Henry Rollins: In Warsaw, I Wanted to See How Cold I Could Get and Still Function

Hey Joe in Warsaw, which may be the world's narrowest record store.EXPAND
Hey Joe in Warsaw, which may be the world's narrowest record store.

In Warsaw, Poland. It’s a Friday and, for some reason, there is no show tonight. I got here from Brussels a few hours ago.

Road manager Ward had been looking forward to this part of the tour for weeks. The man is on a mission to find records by famous Polish musician Czeslaw Niemen. I don’t know anything about Niemen other than that I like the music of his that Ward has played for me.

As we have done on many a day off, we got to our rooms, dropped our gear and headed out to the record stores. Today we had a local guide, a promoter rep, who was ready to take us to five spots.

I had no want list of Polish bands or pressings of specific records I was after. I know next to nothing about Polish music. I have been touring for well over three decades and this will be only my third time here. (In my defense, I have said yes every time I was asked.) I was more interested to see what records had drifted into these shops, and hopefully learn a few things.

I told Ward that if he found two of any of the Czeslaw Niemen titles he was after, he should pull the one he didn’t want and I would get it. I figured I might as well, since I was all the way here.

It is one thing to send away to a distant land for a record. I do it all the time. It eventually shows up in Los Angeles, hopefully not too beaten up. It’s much more fun to actually go to a store, search through the bins and find something you want; even better when it’s an artist or band whose records are hard to find elsewhere.

There is something very cool about carrying around vinyl from different countries for weeks, hauling them thousands of miles back to your place and finally listening to them.

I like the way music moves in this way. That’s why I like going to used stores, finding familiar but obscure titles and wondering how the hell they ended up where they did.

The first store we went into was the best of them all. We were warned that the prices were steep but the selection was great.

After a short walk, past walls with bullet holes from World War II, we found ourselves at easily one of the strangest record stores I have ever been to. It’s called Hey Joe, located at Zlota 8.

The place is basically a wall of vinyl, a narrow walkway and a grid of metal bars that separate you from the front window. Any more than three people in the shop at once makes things a bit challenging. When it got up to five, the place lost quite a bit of its appeal, but I hung in there.

After pressing myself almost flat against the records several times so others could pass, I eventually pulled out a copy of a somewhat obscure punk compilation LP called Back-Stage Pass. I never knew it had been pressed in Poland until it was in my hands. Mine for a mere 49 zloty!

The other stores were interesting but had mostly new releases. Cool to see a worn copy of the Minutemen’s Double Nickels. There is a story as to how it got there and I would like to know it.

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Thanks to Ward’s sharp eye, I now have an original pressing of Niemen’s Niemen Aerolit, released in 1975.

It was a good few hours of walking the streets, seeing the sights and checking out hundreds of records. As early evening closed in, the sun set quickly and the temperature dropped steadily.

I ate quickly, got back to my room, put on all the layers I had and went back out to the street. Unless the weather or the threat condition is too extreme, I always try to walk at night in any city I can. I have been doing this all over the world for many years. I am always interested in how a city lights up — or, in the case of a lot of places, goes dark — after the sun sets. I always have a charged headlamp (the Atlas by Magnus Innovation) with me wherever I go. I never know when I’m going to need it.

I had been walking for quite a while before my layering was no longer enough and the cold forced me to submit. I have relocated to a coffee place and am now thawing slowly. I am still in all my cold-weather gear. It’s not all that warm in here, but it is pretty cool trying to type with all this stuff on.

Hours later. I tried something to see what it would feel like. I went out walking, looking for food near the hotel, with only a T-shirt and a long-sleeve shirt over it for upper-body cover. I wanted to see how cold I could get and still function. I think it’s instructive to sometimes find myself in situations where I conclude, “This is going to hurt.”

After several blocks, the cold making me laugh out loud, I found a convenience store where almost everything is behind Plexiglas. You point to what you want and a woman gets it for you. The large men purchasing alcohol looked at my lack of clothing and laughed. I walked to a refrigerator to pull out a bottle of water and a woman yelled “Nie!” and pointed to another woman behind the glass. I asked the woman if I could open the door and extract the bottle and was given the nod.

A few minutes later, water and peanuts in a bag, I went back out into the freezing night. This is where I’m supposed to be.

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.


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