Henry Rollins: Not Keeping It Real

Henry Rollins: Not Keeping It Real

[Look for your weekly fix from the one and only Henry Rollins right here on West Coast Sound every Thursday, and come back tomorrow for the awesomely annotated playlist for his Sunday KCRW broadcast.]

It’s 0607 hrs, which wouldn’t be so bad if I weren’t in Washington, D.C., having just arrived from Los Angeles yesterday afternoon. I am operating on about three hours of sleep.

I’m sitting in the Starbucks at 1810 Wisconsin Ave., just blocks from the hotel where I am staying. This particular one distinguishes itself as the place where three employees were shot and killed in a robbery attempt in 1997. There is a sculpture on the wall with their names.

Today will be slightly blurred. Thankfully, I am not responsible for much besides being semi-coherent for some meetings a few hours from now. I have X-Ray Spex’s perfect, I mean without flaw, Germfree Adolescents album at a heroic volume in my Shure SE846s keeping me wired.

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I will, over the next two weeks, drag you with me through different time zones and obligations, all filtered through varying degrees of sleep deprivation.

Tomorrow afternoon, I will be interviewed by the Kennedy Center’s ARTSEDGE program. In the evening, I will be onstage at the Baird Auditorium for a live interview with Chris Richards, Washington Post music writer and member of D.C.’s very own Q and Not U, on behalf of the Smithsonian, to speak about the early days of the D.C. independent music scene.

The Smithsonian. I think it’s a perfect fit. Perhaps after the show I should be killed, flash-frozen for maximum freshness and put on display with all the other relics.

Last night, I went to Ian MacKaye’s parents’ house for dinner. I have been going in and out of this house for over 40 years. This is an example of common domesticity that, alien as I am, I truly enjoy.

After dinner, Ian’s niece, an energetic second-grader and one of my favorite people, wrote something on a piece of paper and affixed it to my back. I pulled it off and read it: “Kick me on the butt!”

Call me permanently immature, but I find this to be extremely funny. With the piece of paper pressed into my notebook (to be used as evidence in the event of possible litigation), I hit the streets.

The night could have not been better. It was perfect autumn weather. The air was fragrant with wet leaves and fireplace smoke.

It is walking on these streets that I often find an ideal state, a perfect balance of past and present, where reality and imagination complement and collaborate to create a sense of floating.

A few moments without stress or anxiety-tinged anticipation — moi? Every now and then, yes.

  This is one of the most fascinating aspects of existence for me. The conscious, delicate (or sometimes not so) rice-paper walk between the real and the unreal.

Since life is a one-take, I make sure to have ready access to music wherever I go, so whenever necessary, I can overwhelm reality with that which has proven in many cases to be far better.

I’m not saying that music isn’t real. I’m saying it is often unrestrained by the shackles of rampant, human-made horror that shows no signs of abating. I am saying that Hendrix’s “Red House” (especially in mono) is infinitely greater than anything ISIS will ever do.

What I do often comes with high expectations, so I temper them with music, walking and, to borrow from James Brown, “Escape-Ism.” I am not looking to insulate myself or evade dealing with life’s common brutality. How would that even be possible? There is plenty of reality, enough to break your heart and bore you to death. Most of the time, it’s someone else’s, which adds an extra scoop of insult.

I think there’s more to existence than this intellect-killing grind. An inspired imagination is all that’s required.

Any elevation, expansion or illumination you’re going to achieve, you will have to do it for yourself. You will have to carve out the time and make it happen. Often, you have to be sneaky (self-absorbed, they’ll say!) to escape the clutches of those who will, maybe without even knowing it, ensnare you in the sitcom of their lives.

I have never understood why so many people travel with others if they don’t have to. All the opportunities for epiphany and revelation stymied by the sheer presence of another.

It was 2113 hrs. I was still awake, somehow.

The word “synchrony” is defined by Merriam-Webster.com as “a state in which things happen, move or exist at the same time.” This is the state I often find myself in when I walk the streets of Washington, D.C.
I saw people coming out of a hairdresser. For them, it’s maybe just a place where they get their hair done. But for me, it’s something else altogether.

I went into the place a few years ago, and told the woman working there that, a long time ago, this was a venue called Madam’s Organ, which hosted some of the earliest punk-rock shows in D.C. I pointed to the floor by the front window and informed her that this was where The Bad Brains and The Teen Idles (Minor Disturbance EP, Dischord #001) used to play.

She was visibly underwhelmed. My memory and imagination were firing on all points.

It was cool and foggy outside last night. With the air heavy and the streetlamps slightly muted, every exhalation was poetry; everything captured by the eye was a Brassaï after-dark exposure.

This, to me, is the “real” because it is exactly what I make it, as I make it — the purest definition of freedom. A perfectly executed revolt.

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