Henry Rollins: Be Thankful Every Day, Not Just on Thanksgiving

Henry Rollins: Be Thankful Every Day, Not Just on Thanksgiving
Photo by Heidi May

[Look for your weekly fix from the one and only Henry Rollins right here every Thursday, and come back tomorrow for the awesomely annotated playlist for his Sunday KCRW broadcast.]

Transitioning from the Thanksgiving holiday to the “Christmas season,” I have always found it interesting to watch retailers attempt to shift gears between two different retail campaigns. Draped in a cloak of not-all-that-easy-to-believe benevolence, they try to strike a balance between goodness and the desire to bring you to the point of purchase.

Going into a drugstore, seeing all the Christmas stuff ready to go a month out — as if it’s us who can’t wait — all I can think of is plastic and paper goods being bought, displayed and then, along with all those dead trees, thrown out days later.

I am not so cynical to think it’s all just so many hollow gestures, but there is an almost robotic aspect to the rendering and appreciation of it all that’s a little depressing. We partition off a designated time of the year to momentarily pause and be thankful and buy things for others. It all feels somewhat involuntary.

On the other hand, it’s a great time to do exactly those things. It’s not always easy to act upon the fact that, when you really think about it, you can find so much to be thankful for. Now that you’re consciously thankful, where do you go with it?

Actually, there are as many places to go with your altruistic impulses as there are things to do with them. It just depends on what you’re thankful for and how you want to show it.

For myself, I have found that the best thing is to be in a constant state of gratitude. It’s not difficult and allows me to get over most of the stones in my passway, to borrow from Robert Johnson. No matter how bad it gets, something good is also happening.

I don’t need a holiday to stop everything and be thankful. But I understand how much it means to some because of the seriousness with which, in the days before the last Thursday of November, I get asked what I am going to be doing on Turkey Day.

My usual reply is, “Putting something frozen in the microwave and cursing the darkness,” as I shake my fist.

The best Thanksgiving I ever had was in 1980. I told my boss at the ice cream store I worked at that I wanted to open the store for a few hours on that day, just in case anyone wanted vanilla ice cream for their desserts. This was my big idea; I thought it was a winner. If we were not moving much product, I would clean in hard-to-get-to places, polish the copper piping and prep the freezers for the weekend.

He attempted to convince me to take the day off, but I just wouldn’t do it. So he gave me the green light. I don’t think it was a matter of him being so impressed at my will to work as much as him not finding it worthwhile to argue further.

I am happy to report that we actually had a pretty good day, sales-wise. But the best part was when the restaurant across the street brought me over a plate of food on orders from my boss. I ate it alone, standing up.

A few days before Thanksgiving this year, my pal Linda Ramone, wife of the late Johnny, gave me a gold record of the first Ramones album — which, incredibly, had only recently reached that status (500,000 sold) in America. I took it out of the plastic wrap and stared at the record, set in with Roberta Bayley’s excellent portrait of the band that was the album’s cover. There they were, Tommy, Johnny, Dee Dee and Joey, staring back. Complete and total originals, unable to be anything but this manifestation of perfect chemistry, this result of decades of rock and centuries of New York colliding at the right time and place.

The Ramones were proof that the equation of music did not have an “=” at the end of it but was still being formulated, that the story wasn’t close to being over. It made me think of how cool it would be if every single person who bought that album at any time would get one of these gold ones in the mail.

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Obviously, record sales don’t necessarily mean all that much. When you consider that the “supergroup” Damn Yankees’ first album sold more than 2 million copies, which could very well be more than the sales of John Coltrane’s entire catalog, numbers become meaningless as any kind of barometer.

That being said, it made me wonder, almost 40 years after its release, why it took so long for Ramones to go gold.

Someone once wrote of The Velvet Underground something to the effect that the band didn’t sell many records, but those who bought them all formed bands. Perhaps that’s the thing to take away from this gold record that now sits in my office. What The Ramones gave to the world — that is the only thing that has value and meaning. You can’t put a number on it.

As great as it would have been for at least one member of the band to have lived long enough to get this nod, I think they had something far better than a framed industry standard for their wall. The Ramones had the roaring affirmation of their audience everywhere they played. They had the music and they had the moment and you can’t put that behind glass. You can only live it, be thankful and pull the memories out if you need to.

When you do that, every day is Thanksgiving.


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