Henry Rollins: Freedom Rock
[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.]
Congratulations on your upcoming three-day weekend. I hope it feels long enough, and that you have time to do watcha wanna.
As I grew older, perceived time gave way to real time. Perhaps you experienced this? When I was young, I had an excess of time. I didn’t really, but I rarely thought of it in finite terms. Summer vacation was a cool, almost surreal eternity. Night after humid night passed, melting into a prolonged, introspective, revelatory period of self-absorption and development. I did not keep track of time. What an amazing thing that was, to be able to do that. Suddenly, as if slapped out of a dream, it would be Labor Day weekend — over. For me, school started the following Monday. The first day back at Gulag Archipelago High was a total, morale-crushing heartbreak. I hated that fuckin’ place.
Nowadays, I spend only short amounts of time that don’t hold some kind of responsibility or obligation. I think about the perfect joy of having nothing to do — and doing just that — but I can’t hold it for more than a few minutes. Then I have to engage.
It is the time I spend doing “useless” things that seems to pass most quickly. Considerable contentment is derived — and in real time. Achievement-based contentment, on the other hand, comes once the task is done, and quickly evaporates. Whenever I can, I goof off with zeal.
I was in Mississippi a few days ago, wandering around the grounds of one of the most inventive and interesting hotels I have ever seen, called the Shack Up Inn, located in Clarksdale. Parts of the state are so beautiful, the air so rich, you can forget where you are and what you’re thinking. This would be a great place to goof off, I thought to myself, as I sat in the shade and took it all in. Southern states are really good for this. The morning heat is fairly unendurable, but in the afternoon, movement becomes possible, and then, with the arrival of night, it’s pitch perfect.
Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee have some awful back pages. I spent several days existing in it, going to places where some of America’s darkest chapters were written. Even years later, it’s not easy, but it’s totally worth it.
In Birmingham, Alabama, I visited the house where Martin Luther King lived for a few years with his family. I stood in his small study at the back of the house. I was told that pretty much everything in there were the actual items. I was impressed with the spareness of the room and furnishings. I was happy to see that, to his left, he had a record player. I found it odd that he sat with his back directly facing a window. There’s a dent in the front porch, caused by a stick of dynamite that tore up the front of the house on Jan. 30, 1956. The mightiest part of the story is that when an angry mob materialized, waiting to hear the order to get payback, Dr. King told them all to go home. They did.
Over the days, contemplating the triumphs of Claudette Colvin, Rosa Parks, the Browder v. Gayle decision — which grabbed Alabama and forced it to get a clue and obey the 14th Amendment — was inspiring. The brutality exacted upon people like Emmett Till and Clyde Kennard, to name just two, was infuriating. In the countless instances of unimaginable wrong done to so many, hardly anyone was prosecuted. Most of them are dead now, and there’s nothing to do but learn what you can and move forward.
July Fourth is a day for citizens to celebrate our country’s independence from Great Britain. Like a lot of things in America, you have to leave room for irony. While Jefferson was scratching away on hemp paper, drafting the Declaration of Independence, humans were being bought and sold.
For me, it is a solemn celebration. When I was a child growing up in Washington, D.C., the day was all about the fireworks that lit up the night sky at the Washington Monument. Not an easy event to check out up close. The streets were choked with people, the heat was intense, but it was the street-crime spike that was the real bummer. Youths on 10-speed bikes flying by people and tearing things out of their hands and off their bodies was common. The in-your-face-and-take-your-shit-from-you move was in full effect.
On one of those blistering July Fourths, many years ago, I was walking away from the Monument with my father. He was telling me how, whenever he thought he was in trouble, he would take out the blade on his pipe cleaner and display it, a clear warning to anyone who thought they were going to assault him. Having seen West Side Story, I didn’t think he had the right tool for the job but didn’t care to challenge him. I looked ahead and saw two black kids, a few years older than I, hassling people, grabbing at their possessions. My father tensed up. Unbelievably, I recognized one of the guys. It was Gary! You know, Gary from Whitehaven Public Summer Camp. I sat on a log and sang “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt” with that guy! He and I locked eyes and I saw that he recognized me, too. He turned his head to his friend and said something. The two of them went wide and walked past my father and me without a word.
My father went on to tell me how he had stared them down and because of his steely gaze, we were going to be OK. Again, I just went with it — why bother shaking his Etch A Sketch?
I can’t tell you what to do, but I hope you get some music playing over the holiday. It’s all freedom rock to me. Well, turn it up, man!
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