Tag: Sons of Anarchy

Henry Rollins: The fearless performer with tenacity

Henry Rollins is a one of a kind. A fearless performer of many stages, Rollins just likes to work. He’s done it all.Here’s how it all started.

Rollins, a music fanatic, was scooping ice cream in 1981 when he went to see his favorite band, Black Flag, play a show. After singing a few songs with the band on stage, he was called in to audition for the lead singer spot a short time later. He got the gig and a whirlwind life experience hasn’t stopped since. After playing in that band and many others, Rollins took acting gigs in movies such as The Chase, Bad Boys II and in recent years, Sons of Anarchy. Throughout it all, Rollins has found his true calling. Spoken Word tours. You may have seen him ride through town at The Pageant in the Loop.

What are spoken word tours? Rollins gets on the stage, wraps the microphone chord around his hand like a fighter wraps his hand in gauze, and unleashes a rant on the audience. Politics, music, travel, experiences of all kind and reflection are passed out like mere conversation. An intimate experience. I’ve seen Rollins four times and felt the need to reach out for an interview as he sets up for a European tour in 2016.

You joined Black Flag in 1981 in that memorable audition in NY but your Spoken Word tours are where I feel you really show audiences your true voice. When did you find your voice? As a kid, teenager or somewhere else along the line?

Henry Rollins-I just have one voice. With the music or whatever, it’s just me. I don’t know what else to tell you. I do think that with age and experience, I am able to bring things to the talking shows that is hopefully worthwhile.

You said once that you don’t have talent but instead have tenacity, focus and discipline. Can you elaborate on that? I found it quite honestly one of the most honest things I’ve ever heard.

Rollins-I have never thought of talent. I only think of the objective. Realizing it. Getting the work done. Getting the idea together and then putting in the time. This is the same for music, acting, writing, whatever. You see, as best as you can, what the ‘it’ is and go. I don’t understand talent. I understand a lot of work to get something done. That’s all this stuff has ever been—a lot of work. I am not trying to make it sound like it’s drudgery but it is about time spent. You work on a book and realize that two years from now, you will still be working on this book. If you can handle that, then perhaps you can get something done. Having talent, I have no idea what that means. I have no idea if I have any.

You’ve traveled the world and taken photos and met all kinds of people. What have been some of your memorable experiences on the road?

Rollins-Not to broad-brush it but a lot of the time, you meet people all over the world who live a very, very tough existence. Every day is a miles of walking for water, etc. Things are done manually. Life is lived one minute at a time. There is no thought of the future. There is now and maybe the next day. There isn’t “when I’m 65, I’ll . . . “ When you meet people who live this way, it is an eye opener. When you meet people whose whole lives are spent in food and water insecurity and they are some of the kindest and most generous, it has made me have to re-think what the species is capable of.

One of the things you have constantly said throughout the years is “Book it and I’m there.” Is that your strength? The ability to show up, keep your promise and deliver a show to people who spend their money to come see you?

Rollins-I think you will find almost any performer type values all that. They do want to show up and do a great show and they do understand that the audience is most of, if not the only reason they get to do all this cool stuff. The audience has proven themselves by showing up. The rest sits squarely on your shoulders. I would rather chop a finger off than betray that trust. A performer owes the audience everything. They showed up. They have trusted you with time they will never get back. Anything less than 110% is not good to go. It’s simple. You never phone it in and you always hit it as hard as you can. If you can’t, then just quit.

What keeps you going these years? Most voices would just feel okay staying in a radio booth and doing podcasts yet you continue to travel and do shows. What drives you?

Rollins-I don’t like sitting around. I don’t like environments that are stable, fixed, safe and predictable. When I am off the road, I live in a nice house. It’s cool but it’s boring. It just sits there while the rest of the world is outside. That’s where I want to be most of the time.

You’ve just wrapped the North American part of your tour and are heading to the UK, right? Any differences in the audiences in the states and the ones abroad?

Rollins-The 2016 European dates are the start of the tour, which will go on and off until the end of 2016. European audiences are usually exceedingly polite, very sharp and listen intently. I don’t know what I would do differently there besides stay off topics that are so inside America, that some members of the audience might feel left out. I can’t really see much difference besides perhaps the elevated politeness.

