Henry Rollins: Getting Older Doesn't Have to Mean Going Down With the Ship
[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.]
Spring is upon us. Youth, chance and motion come to mind. There is a limbering up of the muscles, freshly awoken from cold inactivity. There is a yawn, a clearing of the head as if a coma is being emerged from, a burst of enthusiastic anticipation as to what will be. Perhaps naïve but nonetheless, a feeling that things could be different this time around.
It is in spring that the year's resolutions should be conceived. Why would you attempt to adhere to any challenging discipline when it's too cold to get out of bed in the morning? Early spring is the time for vigorous change, a preparation for the heat-driven oppression that is to come. Soon, the creek near my house will be alive with the sounds of frogs, the nights will become living, breathing things.
"Do the next thing," Monsignor Darcy says to Amory Blaine in F Scott Fitzgerald's first novel, This Side of Paradise, after young Amory asks for advice about his restlessness. Fitzgerald worked on this book nearly a century ago, as a soldier stationed at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas during WWI. He wrote quickly, not thinking he was going to survive. The war ended before he was deployed. I think of Fitzgerald writing with grim diligence as he pondered how short his life might be. What the monsignor said is something I live by.
I spend a great deal of my time angry. I cultivate, refine and maintain it as best I can. Yet in spring, my abundant anger is augmented with a wild, exuberant excitement that only makes me more demanding of myself. Spring is a season of fury for me. Up earlier, longer workouts, more writing, reading, thinking, more consequence. What oversized chunk of something I am unqualified to perform can I tear off and throw myself into? There is only one way to find out.
In spring I am filled with courage. I want to disappear into Rimbaudian one-way voyages to Southeastern Africa. Celinesque journeys into the darkest liquid nights. In winter, I plot and plan. In spring, I move. I fear failure but acknowledge that it's part of life's rich pageant. Spring brings my most profound fear to the fore: not changing. Not knowing when it's time to go, or even worse, not being able to leave when it's over. That's death to me.
It was much easier when I was younger. With age, life becomes complex and difficult, often fraught with risk on several levels, from the practical to the fiscal. With the stability one seeks to establish and maintain, one also can construct a prison that is almost narcotic in its comfort. Nice house -- nice box to do time in.
This is what any structure, or order, in my life has become. Regularity depletes my anger, humor and overall will to keep smashing into it. I know I need some but it's hard to endure. There is a sense of trepidation that fills me when I encounter people from my past, who have, in my opinion, made their lives into that which debilitates rather than inspires.
I come from a town of great musicians, Washington D.C. It's no joke, that history. I respect it as best I can. Duke Ellington and Minor Threat leave a lot to aspire to. I am not trying to create some causal line, I'm just telling ya. I bring this up because two weeks ago in this space I detailed a recent trip to D.C. where I took part in three different events based around music and culture of the city from the 1980s.
Over those three nights, I encountered many people I used to see at shows, both onstage and in the audience. Balding can't be helped but being overweight and chemically dependent is a poor choice. To see so many of these people in that state was a drag. This is bad strategy. It is not doing the next thing. It is going down with the ship. All ships eventually sink, why stay on board?
Young and drunk is an obnoxious, glorious chapter. Old and drunk is a career choice. For some distillery to be able to plant a flag on your ass like they've summited K2 is nowhere near the funnest way to rock life's water slide.
I am convinced that all young people have a "genius phase." There are a couple of years where you're pretty damn golden. You can be totally self-absorbed, yet still able to see the big picture. You watch your elders and the self-created hellish ruts in which they tediously toil and conclude that will never be you. It is obvious they have made some monumental error and that you will never suffer the same fate. Why not? Perhaps you're actually learning from history, impervious to the snares that entrapped those who came before you.
In my youth, I was spat on, punched, kicked, burned with cigarettes and by and large had a really great time! I moved around a lot. The consistent chaos was quite the norm. I saw a lot of my peers stick to the wall when everything around us screamed, "Go!" For whatever reason, they did not. A great lyric by Chuck Dukowski from the song "American Waste" comes to mind: "Not for me / I won't end up in the heap / I want out / I'm free / Burning, burning. You didn't have to tell me twice. I went."
I fear too much comfort, too much stillness and the crippling regularity of it all. Why does time seem to pass more quickly when you get older? I think it's because many of us start dialing it in. I fight this constantly. I am easily lulled into safe routines. I remind myself that all of this is over very soon, my anger rises and off I go. Life is the racehorse, I am the rider and there's no one on the track but me. Watch this.
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