Henry Rollins: In L.A., Autumn Is a Concept, Not a Season

Henry Rollins: In L.A., Autumn Is a Concept, Not a Season
Photo by Heidi May

It's difficult to feel the effects of October when the city you live in cools only slightly between 0400 and 0600 hrs. before steadily cranking up to oppressive levels by noon.

In this environment, fall and October become almost entirely conceptual. In other, less scorched territories, leaves turn different colors, reserving their most explosive vibrancy for the final moments before their death. The temperature and light cycle start to change, and these unalterable processes can affect how one thinks.

Here in L.A., we get the occasional rain, and the palm trees turn a paler shade of green. But for the most part, we are desert dwellers.

Being from the East Coast of this country, I've never been able to consider autumn without deciduous trees shedding leaves, rain, long walks in early darkness, marathon stints of coffeehouse introspection and a small, steady beam of joyful relief derived from even the slightest drop in temperature.

For me, all seasons have a musical playlist to accentuate and enhance the emotions and thoughts often triggered by the changing weather. Some bands and genres just seem to work better at different times of the year.

To a great extent, this is how I select tracks for my radio show and for listening in general. Of course, nothing is set in stone, because good music sounds good whenever you play it. But I really like pulling down certain records at different times of the year. It's like the coolest possible company coming over to tell you the greatest stories, and the best part is that they will shut up when you need them to and not take it personally. I live alone yet have thousands of the world's most talented roommates.

October, listening-wise, is perhaps my most ambitious month. Not only do I try to upload as much new music as possible but I also schedule immersive sit-downs with records I grew up with. This is what I call "carbohydrate listening," which I usually reserve for weekends and only after I have finished the calisthenics of pushing myself into that which was previously unfamiliar.

I have always been awed by music's ability to open up the memory to the point of disorientation. I am not interested in living in the past, but I don't mind riding waves of thought that come from hearing songs that are, at this point, part of my genetic code. It's like being able to see clearly through a smashed mirror — a reflective, distorted experience that allows you to be in the past and present simultaneously.

A few years ago, I traveled from Thailand to Myanmar with a film crew, and one of them told me about a Buddhist practice called merit-making. "Merit is to be accumulated. Evil is to be abandoned." Making merit can be done in any manner of ways and operates on the basic idea that good comes to those who do good.

I cannot hold with the idea of karma, good or bad, because innocent people are routinely slaughtered and, well, there's Dick Cheney. However, I like the idea of acknowledging and paying tribute to things, respecting their presence in the world and the impact they've had.

Everything and everyone comes from countless other things. I like to stop for a moment and dwell on some of these parts, lest I think I came up with it all myself.

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This is why, when I visit Washington, D.C., as I did several days ago, I walk to various locations where I experienced music and give thanks. I was damn lucky to have been at the right place at the right time and to have seen what I saw. I go to these places again and again, in an attempt to make merit.

Yes, they're just buildings and sometimes, as with the Ontario Theatre — where we saw a lot of great shows, from The Clash to The Cramps — a condominium stands in its place. But that's all the more reason to take a moment to pause there and remember the time, in June 1983, when Minor Threat's opening set took the mighty Damned to the woodshed.

I approach the playing of old records in October as a return to the top of a mountain. Years ago, I ascended, learned the lesson and went back down into the world.

I once saw a documentary about people who make a 1,500-mile walk next to the Ganges River to Gomukh, the river's source. While putting on some records and listening requires the thinnest fraction of effort compared with that pilgrimage, it is a return to where it all started.

I've always liked October, but it never occurred to me that it was my favorite month until I hit my early 20s, when I had enough rearview perspective to see a bigger picture than merely what was in front of me. Also, what started to come with this month was a piercing loneliness — not only for what had been but also, strangely, what was to come. A bigger, truer truth was ahead, and I had no choice but to face it, not knowing if I had what it took to deal with whatever was coming.

In Of Time and the River, Thomas Wolfe exquisitely expresses the youthful uncertainty of his protagonist, Eugene Gant, who has made the Homeric journey back to the family home in October because his father has died. Eugene lies awake at night, "feeling dark time, strange time, dark secret time, as it flowed on around him." There is something about October that allows for such deeply internalized considerations of time and consequence.

I'm going to start the proceedings with David Lynch's Crazy Clown Time and go from there. By the time you read this, I'll be deep in and way out.

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