Review: Henry Rollins

Henry Rollins is shorter than you might imagine but he has a physical presence that is inherently intimidating.


He is 55 and hence well into ageing rock-star territory. Except he was never really a rock star as such more of a kind of underground celebrity and age has only made him wittier and more self-deprecating.

He talked for two hours and forty minutes without pause. Unscripted and when I say without pause I mean that – he didn’t even stop for a drink of water. I’m not sure he said ‘um’ at any point and I’m not sure that is actually possible for a human being to do. A major US party should employee him to filibuster but I suspect either his righteous truths would cause heads to explode or he’d get distracted and wander off to do some other project.

He is still a tightly coiled spring but whereas in the punk-performances of his past, that tension was expressed with anger, this spoken word performance was more like a kid who wants to do and say everything at once.

Rollins was so happy to be in the Opera House and seemed genuinely excited by the huge audience. A regular visitor to Australia, the first part of his talk was primarily political: gay rights, the forthcoming plebiscite on same-sex marriage in Australia, Trump (of course), racism, misogyny, a potted history of US constitutional amendments – all at the same intense pace. Easy targets and no amazing new insights but delivered with wit and confidence and righteousness.

Music and weird showbiz anecdotes filled much of the rest of the talk with long riffs on the deaths of David Bowie and Lemmy from Motorhead. Stories about his acting roles in a dodgy Michale Keaton movie and more recently Sons of Anarchy were uproariously funny . Rollins moving easily from polemic to a kind of motivational speaking to stand up comedy to more wistful reflections on growing old.

At 10:40 he took pity on his audience and decided to bring things to an end but he looked and sounded like he would have happily carried on talking for another two hours if the Opera House had let him. Fantastic.



  1. KR

    Late to the party, but just wanted to say this seems like this seems like it would indeed have been enjoyable. Dude is intense. I like festivals and danger and ideas and have read some of his work and found it thoughtful, aggressive and loving in an unconventional mix. Not a fan of the TED genre, but this format looks good. Even better if one takes questions.

    Only marginally curious what AC Grayling had to say that might a dangerous idea, though assume it was promo for his New College of the Humanities and privatization of universities –excuse me, I mean “excellence in innovation in the delivery of services in the sector”. Probably would have hung out in the bar for that one instead.


  2. KR

    Fond recollections of being a first-year undergraduate, sitting outside on a crisp fall day, reading Candide for the first time.