Punk Legend Henry Rollins on His Traveling Slideshow Tour

Henry Rollins gave up music, but his traveling slideshow is a Punk performance with photography as the focal point

click to enlarge Henry Rollins' traveling slideshow will land in Music Hall on Sept. 20. - Ross Halfin
Ross Halfin
Henry Rollins' traveling slideshow will land in Music Hall on Sept. 20.

For the better part of a quarter century, Henry Rollins was exactly like the songs he sang — abrasive, loud, thought-provoking, confrontational, brutal and honest — the latter of which led him to conclude that he had exhausted his musical mine. So, he walked away from the mode of expression that made him Punk royalty as the frontman of Black Flag in the early 1980s. 

Unsurprisingly, Rollins has an almost limitless bandolier of talents. In music’s absence, he became an accomplished author, disc jockey and actor, but the endeavor closest to his performing heart is his traveling slideshow, which combines his passion for photography, his lust for globetrotting and his gift for storytelling. In a recent email exchange, Rollins discussed the tour — which will arrive at Music Hall on Thursday — and the other activities that feed his creative fire.

CityBeat: For the Travel Slideshow Tour, you present images from your photographic archive with stories that illuminate and expand on the image. Do you keep the same set list, so to speak, for the whole tour?

Henry Rollins: The photos used went through some evolution. There were images I liked but I was unable to make them impactful in the live setting. Photos were pulled, others put in, until I had a working set that I thought was good and it has stayed that way ever since. I might rotate out some images and put others in before I head out in September.

CB: As a musician you obviously saw a lot of the world while touring. What places did you want to experience that you hadn’t already visited and why?

HR: Rock & Roll can get you to a lot of countries. For me, at least, it wasn’t getting me to places like Cambodia or Kenya; so about 20 years ago, I started traveling without a stage waiting for me. Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia, Mali, Senegal, Uganda, Madagascar, places like that. After I had those trips happening, I started working in (Southeast) Asia, India, China and other destinations. Why? Basically, I’m curious, life is short and therefore I go.

CB: What places were completely different than your expectations?

HR: A long time ago, I learned to let places be what they are. A few ground rules always apply in some places. If you’re in Africa, as soon as you reach your destination, locate water you know is good and secure several bottles. Parts of Africa can get very dry very quickly. In the interior of any non-Western country, bring enough food for two meals a day for the duration of your stay, even if it’s just protein bars. The expectation is that things can go bad. If they do, you’re good to go, if they don’t, you have food to hand out to people on your way out. Mostly, I’ve found that people are more friendly than I was counting on. As an American, I’ve grown used to a certain level of standing aggression.

CB: A lot of musicians would be at least a little relieved to get off the road after retirement, but you’ve made travel your second act. Have you always had the wanderlust?

HR: I can’t speak for anyone but myself. I don’t know why anyone does music/touring; I know why I did it. It wasn’t a career. My mother took me on trips out of America several times when I was young: Turkey, Greece, England, Italy, Spain, France. I really liked being somewhere unfamiliar and never missed the apartment. I don’t have things people normally have, like a lot of friends, family, pets, etc. I’m free to do other stuff without anyone wondering when I’m going to call.

CB: Do you plan extensively before you head out or do you let the experience dictate what happens?

HR: The places I go, it might be smart to get some 411 before you hit the street. These days, you need to see if your country might have installed a puppet government, sold out the country for their mineral rights, caused border unrest or whatever else U.S.A. foreign policy dictates to keep the world free and groovy. Also, you can save time zeroing on in things you might find interesting. There’s value to going into a place and letting it happen but I like more preparation and intel before going into a place with no back up.

CB: Are you still doing your weekly show at KCRW (a radio station in Santa Monica, Calif.)?

HR: I still have the show. It will be 10 years next April. The best part is to keep the independent music conversation alive. I try to put all kinds of music on the show and inspire the curiosity of listeners to go to shows, record stores, to different countries. I think music makes people better. I don’t think you can have too many records, go to too many shows, listen to too much music, etc. It’s great having a job that allows me to get all that across.

CB: You’ve written a number of books over the past few years. Is there anything looming on the horizon on that front?

HR: Before The Chop Vol. IV will be out for these upcoming dates. They’ll be sold at the U.S. dates only. Any remaining copies will go on our site mail-order in early November. I’ve written five volumes of a music book series called Stay Fanatic!!!. I’m hoping to get the first two out next year. They’re large format with images of records, set lists, rare sleeves, photos and other record-related stuff. There’s another photo book done as well as some journal books. My problem isn’t no manuscripts, it’s too many. If you put out too much of anything, you eventually anger your audience.

CB: You’ve also been in a shit-ton of movies. Do you pursue film roles or do directors come to you with projects?

HR: I’ve never been presumptuous to think I could walk into someone’s office and tell them that I should have a certain part. I go on some auditions but mostly meetings after I’ve been offered a part. I can’t believe I get any acting work but somehow I do.

CB: Your resume has more bullet points than a machine gun magazine. Is there anything you haven’t done that you’d love to do?

HR: I can’t think of anything. I’m just an opportunist. I take what I can get. In my mind, I’m still the guy from the minimum-wage working world who’s beating the grind for awhile. It won’t last forever.

Henry Rollins’ Travel Slideshow Tour comes to Cincinnati Music Hall (1241 Elm St., Over-the-Rhine) Sept. 20. Tickets/more info: cincinnatiarts.org.

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