AUGUSTA — Even without the growl of an angry guitar or rattle of drums to back him up, and with more than a touch of gray in his hair, Henry Rollins is still a menacing, manic presence when he takes the stage.
Rollins, the 51-year-old former hardcore/punk band frontman, took the Cony High School stage on Sunday night with his neck veins bulging, barely pausing for breath between rants from the second he hit the stage, dressed in all black.
But he spews insight, not spite. He decried homophobia, ignorance and complacency.
Rollins, while touching on numerous political topics, said he doesn’t care who anyone else votes for. That’s their own personal business, he said.
Just once, Rollins said, he’d like to run things for a year, including the presidential debates, which he said would feature tough questions and a chance for the politicians to speak for up to two hours, not two minutes.
“Then we’ll really see who’s got what under the hood,” Rollins said. “It’s easy to talk for two minutes. I want to see people burn lean tissue on stage, and prove their brains to me.”
He urged attendees to vote. Even if they don’t support either of the two major parties, which he feels have both become bloated with lobbyists and super political action committees.
He said politicians who don’t represent the people need to go, but he does not hold the government in contempt.
“I’m not talking about rioting in the streets. I’m talking about voting,” he said. “If you don’t like your government, blame yourself. You put them in office.”
Rollins was frontman of the punk band Black Flag from 1981 to 1986, later forming the Rollins Band and putting out several albums through the 1990s. His songs in the Rollins Band were hard-edged, often combining heavy-metal-like guitar riffs with positive messages about self-esteem and perseverance.
He said as a teenager he went to arena rock shows by Aerosmith and Ted Nugent, but said being one of 80,000 people at those shows didn’t do much for him.
Then he heard a Sex Pistols album and, later, a Ramones album that he called “the one” album for him.
“I was an angry young man. Arena rock was not putting any salve in the wounds of my youth,” he said.
He said the summer after he first heard the Ramones, the band came to a city near his hometown. He went to see them at a small, jam-packed, hot club, in Virginia, where he said he felt a tremendous sense of community.
“It was the first place I found some acceptance,” he said of the punk rock community. “To this day, it informs me in how I conduct my affairs with the world. It reminds my I’m not better than anyone else. I’m not too cool for school.”
Rollins also has hosted radio and television shows, written several books and had roles in films.
These days, his performances are spoken word, not musical, and they address societal topics such as the need for education. He said he hated high school, except English class. But he said he has continued to learn, after school.
Rollins is in the midst of his two-month Capitalism 2012 Tour, in which he is hitting all 50 state capitals, wrapping up on the eve of Election Day in the nation’s capital.
Rollins said Sunday was his first time in Augusta, but not his first time in Maine. As a child, he attended summer camp in Maine — he didn’t specify where — for two or three summers.
“My mom, a single mom, was raising a very energetic boy,” Rollins said. “In summertime she wanted a vacation from a kid who literally bounced around the room. So I spent two or three summers in beautiful Maine. I learned how to swim, defensively so you could rescue someone without them drowning you, to bail out canoes and survive, I saw beavers doing their work. It was fun.”
Roughly 400 people attended the show, with the crowd a wide range of ages, from teenagers to those, like Rollins, with some gray hair.
Tattooed and muscular, Rollins spoke with a gruff tone and rapid-fire style, taking no drinks of water and no breaks during the roughly two-hour-long speaking engagement.
Video footage from some of his Capitalism 2012 tour stops is posted on youtube.com
Tickets cost $25, or $20 for students.
Keith Edwards — 621-5647