Gig of My Life — Henry Rollins

This piece was written for and first published in GIG OF MY LIFE, a zine produced to benefit the victims of the 2017 Manchester Arena bombing, edited by Danny Smith.


“Find your enemy, and devote your life to fighting it.”

In these heightened times that may sound like an oddly aggressive thing to say, a partisan political statement that could easily be mouthed by either side in our new world era. But in fact I’m quoting Henry Rollins, from a gig almost ten years ago at the Lowry. Such combative words have never felt more relevant.

The young ’uns among you may not know that Henry Rollins — DJ, author, photographer, TV presenter, sometime actor — started life as Rollins the eternally energised vocalist of ’80s hardcore band Black Flag, a totem for an older generation. That generation is now the bulk of his audience at spoken word gigs. Those gigs aren’t stand-up comedy, although Rollins can tell a good joke or two; they’re not music performances, although you could be forgiven for wondering about that when you realise that even at a spoken word gig, he maintains a rock singer’s one-foot-forward-mic-to-mouth pose for two hours. And it would be easy to laugh at that audience; the ranks of middle-aged ex-punks who grew up, suddenly found ourselves married with kids and a mortgage, and now pay handsomely to watch an anti-establishment icon of our youth tell us about his own middle-class life.

(I’m being glib, of course. Rollins has seen his own share of tragedy, and his position has given him the opportunity to do things ordinary folk like us can’t. But the best way of learning that is to go see him for yourself.)

The line quoted above came towards the end of the gig, a summary of the subjects he’d covered that night — life, progress, a sense of purpose, and the Rollins staple of striving to be the best person you can be while living the best life you can.

That’s what many, especially those with hatred-filled lives, can’t understand; that we often subvert aggressive language to advocate ideas standing against violence, against fascism, against oppression.

Against terrorism.

Music is unique in its capacity to bring people together, from all generations and all walks of life. Rollins knows that, but he’s too old to throw himself around a punk rock stage any more, so he uses his skill as a speaker to deliver the same message. Ariana Grande is young enough to still whirl around in the spotlight and deliver that message in a more traditional way, and whether consciously or instinctively, everyone at Grande’s concert in Manchester understood it.

Music can change your life. But so can a person so consumed by hatred that they want other people to not exist. And it’s up to each of us to decide what form that change takes.

The enemy is not a race, or a religion, or a political party. The enemy is intolerance; the enemy is hatred; the enemy is fear.

We’ve found our enemy. Now let’s fight it, with every ounce of love we possess.

Antony Johnston
The North
May 2017