Henry Rollins: The Column! Alone in My Man Box, Listening to Al Green
[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 Saturday KCRW broadcast.]
I came back to Los Angeles a few days ago with 32 shows behind me on this tour, in England, Ireland, Scotland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Italy.
I arrived with a fair stack of records from shops in many of these countries. I was excited to listen to excellent-condition vinyl of Boris, Jackie-O-Motherfucker, Kobi, Bong, the Jesus and Mary Chain, David Bowie, Cosmic Jokers, Brigitte Fontaine, My Cat Is an Alien, Ashtray Navigations and others. Then there were the ridiculous stacks of LP and CD mailers waiting for me at the office of records by Saint Vitus, KTL, High on Fire, GHQ, Electric Wizard, Earth 2, Acid King, Toshi Ichiyanagi, Coltrane, Nadja, Takehisa Kosugi and many others.
I was in the great position of being spoiled for choice. I was also on jet lag and massive obligations of press, studio sessions and other tasks. All this mixed with the inability to get more than a few hours of sleep at once made the five-plus hours of press at a time a very trying experience.
Try as I might, I was unable to sit down and listen to any records for more than a side because I was too tired and had a lot of other things to do. For the most part, all this great music sits unplayed. I just didn't have the juice to pull myself up to the level required to hear all these new sounds. There oughta be a law mandating protected listening time.
This ritual of returning from tour with hours of new sounds and not enough sleep to check it all out is nothing new. This has been happening to me for years. I have found ways around it. There are a few bands whose records I am so familiar with, they feel as though they are from my DNA. These are the ones I play. They are so close to me, I almost can't hear them as they are; instead I hear them as if they are the sound of air going in and out of my lungs.
For years I would come off the road back to my utilitarian body-storage unit and immediately put on the Jailbreak album by Thin Lizzy. It was how I de-accelerated and caught my breath after going at high speed in a very pressurized environment. The songs on the album, all of them perfect, became one long song, a meditation, if you will. That was the first phase. As it got later and jet lag brought with it the usual dose of depression that hits me when I slow down, it was time to deploy Al Green's Let's Stay Together album. That one would get, minimum, two plays before it went back on the shelf. This was my ritual for years.
The Al Green record, a stunning piece of work that should be installed in every dwelling anywhere, was for me an ironic record. As you might know, the title track is easily one of the greatest vocal performances in the history of recorded music. The opening lines are so open-armed, so breathtakingly strong and beautiful. Combined with Green's delivery, they are incredibly powerful to me.
I, I'm so in love with you / Whatever you want to do / Is all right with me / 'Cause you make me feel so brand new / And I want to spend my life with you.
The irony was that I was listening to this album alone in a man box, strewn with road gear, receipts, small stacks of foreign currencies and nothing to eat. There was no woman, there was no nothin' but the music and my exhausted body. Somehow, these records helped. Hearing all those lyrics about devotion and loss without an actual woman to attach all that feeling to was a bit of a relief, actually. I could get my emotions all cranked up and not have to deal with them in any real way. All the drama and none of the responsibility. Perfect for a man!
This brief break from the road has been a blur of deadlines, meetings, work and a profound lack of sleep, which has left me feeling stoned and sluggish.
The records that have been working for me during this strange and thankfully brief time away from the discipline of constant movement and a show a night have been Led Zeppelin's Houses of the Holy on repeat and another visit with Al Green's aforementioned masterpiece. Led Zeppelin are a band that sounds as good to me now as when I first heard them, when I was 12 or something. Their music works for me big-time, even in my jet-lagged stupor.
As for Mr. Green, "Old Time Lovin' " is just one of the best songs I have ever heard. There are moments of Green's rendering of "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart" by the Brothers Gibb that can make you think the damn sky is falling on you.
By the time I even out, it will be time to get back on the road again. I will end up listening to a lot of the records I found recently in a digital format in small backstage areas; it's what I am used to at this point.
One day, I am going to get those records listened to. One of these days, I will grow up and calm down. Definitely on the former, don't hold your breath on the latter.
Stay loose, keep listening.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene with music features, additional online music listings and show picks. We'll also send special ticket offers and music promotions available only to our Music Newsletter subscribers.