Henry Rollins inspires first years with compelling lecture

Henry Rollins, singer, poet, and spoken word performer, spoke to a crowd of students, faculty, and community members at the Lyric Theater on Wednesday.

Henry Rollins, singer, poet, and spoken word performer, spoke to a crowd of students, faculty, and community members at the Lyric Theater on Wednesday.

Rollins, whose tenure as the lead vocalist of Los Angeles hardcore group Black Flag made him one of the most recognizable faces in the 1980s punk scene, is known for acerbic monologues that blend humor and incisive political commentary.

After establishing himself in the Washington, D.C. hardcore scene, Rollins joined Black Flag in the summer of 1981 and was the lead vocalist until they disbanded in 1986. The following year, he released solo work and formed the Rollins Band, a hard rock band with post-punk, noise, jazz, and funk influences, which was active through the early 2000’s. Rollins is also known for his publishing house and record company, 2.13.61, his poetry, a series of radio shows, TV talk shows, and podcasts, wide ranging acting and voice acting credits, his spoken word performances, and his longstanding human rights activism.

Rollins’ lecture spanned his many years as a prolific creative and public figure, jumping from story to story with the same intense, frenetic energy that made him so compelling to watch when performing with Black Flag. His speech would seemingly transform from memoir, to stand up comedy, to a call for action all within the same breath.

He spoke earnestly of the alienation and disillusionment he experienced as a working class young person looking ahead at a life of purposeless wage work and of the transformative power of making music and following his calling, despite the difficulties. Recalling the trials of touring while broke, he joked about eating leftovers at fast food restaurants, and scheduling fistfights with skinheads around his tight, post show, gear loading schedule. He urged young people in the audience to pursue their passions, seek deep human connection, and make the world a better place. Describing the consumerist, misogynist, racist parts of society that he sees with fervor in his voice, he called on young people to keep educating themselves and pursue change relentlessly, and to use their careers in architecture or design to further that goal.

He also spoke about his personal collections of early punk paraphernalia and rare pieces of music history. Holding a record, and knowing that another great artist held that same record and experienced that same music, held immeasurable value, he said, exploring how material culture is shaped by the physicality of an object and the history, narratives, and connections it symbolizes.

While the talk covered decades of experiences and innumerable topics, the foundation students were carried through this high energy, ricocheting, narrative journey by themes of design, creation, and purpose.

There will be two more talks in the Foundation Lecture Series this fall, geared towards first year students in the program but available to all.