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Henry Rollins: Coming to an End

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

It's a night off in Chicago. All the New York shows are behind me and now I have three here starting tomorrow night.

I have been doing shows here since 1981. The first one was one of the most memorable and instructive. I had just joined Black Flag. I was learning the songs at soundcheck and singing on the encores. Otherwise, I was learning the ropes while Dez Cadena held down the vocals during the set. We came through Chicago in July, on our way back to Los Angeles. We had a show in a venue called Tuts; the Effigies were the opening band.

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Black Flag was playing and I was on the stage, keeping things from getting knocked over from all the people bouncing into the gear. At one point, one of the bouncers started shoving a girl around. The band's bass player, Chuck Dukowski, found this very much to his disliking and demonstrated his feelings by jamming the headstock of his instrument into the man's head.

I honestly don't know what Mr. Dukowski's intent was. Perhaps he just wanted to give the man a friendly reminder that this kind of behavior wasn't acceptable? I don't know. I do know that Chuck cracked this moron upside the head with such force that he was rushed to a hospital and had to get stitches. Good ol' Dukowski.

Postshow, a large amount of our equipment magically disappeared. We were told that it was in the club owner's office. I went in and there was our stuff with the bouncers standing all around it, including the one with all the new sutures in his head. I honestly don't remember how we were able to extract ourselves and our property out of that venue but I do remember that we never played there again.

Another time, we played the Metro and some audience members beat me up pretty good, I don't remember what started it. In those days, it didn't take much.

A couple of years later, in reaction to some bouncers acting out on some of the more lively members of the audience, they vented their frustrations by hurling every glass bottle they could find at the stage. We sat behind our gear, listening to our amps and cabinets take a good bashing, but as soon as it was over, we came out amidst the debris and finished the show.

 

I always found the Chicago audience to be a smart, fast-moving, violent and cheerful lot, and it's always good to be back.

This is the part of the tour where things get difficult. It is very easy to lose your grip on the show when you know the end is near.

As there are less than 15 shows left, with more than 170 in 19 countries behind me since January, a little light is starting to creep in. All the compression, focus and tension required to maintain the velocity for the intended impact night after night will suddenly be unnecessary when the last show of the year is done in December.

To do what I need to do onstage every night, I have to forget all this. It takes a lot of effort to fear failing an audience to the degree that I do. It's a lot of calories spent and a lot of stress carried. All of this easily escapes rational thinking and makes itself readily available for ridicule. I understand that, but for me, there is no other way to go about touring and performing. Live completely inside it, fear it and stay extra mad at it.

It's the nights off where I put up the hardest workouts in the gym. Without the obligation of a show, I need to keep the body in check. I started doing this when I found out that Tour de France racers ride for several miles on their days off to keep from softening up and why Woody Guthrie didn't like sleeping in beds.

Even after one night off, the next night onstage, my voice will be somewhat thick-sounding as it starts to heal. In the days after a tour, I often lose my voice for up to two days.

The body wants to stop and has to be lashed forward to realize the objective. I must say, I enjoy this conflict very much.

 

Four nights later. Now in Toronto for three shows. The Chicago dates were a great time. It was an honor to perform at the Old Town School of Folk Music. Every night before I went onstage, I would look at the wall of the dressing room where Honeyboy Edwards signed his name, probably on the night of his show there in 2006. He passed away last year in August at 96. Already, his signature was partially covered with newer writing.

The view out of my hotel room window is of railroad tracks and partially completed buildings; the city's ripped backside, to borrow a phrase from Iggy Pop's classic "The Passenger." This afternoon's workout was too much and probably not enough. After a small meal, I am back in the room with the music.

So far, two of Marcia Bassett's myriad outlets; Zaika's album Zolat and Zaïmph's Unfolded Gold and Emblem albums. To loosen the fillings, jazz terrorist Urabe Masayoshi's Urklang and songs from across the catalog of the great Chicago brother-and-sister team White Mystery. They are extremely rockin'.

Someone gave me their music a few days ago and after listening, I went to the band's site (whitemysteryband.com) and bought their albums because I don't want to be "that guy" who digs but does not support. It happens to me all the time. The upside is that it only makes me stronger and a more emboldened enemy of a night off.

To borrow from Coppola's Lt. Col. Kilgore: Someday this tour's gonna end. I am doing my best not to know that.

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