Henry Rollins and the art of Commitment

I want to be like Henry Rollins.

Last weekend I saw Henry perform live at the Independent in SF. He was brilliant. I expected him to be witty but I had no idea he’d be downright hilarious. He spoke of the changing world, the suffering of people, and the need to band together. He described democracy as an “us” thing, and had a refreshingly hopeful outlook for someone known as a badass. In fact, his rant on cynicism particularly resonates with me. He says cynicism is a cop-out. It is much easier to write the world off as hopeless because then we don’t have to do anything. Much more challenging – and courageous –  is to maintain a vision of optimism and strive to bring that to light.

Yes, I want to be like Henry Rollins. Of course there are key differences. I would never refer to my home as the “Utilitarian Hovel”, as he does. I prefer living in the “Budget Luxury Castle.”  After all, there is no reason not to surround yourself with beauty.  I figured out long ago that you don’t have to have riches to have beauty in your life, just imagination. And commitment.

Commitment is a powerful thing. It is easy to let ourselves straddle life from the vantage point of “non-attachment”,  thinking we are so zen to accept whatever life gives us. But that is only part of the coin.  If you don’t seize life and carve out the slice you want, you are going to get the leftovers. Sure, you need to have a certain amount of grace in rolling with the punches, but to never make a commitment because that is somehow lusting too much or grasping for something that may never be, well there is a recipe for an unfulfilled life right there. Not for me.

And I suppose that was what I liked so much about Henry Rollins. He obviously has a brilliant mind. Here is a man whose command of the English language is such that he can describe the air pollution in Beijing as  “Satanic marshmallows of filth”. But he still had to sit down and figure out which of his lightning quick thoughts he was going to organize into a skit. He had to choose how to string them together into a story, and work on the pacing to fit within the time frame of his shows and maximize comedic delivery. There was definite commitment there, a focused application of Will, to create a show out of his strengths. And because he has done that, he gets to travel around entertaining folks. Then he spends the rest of his time traveling the world and seeing the sights, which gives him then more rich material from which to glean new entertaining yet poignant and relevant bits of wisdom for his audience.

I was pleasantly surprised by his hopeful and uplifting outlook.  Here is a guy who is just about as far from the new age happy- place hippie you can possibly imagine. Yet he still feels that we are going to figure out our predicament as a species. He thinks we will rise to the occasion and put our collective brain power together and help each other. There will always be greedy assholes trying to take all for themselves, but ultimately there are far more of us than there are of them, and many of us are smart. The more we can learn to help one another the more we will not just survive but thrive. This was the core message that I took away from his show, and which made all the other funny stuff just gravy. Here was an obviously intelligent person, who really thought things through, who was not just a wishful thinking kind of person, whitewashing everything with “it’s all going to be fine”. Here was someone who thinks the hard thoughts – and still thinks we are going to be okay because we will band together and help each other out.

And that is why I say I want to be like Henry Rollins. I too would like to inspire, with beautiful  music and clever stories that make people laugh and cry and ultimately feel a surge of hope for our world. To be part of that cabal that reminds each other that life is worth participating in fully, that the things we are passionate about are worth committing to.

Thank you Henry, for rekindling my hope the other night. May I take the torch now and light another’s. And may those others also pass the flame and together we will rekindle the world. After all, it’s an “us” thing.