For performer types, their feelings about being on the road are as unique as the individual. For me, about 10 shows before the end of a tour, depression starts to creep in, as re-entry into the real world draws closer. Night to night the show is fine, but the hours leading up to it become increasingly difficult.
There are a lot of things about the limitations of life on the road that I prefer to real life. The comparative lack of options serves me well. This is probably a result of conditioning but there is something really great about putting myself into a few things with great intensity, rather than a lot of things with far less. To live for the show, to start working on it hours before at the gym, the wall of exhaustion that hits me a few minutes after I walk offstage — it’s a striving for ultimate output that I can’t get any other place.
At the beginning of a tour, it takes about 10 shows before I feel that I have earned enough dents on the frame to say that I am actually on the road and not just visiting. There is a constant body ache and level of fatigue that runs like a dull current through my body, which takes a few days to get used to. Once I acclimate, I become it. This is the part of living out here that is the hardest part to give up.
About 36 years ago when I started living on the road, the first several months were quite an adjustment. Nothing in my life had prepared me for it. My bandmates, by comparison, were battle-hardened, road-wise, feral motherfuckers.
I was smart enough to keep my eyes open and pick up on things that informed my new life. Within a year, I had become hyper-aware and adequately desensitized. It hit my young mind that it was on the road where all the big stories were, and that the relative still life that waited for me when a tour ended was a living end.
As the years went on, my alienation from the mainland grew. It became a place I struggled to understand and had to live by approximation to exist in.
I have been, with little interruption, bouncing all over the world for the last 13 months. Right now I am in Ponte Vedra, Florida. Tonight will be the second-to-last show.
I have started packing and clearing my gear out of the bus that I have been living in since October. In corners and flat spaces all over the front lounge are gifts and letters from members of the audience. I do my best to answer them, but what I don’t get to I load into a box, which I will drag into my office and dip into as time allows in the weeks ahead. The level and abundance of kindness and affection bestowed upon me is much more than I am wired for. It fills me with a gratitude that is almost paralyzing. I just don’t know what to do with it.
It is not a one-way street. My affection for the audience is absolute. It is the best yet most complicated relationship I have ever known.
I will be onstage soon and need to start putting my energies toward that.
Next day. I am in Orlando. Tonight’s show will be the last one of the run.
Last night’s show had an interesting and typical element. Several minutes in, I was rattling away at a high rate of speed and suddenly a woman in the audience started yelling. She was not yelling at me but with me, punctuating my lines with loud affirmation. One or two of these are fine but past that, it’s a distraction that holds me back and quickly wears on the audience’s patience.
I thanked her for her enthusiasm and asked her to cool it. She kept right on. The audience started booing her, but that didn’t seem to make any difference to her. I suspected there might be some alcohol involved.
Finally, she either stopped or was removed. I found out later that it was the latter. She was apparently intoxicated to the point of having to be carried out of the venue and, in a what-could-possibly-go-wrong move, taken to her car. She had just returned from Afghanistan hours before and my show was her big night out. Welcome home.
Next day. I am at the airport in Orlando, in and out of it on a couple of hours of sleep.
I am happy with last night’s show. I told the audience that it was the one I didn’t want to do. I could hear their confusion and then explained that, at 156 shows, this was the last one and there was no place I would rather be than in front of them with a microphone in my hand.
I have no show tonight and can feel the pangs of withdrawal starting.
Later. To perfectly and appropriately cheapen the return, I was met in baggage claim by a man with several photographs of me to sign. As I was parting with five bucks for a cart, he came up to me with one and offered it to me. I saw the quid pro quo he was attempting to establish, bought my cart and went to the carousel to wait for my gear.
A friendly man from TMZ was there with his camera and asked if I wanted to talk to him. I declined. I am almost 56, with no 22-year-old girlfriend or court dates. What could he possibly want with me?
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On the way out, there were three autograph/eBay guys waiting for me. What a comedown. Into a taxi, back to the office. Fuck this.
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