Lastly, any advice you want to dish out to the hard working scrappy creative souls who don’t want to chain themselves to the 9 to 5 life? You broke out of that quite well. What advice would you give someone who’s 20 years old and working in an ice cream shop or dead end job?

Rollins-If you have absolutely no fear of failure and are ready to get it done or die trying, then you might get somewhere. Anything less than that, stay with the deadend job. If you’re really going to do anything that breaks out, you won’t bother asking for advice.

What makes Henry Rollins special is his versatility and the ability to transcend what a performance really means. His tours aren’t comedy shows or concerts. They are more confessional than humorous. He gets on a stage and tells the audience how it is outside. He once called himself an “Americanist” because he survived America and its torments. What keeps Henry sane is his work, whether it’s on a radio show in Los Angeles or at a place in Germany. His show keep him on the edge, where he needs to be. While most do it for the money and the relevance, my belief is Henry just does it because he hates the quiet that a house brings.

The next time Rollins rolls through town, go see him. You will laugh with him, feel challenged by his words and feel empowered all at once. He’s one of my heroes because he will say what hits his minds and elaborate on it instead of retreating behind a punch line. Rollins deserves your respect and time.

nov 8 2008 005

Sons of Anarchy: Sopranos Meets Hamlet

imageedit_7_4946720514Feeling the need to get a show to catch up on and enjoy?  I have one for you.  Sons of Anarchy isn’t just a show about a group of criminals on bikes who hold the reins of a town called Charming in California.   It’s much more than that and creator/writer/cast member Kurt Sutter sprinkles in Shakespearean themes and blunt violence to remind viewers what they are watching is fresh, original and genuinely demented.  Think of “Sopranos on Motorcycles wrapped inside a Greek Tragedy” and you have this FX network pulpy drama.

It is one of FX’s best and most popular shows because it hasn’t worn down after 6 seasons of action and the storytelling methods from Sutter and his writing team are unpredictable and heartbreaking at the same time.   The 6th season wrapped last night in truly tragic and powerful fashion, and this film-addict is still uncoiling from the emotional trauma of the 2 hour finale experience.  Sutter and his team aren’t afraid to shock viewers with a major character death and did that on Tuesday night.

Sure, you can’t convince Breaking Bad fanatics to consider a different kind of creative poison these days when it comes to explosive finales, but allow me to tell you why Sons is one of the most tragic, brilliant and bleak TV shows.  This is a show you need to binge watch.

Put this show in the category of “antihero adoration” because the lead protagonist, Jax Teller(brilliantly played by Charlie Hunnam) is far from a good natured man but it’s his sense of family and loyalty that keep us rooting for him while he commits/agrees to murderous criminal behavior.  His struggle with power and how to swing it as he works his way through the criminal lay of the land sets the tone for the series.

Teller lives in the same neighborhood as Walter White and Tony Soprano but carries youth on his side.   Men who surround themselves with family and rely on those ties to keep their soul a little less dark.   This is what makes the show work so well.  Sutter handled this material while writing for The Shield and knows how to create troubled men and women who do bad things but redeem themselves with their vulnerabilities, ignorance of evil and the honor shown in bringing peace to the future.

Sutter’s casting is impeccable.   Hunnam, Ron Perlman, Kim Coates, Tommy Flanagan, Mark Boone Junior, Theo Rossi, and Ryan Hurst make up the heart and soul of the show’s club, SAMCRO(Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club Redwood Original).   All of these actors are character actors ripped from careers spanning hundreds of films but locked in tightly on this show.  The work of Hurst as Opie, Jax’s right hand man and confidant, stands out due to the effect the character has on our protagonist.

