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Shock to the System

Henry Rollins goes news-junkie-ninja on Bush and Co. for his 'Shock and Awe My Ass' tour

By Steve Palopoli

If Henry Rollins is still under warranty, somebody might want to send him back, 'cause the man does not operate at the right speed. As frontman for the heavy, heavy Rollins Band, he's cultivated a slow-motion yell that seems to empty into a chasm in hell, and a headbanger-meets-Morse-code rhythm that! Often! Causes! Sentences! To! Sound! Like! This!

But just when you get used to the guttural, half-speed howl, you discover that in his spoken word performances, he's the complete opposite. When he speaks in front of an audience, Rollins' brain go crazy! The man has some 20 hours of spoken word on CD and DVD alone--topping even punk's premier windbag Jello Biafra in terms of sheer oral output--culled from countless hours of riffing on every topic imaginable on stage. You gotta wonder how he does it.

Then you talk to him, and you quickly realize how he does it. It took me five minutes. In that short span of time, the ex-Black Flag vocalist, "aging alternative icon" (as he's been known to call himself) and obvious news junkie locomoted through nearly a dozen topics related to his current "Shock and Awe My Ass" tour, which comes to the Rio March 19. In the face of such overwhelming verbal length, width and depth, all I can hope to do is offer a sampler platter:

On what it would take for the Bush administration to actually shock and awe his ass: "For them to tell the truth about why we're in Iraq."

On why we're in Iraq: "There's a really interesting article in the L.A. Weekly right now; it's an interview with a 20-year Air Force woman, Harvard grad [Lt. Col. Karen Kwiatkowski], who got so angry with the Pentagon she finally started writing letters to this website called Soldiers for the Truth [sftt.org]. She said here's what the deal was: By the time she came aboard in 2000, 2001, we were already planning to go into Iraq. She says it's really about the Food for Oil/Oil for Food thing going to the Euro, not the dollar, and with England and America bombing Iraq and with Saddam still in power, with the sanctions lifted there'd be no contracts coming the Brits' or the U.S. people's way; it'd be going other places, because you're not going to give business to two countries that bombed you."

On the Unocal pipeline: "Do I think Cheney, Rumsfeld and people like that should be asked some pertinent hard questions? Absolutely. When you look up anything on the Unocal pipeline out of Turkmenistan, you find that Hamid Karzai and Dick Cheney are two consultants for Unocal."

On Halliburton's Iraq contracts: "There's a great article in the new New Yorker about Halliburton and Dick Cheney. In this article, one of the things that really blew me away was that the government asked Halliburton to come up with a budget and a plan to repair damaged oil wells if they were damaged in war. They did, they got the contract, three oil wells were damaged, they fixed them. But then they stayed on, and were drilling new wells and upgrading hardware at the existing oil wells. Well, that's my tax dollar, but who owns it? Weren't you just going in to repair what was damaged? Why are you drilling new stuff in a country you're only there to liberate, not occupy or take over?"

On Halliburton's confessed kickbacks: "Believe me, if you get 16 bucks kickbacked or embezzled from your job, you're going to get fired. But when you rip off a million here and 6 million there, nothing happens. It's just weird for Americans to see that people aren't held accountable for every parking ticket, for every lost receipt. It doesn't send a very healthy message out when you see what the rich get away with. It's nothing new, it's just hard to take."

On Howard Dean: "You see a guy like Dean, who was pretty much down the line with everything he said, you see where it got him. A political position is the last place I'd go to do anything political. It seems to be a whole lot of mediocrity, and a whole lot of lowest-common-denominator thinking."

On Bush's environmental record: "There's an article the other day that was really interesting to me. It was on Methyl Tertiary Butyl Ether [MTBE]. It made, like, page 7 of whatever paper. It's the gas additive that cuts down on emissions. The EPA was going to remove it from gasoline, seeing how it's hypersoluble to water and makes vast quantities of water in any water table unpotable. Bush banned the ban on MTBE. He rolled back the ban when they say you can pursue other ways to find other additives to do the same thing, yet not hurt local water. Apparently they're testing the water on mice, it does show carcinogenic effects. So far nothing in people, not yet. But you always find out way too late, when your daughter turns green, or comes out of the chute with leukemia and the whole neighborhood goes toxic. That's when you find out. By then, every lawyer is covering this company and no one seems to pay. It's interesting that of the two main companies who contribute MTBE to the environment, one's out of Utah--which is the same state that Michael Leavitt, head of the EPA, came out of, a state he totally screwed up; the other one's out of Texas, and both companies are major contributors to the Bush campaign."

On putting politics into his act: It smacks of conspiracy theory, but some of it is just really interesting. And how come you just never seem to read about it? If you mention stuff like that, someone is always there to call you unpatriotic, when to me this kind of line of questioning is the most absolute American thing to do--to question, to dissent, to doubt and to improve.

On keeping politics from taking over his act: "While stuff like this is fascinating to me all day long, when you're sitting in a seat, a little dab will do ya. It's a lot more fun to say than to listen to, often. So you have to be careful of that."


Henry Rollins speaks at the Rio Theatre Friday, March 19, at 7pm. Tickets are $20, available from www.tickets.com.

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From the March 10-17, 2004 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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