Henry Rollins: Life Is Full of Disappointments, So I Collect Records
Photo by Heidi May
The backstage area is cold and lit by a fluorescent bulb, with boring, depressing band graffiti covering the walls. I will be on in less than two hours. This is the first time I have ever been to Ukraine.
We spent all day getting here. The airport in St. Petersburg demands two complete security checks. All electronics must be removed and, in my case, everything must be opened and explained.
We had a layover in Minsk, Belarus, and again, all the electronic gear was unpacked and displayed. Not one security officer seemed interested in the Amoeba Records bag I have stuffed to the limit with vinyl.
Finally, we arrived here in Kiev. With only a few hours before show time, we went to the hotel. How the people waiting by the elevator found out where I was staying is beyond me.
This has been happening for several days. People wait at airports, train stations and hotels, ready with photos to sign, often with multiple copies for friends who couldn’t make it. I would like to say to them, “I’m not open yet!” but I don’t think they would find the humor.
These are often incredibly serious people, and many of them have a strange habit that makes me think there is a manual they all operate from. When they put something in front of me to sign, they hold onto it. If I gently pull the item away, so I can write from a better angle, they will firmly retain their grip, as if I might take it. They seem like a determined but rather joyless bunch.
To a certain extent, I understand their grim intensity. They are as I am: a fanboy.
The first time I heard that term was a few years after I read that those who like to split hairs when it came to records were tarred with the epithet “collector scum.” This accusation was leveled at those who acquire vinyl for no other reason than to just have it. Their happiness depends on possessing that which some other no-lifers desperately seek. Perhaps said c-scum attain a feeling of cool, mixed with the sad realization that fewer than 10 other people in the world care. This secretive, vinyl-spotting cult are the lonely lords of plastic and paper, its value strictly personal at best.
I have never thought that anyone would be impressed by the records I owned. Quite the opposite. I figured the thousands of discs would only strengthen their pity.
Since I was young, records have been the best possible friends. A lyric from The Damned’s misunderstood sophomore masterpiece, Music for Pleasure, contained in the song “Problem Child,” perfectly summed up my attitude: “I love my records/Alright, and I’m gonna play ’em!”
The opportunity to do that as much as possible has never lost its appeal to me. Every time I get a record, I count it as a tool with which I can enhance time, make it infinitely better by filling it with music. Records are insurance against the existential grind of life and its myriad disappointments.
I think humans are so highly functioning, their brains processing so quickly on multiple levels, that they seek to medicate or in some way deal with their condition — being alive. For me, music has been the best way to make sense of the world.
It’s time for me to pace back and forth and recite Lincoln, a preshow focusing exercise I have found to be quite effective.
Next morning. 0501 hrs. Burning out at the airport, on about an hour of sleep.
The show went well. I hope I get a chance to come back. The schedule being somewhat compact, there was no time to visit Independence Square beyond just driving by it.
If you have not checked out the documentary Winter on Fire, it will give you a glimpse of what thousands of people in Kiev endured in standing up for what they thought was right. It makes protests in America seem anemic by comparison. From the stage, I thanked my Ukrainian audience for a display of guts that I had nothing to compare it with.
Hours later. Now in Frankfurt, Germany. It’s Friday. Flying west will prolong the day by several hours into an ever-weirdening, stretched-gum continuum. Doing it in economy will make it all the more surreal.
Eventually, I will reach L.A. and this ridiculously heavy bag of records, which puts the “lug” in luggage, will be something I can actually play instead of merely carry and try not to leave behind in a state of sleep deprivation.
1527 hrs. Los Angeles. The records, mostly used, many years old with their own stories that I’ll never know, have been unpacked. Looking at them and thinking that I have all weekend to play them, it is ironic that all I want to do is puke, do laundry and try to catch an hour of sleep so I can get out of here by sunset.
From decades of constant travel, I have developed an aversion to returning. Listening to records make it possible to sit still for short periods of time, but I know I will end up in a coffee place tonight, listening to trite, digital approximations of music, wishing I was back out in the world.
The only thing that makes tolerable going from the speed of life lived in performance mode to the sagging comfort of a couch is that I can tune in and drop out with music. It has made the 12-country haul of this mute vinyl poundage oddly poetic.
2210 hrs. An original pressing of Wolfgang Riechmann’s Wunderbar LP, extracted from Hamburg, is “making the night more interesting,” as Captain Beefheart once said. All isn’t well, but it’s pretty good.
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