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Usher Hall, Edinburgh 24 March 2006
Well, it had been about 3 years since I'd last encountered Hank doing his spoken word thing at the Glasgow Pavilion, and as he'd done me the courtesy of coming to my home town, it seemed churlish not to pop along and see him in action. Especailly as it's only bile and invective that have kept me going this long.
Now, I have to preface this by saying that I disagree with a lot of what he has to say, but he is articulate, intelligent and passionate, even if he does try to disguise some of his better qualities behind a wall of macho bull and self deprecation. More on that later.
A lot of Rollins material was the usual right on, left wing ( a paradoxical phrase if there ever was one) material that appeals to the middle class students who flocked to the show. It's their way of salving their consciences into thinking that they're actually doing something, rather than simply observing, and it's noticeable that the largest whoops and hollers are reserved for the more simplistic Bush baiting. It's lowest common denominator, and Henry is capable of much better. Which over a 2 and half hour show he ably demonstrates.
He's an acute observer and his skit on animals was one of the finest displays of observation I've seen in a long time, and when he lets his defences slip a bit, we see a vulnerable Henry who is just as scared of life as the rest of us. Witness his hurt when the gay, Pakistani cab driver doesn't call him back.
Naturally, a lot of the material is politically based but, again, there's a new humanity to his approach which used to be missing. This might be down to the tours he's been doing for the USO in place like Iraq, Kurdistan and Afghanistan, as well as visiting wounded soldiers back in the US.
The low point comes when the misanthropy seeps out, and he decries the lifestyle of people who commute to jobs they hate to support families they don't like and excuse themselves by putting it all down to being grown ups. Rollins seems to forget that not everyone has a talent, but they do have responsibilities. He has the luxury of being to able to get up and go, a luxury you only have when you avoid emotional attachments. Earlier on, he also made the mistake of claiming that everyone has someone who thinks they're hot. Now that's total bullshit! Dream on, 40+ dude with grey hair! However, I was in the fortunate position of sitting next to an attractive young woman at her boyfriends behest, so I can let that one slide. More fool him.
Maybe it's my own low opinion of humankind, and my belief that we're sliding backwards into chaos that taints my worldview, but Henry seems to have held on to a modicum of hope, which is to be applauded. I hate people, Henry only thinks he does. If the little boy ever gets let out, he may find redemption yet.
Review by Stuart A Hamilton