
“I just get on stage and raconteur. I tell you where I’ve been, what I saw, and how I feel about it. On this tour, I talk about the travel I’ve been doing since I was last here.”
It seems like a two hour stage cut-off time is unlikely, because Rollins has gathered quite an arsenal of conversation. “Since then, I’ve been to North Korea, China, Mongolia, Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet, India, Vietnam, Haiti, Cuba, Sudan, Uganda. I turned 50. I just finished a bunch of work with National Geographic. We have an election year in America. There are lots of things to talk about.”
Despite his imposing presence, Rollins is uncharacteristically coy when it comes to speaking about South Africa’s political and racial climate. He takes elaborate pains to confirm that he isn’t, as an American, interested in being patronising to third world Africa. Perhaps the result of past misinterpretations, all his opinions are prefaced and punctuated with phrases like “I am in no position to speak…” and “Without being judgmental…”, but he does eventually unveil his opinions with that signature articulacy that has made him one of the most beloved public speakers on the planet.
“I come from North America, and I think Americans (maybe even Europeans) might find South Africa to be very unique compared with what they’re used to,” he says cautiously. “You all are quite on your own in a lot of ways. Certainly unique on the African continent. I’ve never encountered any people with the same circumstances, with the history being what it is, and the location. All of it makes for a situation that is interesting to me, and I’m never quite sure if I have a handle on it.”
He continues, “I have a great time here. I find it very interesting, but right now we’re sitting in this interesting enclave: The Melrose Arch, the ever-expanding - whatever you call this thing - safe zone? It’s a little strange. But this country, like my country, has a lot of work to do.”
“I like what I do, especially the talking shows, because I react to incoming information. The talking shows are primarily reportage from these places that I go to, so as long as I keep going to these different places and finding out interesting bits of information, then I have an audience to report to.”
He speaks fondly and with some reverence about the audiences that his tour draws. “I feel a great duty to report to them. I quite enjoy those people, I like them very much. I will beat them up every two years for about 2 hours, and make them sit and listen. Hopefully, they’ll show up and endure me.”
He grins, “It’s a good deal I’ve got. They keep showing up, and I keep going all over the globe to find them information. I try to sling the best and most nutritious hash I can, and I think I’ve got it really good.”
Wed 16 May - Bassline, Newtown - Johannesburg
Fri 18 May - Baxter Theatre, Rondebosch - Cape Town
Sat 19 May - The SunZone, Suncoast - Durban
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