In the 6th season, Jax and the Sons are aiming to cleanse themselves of the gun trade and move into more legit practices of income but when a school shooting brings down the wrath of the FBI and the gun used is traced back to them, all hell breaks loose.  This is a rundown of every season.  Jax steers the club towards safer waters, but their past and actions reel them back into hell.  Sutter’s marvel lies in his way of masking certain plot points with male camaraderie and small doses of humor.  You don’t see a big death coming and even if you do, the manner in which it happens is poetic and tragic.  On Tuesday’s season finale, a main character was killed off and with the 7th season setting up to be the last, the death will spring all kinds of creative life on the show.   Each season, a couple major characters are killed off or a few characters’ are turned around.  The way television shows stay fresh is writing creatively and making no character safe.  Without a net to catch you creatively, the show constantly gets fresh air.  Far too many shows write with limited ambition and thus run out of gas quickly.   Shows on FX like Rescue Me, Justified and The Shield ran so long because they are creatively limitless and any character can be put in jeopardy.   No show does this tactic better than Sons of Anarchy.

Katey Sagal and Maggie Siff(Gemma and Tara) are the two female voices on the show, playing Jax’s mother and wife, respectively.   This is where the Hamlet themes come into play.  The effect and influence of women on the kings that serve the land is heavy material to work with, but Sagal and Siff are pros.   Gemma and Tara are set on a collision course for ownership of Jax’s soul from the very first episode of Season 1, and in the 6th season, that internal battle comes to a bloody and furious head.  If the finale of this season doesn’t leave you gushing for air and ready to hit a punching bag, I am not sure what show will.   Sutter pulls zero punches because he isn’t dealing with real history here and has placed his characters in a dangerous world of envy, power, violence, loyalty and the hazards of mixing business with pleasure.  Sagal and Siff are both Emmy worthy because they don’t rely on gimmicks or melodrama to play women who are fiercely independent and highly dangerous women on a show dominated by men.  If you are one of the critics of shows who hate the underuse and underwritten roles for women, check out this show.

Special mention must go to Dayton Callie, who plays Sheriff and SAMCRO ally Wayne Unser.  Playing a character holding enough guilt and internal struggle for a warehouse full of older men, Callie is a Scottish born actor who does his best work right here.  Like many of the cast members, the work of the actors on this show will overshadow whatever they have done or will do after this show ends next year.  Look at Sagal’s work here as the string pulling mother, and you won’t see the goofy mom from Married With Children. Hunnam, Hurst and Flanagan have done various films but achieved nothing like the status they have gained through this show.  If anyone is memorable outside of SOA, it is Perlman due to his heavy dosage of film work and his role in the Hellboy series.   The cast is synonymous with the roles on the show and that is a big reason it works so well.  Guest stars like Jimmy Smits, Peter Weller and Adam Arkin only help the action.

Should you watch this show right now?   Yes, because it blends action, drama, blunt storytelling and a realistically bleak tone that proves to be addicting.   Sutter paints dread all around the exterior of the story because he never wants the viewer to forget the mistakes and weight of guilt that the characters walk around with.   These aren’t good people but they are interesting and worth following.  If you miss Sopranos, watch this show.  If you want something that works faster than Boardwalk Empire or Ray Donovan, watch this show.  If you want a show that holds up creativity wise (not Dexter), watch it now.

Kurt Sutter aims to please here but torments your soul long after the finales rest.  He makes use of every detail of the plot in crafting his twists and reveals.  A sink full of water and dishes, a love of a man for a woman he can’t have, the effect of kids on a man’s decision and the length bad men run in order to be track down their soul.  You never forget what you are watching because the plot never slows down or gets too neat.  This is a show about how actions lead to bad things and how the amount of lies told can lead to a blunt clarity no one can handle.   Hunnam’s work here is the heart and soul of the show.  The actor can do more with a cold stare than most can do with three paragraphs.   His trek through the 7th season is worth sitting down tonight and catching up.  The best way to find out what the fuss is all about is to get a little dirty, watch and find out for yourself.

Brew a few pots of coffee, find a trusted brand of frozen pizza and settle in for the ride of your life with Sons of Anarchy.  It may not be an HBO or Showtime production, but as Mad Men and Breaking Bad have proved, there is a fine slice of television being performed on AMC and FX.   Once Sopranos wrapped up, everyone needed a fix for the criminal enterprise of entertainment.   SOA has filled that gap just fine and hasn’t lost a step in its 6 seasons.

Reach me at buffa82@gmail.com and @buffa82 on Twitter for comments, feedback and thoughts.  Any response is appreciated.