Henry Rollins: Rock & Roll Is So Alive and Well, I Can Hardly Stand It
Photo by Heidi May
At this point, I shouldn’t be surprised. I should know beyond knowing. I should acknowledge that the totality of this fact is as real as the fact that I am breathing, but as mysterious as the fact that I don’t know how many breaths I have taken, or how many I have left.
Instead of being amazed for the whatevereth time, I should just give the slightest hint of a nod, with a barely perceptible smile, my deeply lined face folding in on itself like a lemon wedge squeezed between the thumb and index finger, and just exist in the blazing, eternal truth: Rock will never die.
With great regularity, thoughtful citizens are reminded that their species can be a letdown. Stunning in their cheapness, earnest in their mediocrity and insatiable in their cruelty.
We have had centuries to get it right. The most brilliant minds in human history left behind writing, art, medical breakthroughs and scientific pathways to a better future. What did we get from this? Agent Orange, data mining, drone strikes that miss and selfies.
We want coliseum gladiator violence on a regular basis, in stadiums dotted all over the land. We chew the meat of slaughtered animals, cool our tongues with cold draughts of alcoholic beverages, and numbly watch men smash into each other as they willfully destroy their bodies for treasure and glory. How we rage and roar, getting our kicks vicariously, unrestrained by the tethers of empathy!
We breed. Good grief, do we breed. 19 Kids and Counting — and we all watched. Season finale? Perversion implosion! I bet they were hugging in the control room like Apollo 13 had just re-entered Earth’s atmosphere and splashed down safely.
The popularity of reality programming only highlights the fact that many of us have become uninterested in everything but the less enviable aspects of ourselves. We prefer to watch others obscenely preen and all but smash their pudenda into the lens in ever more garish displays of vulgarity. With gusto we eat this dead-culture soylent green and make room for more. It’s a coast-to-coast vomitorium — watch where you step.
Reading this, you may infer that I am but a jaded, cynical scribe, wearily putting on his cheap writer’s cap and punching in for another night of work. Not so! While it may be true that millions of us have hurled ourselves down the rabbit hole of porn, online dating, mass vodka consumption and sexting elected officials, all is not lost.
Parents, police and priests all feared it, because they knew the change it would bring. Its potency was not lost on them. That’s why they, and the callow youth they managed to temporarily subvert, actually lit fire to Beatles and Elvis records in an attempt to kill that which they knew would eventually hold domain over all — rock & roll!
Not only did they fail, they increased record sales all over the U.S.. They did their best to weaken the virulence of this most beautiful strain by sending in operatives like Pat Boone, in an attempt to render it anemic. But rock & roll vaporized these Hooveresque maneuverings with integration, wild dancing and hormonal fury.
It doesn’t happen all that often, but now and then the best idea wins. That’s the story of rock & roll.
If beings from another planet came to this one and threatened all human life with immediate extinction if we could not show one redeeming example of true human goodness, what would our representatives use to keep us all from being vaporized? It would be music — not some vaccine loaded into a syringe, or diagram of the double-helix human genetic code.
The only problem with this scenario is that if these extraterrestrial motherfuckers ever heard Funkadelic, we probably would be unable to get them to leave.
Why have I spouted all this? Because a far more concise version of the above assailed me as I stood in front of Ty Segall and his bandmates, who happen to be the members of Wand, in what will probably be one of their only appearances together, as they reinvented the wheel, perfectly utilized electricity and completely tore it up at the Griffin in Los Feliz a few hours ago.
Standing there, I felt like I had won the lottery. I am about as disconnected and distanced from anything remotely cool as a man in the late summer of his life can be. But now and then I hear about a show, usually a week after it happens. When this hen’s-tooth opportunity presents itself, I do not tarry by the hearth.
Yes, I was tired when I got there, knowing I had to be up early the next morning, but was it worth it? Of course! The set was excellent. Not only did Mr. Segall and his Wandmates play cool tracks from the Segall canon, they played a few new songs and a great version of Velvet Underground’s “What Goes On.”
There were two indicators of my age on the night, both funny. At one point, between songs, someone in the band, I believe it was Ty, played the opening notes of Deep Purple’s “Space Truckin’,” which made me laugh. Larry Hardy and some other geezer were the only others who seemed to notice and find humor in it as well. The other happened after the show, when a woman came up to me. Her first two words were, “My mother …”
Rock & roll is so alive and well, I can barely stand it. But I will find a way.
More From the Mind of Henry Rollins:
The Major Labels Are Screwing Up Record Store Day
When You Claim Racism Is Over, You Get a Dylann Roof
Why I'm Not an Atheist
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