Now here’s a switch: an album by a rock star that’s intentionally funny. Then again, Henry Rollins is no ordinary rock star. In the early ’80s, he wore unfashionably long hair while singing take-no-prisoners hardcore with L.A.’s Black Flag. These days, he’s part musician (the Rollins Band), part spoken-word artist, and part entrepreneur (he owns a publishing company, 2.13.61, named after his birth date and specializing in beat-derived poetry by himself and others). And his dark, sulking, stocky look makes him resemble a cross between Charles Manson and Charles Atlas.
Rollins has always had literary ambitions, but unlike other musicians with similar leanings, that side doesn’t get the best of him. Although his new album, The Boxed Life (Imago), is billed as a ”talking record,” it’s essentially stand-up comedy: two CDs of Rollins’ caustic observations on pop (Edie Brickell is ”an agent of Satan”), hating other humans, intense fear of flying, and anything else on his mind. Not only is the album funnier than 95 percent of the comics who clutter the cable channels, at times it’s even more hilarious than Denis Leary’s No Cure for Cancer — and without the hostile aftertaste.
Before a sold-out house at New York’s Irving Plaza on Feb. 18, Rollins was, in fact, disarmingly charming and good-natured — despite telling the crowd that he is ”the biggest a–hole you’ll ever see.” Dressed in black and with an Evian bottle at his side, he ambled his way through two unscripted hours of monologue, taking jabs at pop culture, the world, and his own pretensions. The range of topics, delivered with motor-mouth enthusiasm, included acerbic jabs at condescending MTV VJs (”’Hello! You don’t know anything! Watch this stupid video! Then buy this stupid record!”’) and his own rock-star mode. Dissecting hollow blockbuster movies — ”Any of the big movies you see, like Lethal Weapon 3, the woman either gets insulted or killed” — he even proudly displayed a profeminist side rarely found in either music or comedy.
Rollins also touched on masturbation, hospitals, and Sly Stallone’s attempts at serious acting (”Just run around and carry a knife, okay?”), and he relayed nearly as many be-good-to-yourself tidbits as the best-seller Care of the Soul. The rabid Rollins cult ate up every bit of it — not a word of which, by the way, was repeated from The Boxed Life. ”I like you people,” he said at one point. ”I don’t know you, but I like you.” If he continues spoken- word gigs like these, both old and new fans will get to know — and like — Rollins even more.