Henry Rollins: Hardcore Nostalgia in Washington D.C.
[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 is now March. Begrudgingly, the winter is unlocking its jaws and giving way to the thaw.
Coming through the speakers lately, it's been large and constant doses of John Coltrane. My favorite year of the great man's work is 1965. With the release of A Love Supreme at the end of 1964, Coltrane vacated the more traditional aspects of jazz and struck out on his last and best musical journey. From then to his all-too-soon passing in 1967, it's pure genius.
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1965 stands out because it was to be the end of what is known as the "Classic Quartet": Coltrane, Elvin Jones on drums, pianist McCoy Tyner and Jimmy Garrison on bass. You can hear these formidable musicians pushing themselves to their limits in Coltrane's new vision. The results are some of the best jazz ever recorded.
This band realized more in one minute than some do across two sides of an album. By way of example, I urge you to check out their album Transition. The title track is a tour-de-force of second-by-second discovery and revelation. It is one of the greatest pieces of music I have ever heard.
I put Transition on tonight and was so worked up after it finished that I had to get up and go. All of a sudden everything was moving too slow and I needed movement, so off I went. I am now in a caffeinated and well-lit environment.
Twenty-four hours ago, I was in Washington D.C., at the 9:30 Club, watching one of the mightiest bands anywhere, Trouble Funk.
What brought me to that place is what I want to tell you about. Several months ago, I was contacted by underground art/culture adventurist Roger Gastman, who asked if I was interested in doing the narration on a documentary he was working on with Joseph Pattissal. It's a film called The Legend of Cool "Disco" Dan, about the enigmatic graffiti artist from D.C. I remember his ubiquitous tag very well and gave Roger an enthusiastic affirmative.
Roger and Joseph took it upon themselves to tell Dan's story and, by doing so, created a great picture of Washington, D.C., in the '80s, a time fraught with political scandal, an assassination attempt on the president and the arrival of crack cocaine, which turned street corners into highly valued points of purchase literally worth millions of dollars. This got a lot of young people killed.
At the same time, there were two vibrant, youth-driven music scenes: D.C. hardcore and go-go funk. There wasn't much fan crossover, but the music was great on both sides.
Dan's life has been full of hardship. From a tragic family history to the mental instability that led him into a life of shelters and homelessness, it is a hell of a story. I hope you get a chance to see this film.
Last month, Roger asked if I would come to D.C. and take part in three events over three nights around the film's release. It promised to be sleepless and action-packed, and I was unable to pass up the opportunity.
Night one was the opening of an exhibit of go-go and hardcore music poster art and memorabilia at the Corcoran Gallery, "Pump Me Up: D.C. Subculture of the 1980s." The show is curated by Roger, and it is incredible. I provided the three-hour soundtrack for the evening.
The place was full soon after the doors opened. It was a combination of the past coming back to say hello and being peopled to the point of exhaustion and disorientation. After nearly four hours of this, I slipped out and into a taxi.
The next night was the premiere of The Legend of Cool "Disco" Dan at the AFI Silver Theatre in Silver Spring, Md. My job was to present the film for two showings and to be part of the Q&A afterwards.
People from the documentary showed up, including Minor Threat/Fugazi member Ian MacKaye, Big Tony of Trouble Funk and members of the original go-go crews like The A-Team, Gangster Chronicles and Lady Chronicles. These are some very heavy-duty people. Cool "Disco" Dan, due to his condition, was unable to come.
It was a great night and really cool to see both showings packed out for this labor of love, more than 10 years in the making. The longest night was yet to come.
By 1430 hrs. the next day, Sunday, I was at the 9:30 Club for the Punk-Funk Throwback Jam, a nearly nine-hour music marathon featuring D.C. hardcore and go-go bands. I was the host and master of ceremonies.
Both functioning bands and groups long thought extinct were wrenched from the ether and brought to the stage at the request of Roger. By the time the third band, Youth Brigade, hit the stage, the place was nearly full.
Like at the Corcoran, it was the past meeting up with the present. It was like getting knocked around a small room by emo-bouncers. People I have not seen since the Bronze Age were there, sometimes drunkenly attempting to reconnect. Meanwhile, I was dashing on and offstage introducing bands and editorializing, hour after hour.
The nature of the event's lineup made for an interesting if uneven concert. Most of the bands that had come out of semi-retirement showed their age, not always in the most flattering ways. It was unsettling to see adults I grew up with performing songs more than 30 years old. All in all, the show belonged to the go-go group called The Junkyard Band, who had the whole place going.
The only thing that one-upped this group was the audience. They were racially diverse and totally cool.
Music is the antidote for the ills of society. Those who seek to profit by division don't stand a chance. To see everyone in the place singing along with Junkyard Band was incredibly moving.
A few hours after Trouble Funk hit the stage I was flying west to Los Angeles and John Coltrane. Totally worth it.
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