Henry Rollins: The Column! German Metal Festival Time

[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.]

Since I last wrote you, I have been living in hotels, hitting festival stages and spending a lot of time in airports.

I did two shows at the massive Wacken Open Air, a heavy metal festival in Germany. Eighty thousand metal maniacs live together for a few days every year on beautiful rolling fields of farmland to commune with nature and the sounds of crushing music. One of the unenforced rules is that you must wear a black T-shirt.

I like being around music people. At the risk of sounding patronizing or broad-brushing, metal fans are some of the coolest, most nonjudgmental people you will find. The Wacken festival started more than 20 years ago with just a few hundred people in attendance. Tickets now sell out before the lineup is announced.

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On the second day I was there, the posters for Wacken 2013 were already up. Although I have no stake in the festival, I felt strangely optimistic about that. I met a lot of great people, real music lovers, true believers. To make things even better, a smoke machine was billowing before I went out onstage.

The older I get, the more I enjoy the environs of music festivals. I have been performing at them, with a band or alone as I am doing now, for more than 25 years. I like the idea that people of similar age and interests can meet, exchange ideas and see that they are part of something bigger than their own youth. All these people brought together by music -- this is the real stuff of life and it's one of the best parts of my tour.

So far, the best part of this brief festival run happened two nights ago in Katowice, Poland. After my show at Wacken, I went from the site back into Hamburg and to the airport. I flew from Hamburg to Frankfurt and jammed to my next flight to Katowice. Upon arrival, there was a man waiting to pick me up, just as the Scottish bright light Henry McGroggan and I had planned it several days before. As I jumped into the car, I asked him if he knew where to take me. He said he did and off we went.

Several minutes later, we arrive at the Off Festival site. I run from the car and up the stairs of the main stage. Security personnel smile as they lift the tape. Henry M. is waiting. After we exchange greetings, he points to the spot that has been saved for me, and I find myself standing as I have many times in many countries before: stage left during a Stooges set. Henry, the band's manager, has kindly facilitated this vantage point for me.

 

Words fail when I attempt to describe the level of ecstatic joy that engulfs me when I am on the guitar side of the Stooges stage. There I was, sweating through my shirt, going nuts, yelling every lyric at the top of my lungs, looking like a man off his meds as the Stooges rocked a literal sea of people who were, for lack of a better term, going apeshit. The agelessness of the band's music and their singer, Iggy Pop, is as real as carbon.

After detonating Raw Power and Kill City album tracks, the Stooges rip into "The Passenger" from Iggy's solo album Lust for Life! As has happened a few times before at their shows, I tear up. Iggy runs along the barricade and sings to the front row during "Cock in My Pocket," then comes back onstage as the band goes into a 10-ton version of "No Fun" to end the night.

As the band walks off stage to the audience's roaring approval, I try to gauge how bad my post-Stooges show crash is going to be. That is to ask, how many hours will I spend listening to Stooges and Iggy albums to even out? This always happens to me after one of their shows.

I get a lift to the hotel and get into my room around 0230 hrs. Hours later, I am back at the site to do my own show. The backstage area is an indie who's who: Kim Gordon, Michael Gira and Ty Segall, to name a few.

I hit the stage at 2300 hrs. in front of a tent full of people. Max, the Stooges' front-of-house soundman, is keeping things clear through the PA. Sixty-five minutes later, I get off the stage so the next lot can get up there and soundcheck. The audience was fantastic and I saw only one bottle thrown at me.

 

I change out of my soaked clothes and go to the back of the main stage to listen to Swans for a while. They are massive and as overwhelming as ever. Hours later, I go to the airport. Stooges guitarist James Williamson is flying out as well. I shake the hand that held the pick that hit the strings on "Search and Destroy" and feel 10 years younger. My Stooges rehab will take even longer now.

After two flights -- and being twice made to stand close together with countless others in hot gate areas well past the scheduled boarding time -- I again conclude that the consideration of the traveler by the major airlines is in decline and they are alienating thousands of customers daily by treating them like assholes.

Gauntlet run, I am now here in Edinburgh, Scotland, on a night off before a three-night stand at the Queens Hall. This is one of the more beautiful cities you will ever have the good fortune to find yourself in. The people here are some of the friendliest anywhere, so you better get yourself some time on these streets before it's all over.

I just came back from an epic walk in the rain around town. I had Sleep's Dopesmoker album jamming in my Shure 535 headphones, and the more soaked I got, the better the music sounded. So glad to be back on tour.

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