Hank’s Back Pages

[from The A.V. Club, April 5, 2010]

Having stirred countless pots—author, publisher, musician, talk show host, radio hostactorGap model, and public service announcer to name but eight—for the better part of 30 years, Henry Rollins has assembled a body of work many don’t know much about. While his constant output means growth for the Rollins name, the varied nature of his back catalog also leaves much of his best work buried under the sheer volume of more famous projects. In preparation for his April 7 show at the Vic Theatre, The A.V. Club took a look past Rollins’ most well-known gigs and found a second set of gems hiding just beneath the surface.

Henry Rollins, Bandleader

Most people know: 1994’s Weight, mostly because of the iconic videos for “Liar” and “Disconnect.”

But it’s worth checking out: 2001’s Nice, in which Rollins’ bare-knuckled talk-singing finally meshes with Rollins Band replacement Mother Superior’s back-alley, Southern-tinged sleaze rock. Songs like “One Shot” continue his decades-old tradition of anti-weakness rants, but the heavy, almost metal jams of “We Walk Alone” and “What’s The Matter Man” give new life to a voice that had seemingly run its course in the context of the previous lineup’s jazz-metal cage fighting.

Henry Rollins, Pundit

Most people know: his Straight Talk Espresso column for Vanity Fair, in which Rollins rails against perceived political wrongs of the day—tea partiesSarah Palin, and the savage beast asleep inside the body of Ann Coulter.

But it’s worth checking out: Henry’s trio of columns for Details magazine in the early ’90s. His pieces on beauty and the female orgasm provide the expected lectures in decency and common sense, but the intense yet insightful “Iron”  reveals the famously fit Rollins to be as devoted to his inner workings as he is to his exterior.

Henry Rollins, Audiobook Narrator

Most people know: 1994’s Get In The Van, Rollins’ chronicle of his years as lead singer of legendary punk band Black Flag (for which he won the 1994 Grammy for Best Spoken Word Album).

But it’s worth checking out: 1996’s Everything, comprised of Rollins reading two essays (“Everything” and “Nothing”) from that year’s Eye Scream book. The backing jazz accompaniment by saxophonist Charles Gayle and drummer Rashied Ali moves from subtle cool to frantic freak-out, and not always smoothly—but that’s the point. Rollins’ words turn on a dime from profound to hilarious to borderline psychotic, so it’s fitting that the soundtrack adopts a similarly schizophrenic ethos.

Henry Rollins, Supporting Actor

Most people know: his role as white-supremacist gang leader AJ Weston on Sons Of Anarchy, or his mostly non-speaking part as hired muscle Hugh Benny in 1995’s Heat.

But it’s worth checking out: his voice acting in a number of cartoons, especially as Mad Stan, the modern-day hippie bomber from the Batman Beyond series. The character’s diatribes would be right at home in Rollins’ live-speaking shows, but Mad Stan adds another dimension of visual spectacle to Rollins’ already, er, animated method of discourse—as the elder Bruce Wayne puts it, “Once he’s on a rant, he’s unstoppable.”