Whenever I travel, I always bring a copy of Henry Rollins’ Smile … You’re Traveling with me.
I’ll be honest – I was never actually a fan of Henry Rollins, or even Black Flag, despite loving punk and hardcore. I made a valid effort, maybe just because I wanted to fit in with my peers, but I just couldn’t get into it. I’d picked up a copy of his spoken word book, Solipsist, but poetry never really was my thing.
Don’t get me wrong, spoken word poetry, as an art, is great, and you can call me juvenile or “basic” as much as you want, but Shel Silverstein, Jack Prelutsky, and Dr. Seuss were more my speed. (Take that last statement as you will, because this is coming from someone who uses a pouch shaped like a pair of underpants as a wallet and still giggles at fart jokes.)
However, after deciding to give Rollins another shot, since clearly there was something wrong with me if I didn’t like his work and was into punk rock, I picked up Smile. Unlike Solipsist, Smile … You’re Traveling is a travel journal as Rollins traverses places unknown, logging his own adventures. I was fascinated by his observations and envious of his experiences. I wanted to have those same experiences and make those memories. I wanted to know what it was like to wander down a street in a faraway land, without having to be under the watchful eye of a chaperone or in a group. I wanted the freedom to discover what hidden secrets these places held.
I met Henry Rollins in 2007, while in Edinburgh, Scotland. I was there for the annual Edinburgh Fringe Festival with my university, who was performing there for three weeks. Rollins was “performing” at the same venue my university group was, doing a one-man storytelling hour, at the tail-end of the festival. (I say “storytelling” hour because he wasn’t doing spoken word, he was just there, talking about his travels.) I was hanging out with the staff from the venue, (under the guise that I was “shadowing” them for future career experience, sorry-not-sorry-bout-it,) when in walked Rollins. He’d arrived to discuss his lighting and sound requirements for his 4-day stint, which took all of 5 minutes, and then he came back and sat down with us in the storage room where we’d been hanging out.
We’d been talking about our pets when Rollins sat down with us. Emma was talking about her dog, while I, at the time, had a cat and several snakes. Euan remained rather quiet and I’m pretty sure Rob was dozing off, after having been out the night before drinking, (I would know, as I was there too.) I’d already been familiar with Rollins’ involvement with ball python breeding – I’d briefly considered purchasing one from his business partner in Michigan – but never really expected him to join in the conversation as he did. Emma would tell me later that once Rollins and I started talking about snakes, she felt like she was watching a tennis match, her head shifting back and forth between the two of us.
After about an hour of snake-talk, Rollins had to go, but told me to meet him at his prep room before his show the next day and bring my computer – he wanted to see photos of my snakes. If when a big, burly, tattooed, gruff, punk rocker-turned-author-turned-actor points at you and says, “Meet me tomorrow at 3. I want to see your snakes.” isn’t pants-shitting terror when aimed at a 5-foot-nothing, Asian girl, I’m not sure what is, especially when one of my flatmates had only agreed to come to Edinburgh because he was hoping for the chance to meet THE Henry Rollins. Needless, the venue staff thought it was pretty rad and in a few hours, forgot all about it because we went out drinking. (I would drunkenly write myself a reminder for the meeting and post it outside my bedroom door, only to get ripped a new one by the aforementioned flatmate, who felt it was a slap in the face, since he’d basically flown half way around the world to meet the guy himself.)
The next day, after my daily responsibilities were taken care of, I met up with THE Henry Rollins. Snake pictures were shown and after some conversation, plans were made to meet again the following day, where we just hung out and he told me about his travels and showed me photos of his trip to Iran. He’d talked about the Iran trip in his one-man show, but he went more in-depth about his experience when showing me the photos he took. I’d mentioned I was interested in travelling like that and he was more than encouraging.
All in all, I spent 3 days hanging out with Henry Rollins, and learned more than I probably deserved to, and left our final meeting kicking myself for several reasons:
1.) I’d never introduced myself to him until the last day when he asked who to sign my copy of Smile to. I just showed up at his prep room when he told me to and that was that.
2.) There was only about three days left of my three weeks spent in Scotland, and I’d spent the previous 18 drinking and partying when not working.
3.) I never properly thanked him for taking time out of his busy schedule to sit and chat with me for three days in a row. Obviously I didn’t know how busy he actually was during his time in Edinburgh, but I’d later find that that entire year was kind of a whirlwind for him. Realizing that makes me appreciate and treasure the time he took with me even more.
It was then that I’d made the conciensious decision that the next time I travelled, espeically internationally, I wouldn’t take any time for granted and I’d smile, because I was traveling.
After writing this post, I found out that Henry Rollins had written not one, but two books detailing his adventures the very year I’d met him. I haven’t read either yet, but they look to include the stories he’d told me while looking over his photos and talking about snakes. Hell, maybe he even mentions he performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
Check them out:
A Preferred Blur: Reflections, Inspections, and Travel in All Directions
A Mad Dash
He’ll never read this, but in the 1 in a million chance he does – Thank you, Mr. Rollins, for everything – taking the time to chat with me, for showing me your pictures from your experiences, for sharing your stories and for igniting a flame that’s been burning for years to start adventuring and living. Thank you.
Side Note: Please check out the links in the post. To be completely transparent, they’re Amazon Affiliate links and any purchase made, I get a little something for. I’m kind of new to the affiliate thing, so I’m not sure how much of a percentage I get, but again, transparency and I want to be upfront that I’ve inserted Amazon Affiliate links.