Thursday, December 16, 2010

Warrior Genes and the Spoken Word

From a coworker, I learned that Henry Rollins is the host of a recent National Geographic special about the so-called "warrior gene." Biological researchers have found the Monoamine oxidase A (MAOA) gene to be one significant determiner of violent behavior in males, or at least in 30% of the male population. It is linked, for example, to gang membership and even more so to those who are the most violent members of gangs.

Let me add here that upon learning about MAOA, I immediately saw the ramifications of this research for criminal defense in violent crimes. Sure enough, it's already been happening. Check out "Can Your Genes Make You Murder?" from NPR here, where evidence of a high-risk version of MAOA in a defendant's DNA (mixed with violent abuse in his childhood) made the difference between him getting prison for a murder instead of the death penalty. Of course, the prosecutor said it's "too early" to use this evidence. I cynically predict that many prosecutors will never stop saying it's "too early" to use this evidence. But that's just my former criminal defense lawyer self talking. It will be more and more interesting as time goes on. That is, if the U.S. populace will value science, any science, in a few years' time.

But back to Rollins. I showed my coworker this video here of Rollins going all "creepy crawl" in '83 after some German lunkhead pitched a full can of lager at his noggin. (It interrupts "Black Coffee," too.) Based on his speech to the crowd, I don't think he has the gene. The can connects with head at 0:10, so don't blink or you'll miss it:

Sometime in 1987,  a rock chum of mine and I went to see a Jane's Addiction acoustic set at Scream, which was then in that hotel across from MacArthur Park whose name escapes me. Rollins opened with one of his spoken-word readings. Afterwards, there was a kind of intermission, and he stood onstage with his back to the audience, talking to some young lady. He had his hands behind his back.

I don't know why, but I had a AA battery in my pocket, and I decided to weird Rollins out. I walked up behind him and stealthily inserted said battery into the curled-up palm of his hand. I then quickly returned to my front-row seat.

He didn't budge.

After about 20 seconds or so, the sensation that something small and smooth was in hand must have finally reached his consciousness. With a jerk, he suddenly brought his hand in front of him and looked down at the little double-A battery. Then he spun around and glared at the audience. As he did so, he lifted his arm and threw the battery down on the stage next to him. It went bouncing off somewhere. Visibly pissed off, he scanned the people standing around and those in their seats, including me. I didn't feel scared, but his anger surprised me. I thought he'd laugh, like "This is trippy. How did did this happen?" Not a chance.

I withheld my chuckling until he turned away again. Does such a reaction a warrior gene-bearer make? I don't think so. If he had the gene, he'd have picked someone to beat the crap out of right then and there. Maybe even me. Not every angry young man is a genetically programmed thug.

But I always suspected Rollins was probably a big softy inside, a feeling confirmed when I saw him introduce a poetry reading at Beyond Baroque by one Ellyn Maybe some years back. A bespectacled Rollins (her publisher) spoke very highly of her and her unabashedly hippie, peacenicky, beatnicky, surrealist poetry. If only I'd had another battery to give him then, I think he might have appreciated it.

1 comment:

Mrowster said...

D, this is a very interesting post; I've a similar story about telling Ian MacKaye on a dare, "you've got a nice ass", that damn near got MY ass kicked hard. Yep Rollins, like most of what alot of us were attracted to in early 80's HC punk, could be said to be driven by this "warrior gene". It took me years to get over all that fight-or-flight stuff of my adolescence/teens, and now I'm wondering if I really ever have.