Henry Rollins: Now That the Election Is Over, Let's Get Back to Talking About Music

Henry Rollins
Henry Rollins
Heidi May

I’ve been looking forward to November for several months. The election cycle has been a severely injured animal that needed to be put out of our collective misery. For the longest time, it howled and gnashed its teeth, seemingly not caring who it injured. It brought out the worst in so many, who crossed lines they never knew existed and might not get back to who they were before.

As screwed up as things are, I think the USA might be at its most transparent. Too bad it is what it is and many will just dig in deeper and invest in their hysteria with more zeal.

To have paid attention to a presidential election is an almost natural impulse. It’s what you do. I usually stay with it as best I can, but this time around, I found it so consistently depressing and so insulting that I would tune out for days. Upon returning, I would find that things had only grown more toxic. Weeks ago, I decided the election could go fuck itself.

November is one of the greatest of the 12 months for listening to intense music. Where in other times of the year, some records could be considered overly serious and dreary, in November, they make perfect sense.

Music is perhaps the single most consistently good thing I’ve ever known. No matter what’s happening around you, if you can hear some music, you stand a chance. Obviously, you need a bit more than your record collection to get you through the madness, but it’s a solid go-to. More on that in a minute.

Every tour I have ever done — rarely less than 100 shows, this one finishing at 140 or so before the end of the year — is in itself like a campaign. You have to really want it. I find myself adhering to a fidelity that I’m unable to maintain unless I’m in performance mode. There is only one reason I am in the city I am performing in. The entire day is ultimately about the show that night. To spend so much time devoted to two hours is a little intense, but that’s the best and only way I know how to go about it.

I am quite sure I like the audience more than they like me. I am also sure I need them more than they need me. I also know they will be done with me before I am done with them. That being said, audience members can be an unpredictable bunch. They are all individuals with their own minds and agendas, brought together in a space they have a vague-to-nonexistent relationship with, to endure a temporary version of togetherness and then disperse. I never know what to expect and, night to night, have no idea what I’m in for.

These people can be incredibly good. They knit me scarves and hats, leave food, records and all manner of gifts. They tell me how much my music has meant to them and ask to have their records and photos signed. Days later, I can often find these items for sale online. People you meet who act friendly will, due to inebriation or whatever else, turn hostile. To keep on liking them, I have to look past a lot of things, not judge the many by the actions of a few, and try to be a good judge of character. I’m not that good at any of this but I’m better than I used to be.

I have come to the conclusion that humans are capable of changing directions instantly and it’s best to give them a lot of room to move. This is one of the reasons I keep my audience close, but keep music closer.

There are certain artists and bands I try not to listen to until November. I have it in my mind that it’s worth the wait. Kraftwerk, Can, Wolfgang Reichmann, Nico, Einstürzende Neubauten, Alan Vega, late period Gun Club, Zweistein, Crisis — all create an intense, introspective environment for pre- and post-show listening. All this music is crammed in with new music I am doing my best to check out, as I often work on upcoming radio broadcasts while on tour.

Out here, there is only the show. Everything else is just what happens on either side. The early dark and dropping temperatures make music the perfect company for cold backstage areas, gyms and streets. I try to stay away from the television that’s always on in our tour bus. I have had it with all the worthless speculation, the perfect waste of time that watching news channels has become. It’s never a waste of time listening to music.

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I have spent so many years on the road during the cold parts of the year, I associate late fall and winter with movement, the delivery of the show night after night, the beautiful bleakness of some of the backstage areas I occupy, waiting to get out there. This is one of my favorite times of the year. I will not let the tail end of the election cycle and the disgust it has left me with ruin it. The more music I listen to, the better things get.

When this tour is over in early 2017, it will be over a year that I will have been on and off the road, getting to shows in 19 countries. The hardest part is when it ends, right when I want it to start again.

Thankfully, that’s months from now. From here, until I make it back to L.A. for my shows at Largo, it will be more cold, more darkness and rooms full of people. I am trying to put as much distance between myself and the wreckage of the last several months as I can.

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.


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


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