Henry Rollins: Empowerment Through Libraries

[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 Sunday KCRW broadcast.]

See also: Henry Rollins: What Lou Reed Meant to Me

I have come to regard November as the older, harder man's October. I appreciate the early darkness and cooler temperatures. It puts my mind in a different place than October. It is a month for a quieter, slightly more subdued celebration of summer's death as winter tightens its grip.

In November, I am often on the road, challenging myself nightly onstage. It is a month that has become one for testing my mettle. I feel the need to do this with great frequency. I do my best to keep comfort and relative ease at a distance. I am not a glutton for punishment but I am afraid that if I sit for too long, I won't be able to get up. The cold air and the predawn dark go-times are good for me. The ache in my eyes by evening makes me think I have endured something that bore down upon me with a quiet and steady weight.

Los Angeles and its "bright and sunny" environment is quite nice, but in the winter months there, I often find myself pining for the streets of Stockholm. Days of high temperature are almost disposable. Time gets pureed in the swelter of it all. Cold-weather hours drags, days and nights become small epics. I welcome the bleakness!

It's getting late. I have been up since 0447 hrs. It was a day that I had been anticipating for a long time. Late last year, I had been asked to keynote the California Library Association Convention, happening Nov. 3-5 this year at the Long Beach Convention Center. I said yes to the invite immediately, honored and puzzled that I of all people was on their radar.

As the days until my 0840 hrs. stage time grew few, I went over my 10 pages of notes of what I wanted to impart to members of California's public library system. It became obsessive; I kept adding ideas, things I wanted to say: quotes from Lincoln, Johnson, parts of the Constitution, Andrew Carnegie's great philanthropy that gave America many of the public libraries we have now. I came to the conclusion that they already knew all this stuff and it would be damn insulting to make them listen to this kind of 101, especially at that hour of the morning. After a few more sessions of going over the notes, I was satisfied that I had a good plan and eagerly awaited the time to engage.

Libraries and books are a big part of my life. Like a lot of inwardly drawn young people, I spent a lot of time in libraries. At my high school, I often spent my lunch breaks there. The books were an escape and the Ritalin that was pumping through my system killed my appetite. I also spent a lot of time in the library near my apartment. It was big and often quite empty. There were no parents there, no one I knew, and the solitude was a great relief.

I preferred books over people. They didn't beat me up or take my bike. There was something very empowering about walking into the building, past all the adults, and realizing that I could pull down any book I wanted to and just start reading. I don't know why but it was a huge deal to me.

After being introduced, I took the sum total of all the notes, the planning and the pacing in my driveway and laid it on all the bright, shiny faces. I think I did pretty well. It was a great group of people. I met many of them afterward and their stories were inspiring. The prison librarians were the most interesting. I met one who dealt with juveniles and another with adults. I commented that it must be difficult to interact with a young person who will be spending the rest of their life in prison. One of them said, "Try dealing with them when they're 40 after they have been in there for 20 years."

During the speech, I said that no one goes into any library seeking to lose knowledge or leave knowing less than they did before they went in. This was mentioned back to me many times, as people told me they are trying to give people an opportunity to better themselves and, while they are severely underfunded, they wouldn't give up what they're doing for anything. The state is lucky to have these people.

I got back to Los Angeles in time to go into the studio for a voice-over session and then back to the office.


With these two obligations behind me, I now can concentrate fully on a film I will start in a few days in Toronto. The character is dark, at times hilarious and often incredibly violent. There are not many people in the cast and I am in almost every shot. It will be intense and draining. I am looking forward to going deep into that for several weeks in a city on the verge of winter. This is what I want. I live for that which makes great demands, that which forces me to go beyond myself.

It is sometimes frustrating that no matter how much I have on my plate, I always seem to be able to get it done. It's frustrating because I know that often, I am not all that exhausted, just either whining, apathetic or just simply not getting on to the next thing. This is why I try to be in environments that don't give me the opportunity to go sideways. Age has forced me to trade in some energy for more resolve. I think it's a good deal.

The month of November makes me feel that life is passing more quickly. In an effort to slow it down, I try to fill the hours more meaningfully.

All great efforts require a soundtrack. November personal favorites: Atlantic Records era Coltrane, Nico's Marble Index and Desert Shore albums, early Jesus and Mary Chain singles, to name just a few.

In a few hours, I will be flying east into cold, dark strangeness. A relief.

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