Henry Rollins: I Am a Stoner at Heart

Henry Rollins: I Am a Stoner at Heart
Heidi May

USA is currently in one of its difficult periods. Ah, regression pains. At least comrade Trump is keeping things lively. Must be frustrating for him when so many people pack the airports and streets in shows of resistance.

Watching Kellyanne rock the Sunday shows has become the weekly Orwell Goodtime Disinformation Hour. KellCon’s got a lot to distract citizens from. Seany Spice takes over on Monday and the Elections Have Consequences Express keeps rattling down the tracks. It probably doesn’t help that Stephen Bannon always looks as if he sleeps in his car, wakes up to a bag of whiskey and spends the rest of the day showing his dick to little kids, but we’re all getting used to it. Everything is so different now! Easily the most interesting time in the last several years.

So interesting, in fact, that the littlest dab o’ news will do ya for a good while and perhaps send you off in search of more serene and sublime altitudes. All the reality you can handle will be waiting for you upon return, so if you choose to leave for a little while, who could blame you? Temporary departures from the breathtaking wretchedness of this administration are mandatory for mental health.

While at this moment, I don’t feel the desire to consume cannabis products, I am a stoner at heart, a pseudo wasteoid, blazing up in my mind on a regular basis. That is to say, I listen to a lot of music that gets filed in the “stoner” section.

Also, while I don’t worry about the world coming to an end anytime soon, I dig a lot of bands that lurk under the umbrella of “doom.” As a listening environment, the slow and crushing heaviness of these bands is beyond satisfying. Many years ago, as was the great fortune of millions all over the world, I was turned on to the genius of Black Sabbath. From then to now, I have always searched for music that sought either to smash the earth or turn its back to it and plunge deep into the human/alien experience. Bands such as Earth, Electric Wizard and Sunn O))) make some of the best records ever.

Somewhere in the 1990s, someone turned me onto an album by a California band named Sleep, called Sleep’s Holy Mountain. There were traces of Sabbathocity on the record, but also an originality and wallop that could not be denied. It was and is still one of my favorite heavy spins.

However, it is the album the band released next that has proven to be a genuine classic. It is called Dopesmoker. You will never forget that title.

Originally released in 1999 in an edited form called Jerusalem, in 2003 Dopesmoker was unleashed in all of its pummeling, 63-minute glory, stretching across three sides of a double LP. It is an undeniable and monumental piece of music. The album went out of print for a few years and was bought back by the mighty Southern Lord label in 2012. As the pressings sell through, the label keeps coming up with new color variations, and out the door they go.

Words rarely serve to describe the band as well as experiencing the music. Sleep have to be heard to be understood and seen to be believed. They are one of the most full-on live shows you will ever be lucky enough to attend. While bass player Al Cisneros has a band called OM and guitarist Matt Pike has High on Fire, both bands releasing one excellent album after another, they continue to get together, along with Neurosis drummer Jason Roeder, as Sleep. The band is in constant demand all over the world.

Al contacted me several weeks ago to let me know that Sleep were playing two nights at the Fonda at the end of January. I couldn’t wait to find out what it would be like to weather the sonic storm for both shows. There was no way I was going to miss them.

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The two shows were what it’s all about. With The Melvins opening, it was a perfect double bill. For me at least, it was the second night that caused the serious tectonic plate shifting. After the first song, the familiar opening chords of “Dopesmoker” made the building shudder. The audience roared with approval. How many shows have you been to where people are happy about a song that might take the rest of the night to perform? Sleep have a great 25-or-so-minute version of “Dopesmoker” that they do in concert, which works perfectly. Going from that to a new track, “The Clarity,” clocking in at nearly 10 minutes, was epic.

Sleep don’t play songs so much as build them with a deliberate patience that seems like meditation. Intros go for minutes on end, picking up momentum and power almost imperceptibly until, like storm clouds unable to bear their own weight, they finally unleash their awesome power. All the while, Al and Matt are at the front of the stage, seemingly hypnotized by the magnitude of what they are creating, as if they had no idea it was going to result in that big a boom. Behind them, Jason drives it with an energy that loses no intensity through a set that clocks in at well over 100 minutes.

Sleep’s music isn’t for everyone. Unless you like to ride the big waves of sonic attack, you might want to listen elsewhere. However, if you want jams that make a lot of what you’ve heard before seem completely casual, check out Dopesmoker immediately. Make room for OM and High on Fire, too. Ultimate.

Look for your weekly fix from the one and only Henry Rollins right here every Thursday, and come back tomorrow for the playlist for his Sunday KCRW broadcast.


More from the mind of Henry Rollins:
White America Couldn't Handle What Black America Deals With Every Day
Bowie's Blackstar Is on the Level of Low and Heroes
No Matter Who Wins, America Is Only Going to Get Angrier

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