Henry Rollins: The Column! Ghosts of Los Angeles Music Past

[Look for your weekly fix of 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.]

Tonight I was driving to the Trader Joe's on Santa Monica Boulevard, east of Gardner. I reflected upon the fact that I have been based in Los Angeles for well over half my life. While not from here, I am definitely a local at this point.

Los Angeles means many things to many people, of course, and we all have our own version of the place, whether we live here or not. The city is one of those destinations that attracts and repels visitors from all over the world on a continual basis. It takes a certain kind of person to call this city their home.

For me, Los Angeles always was, and will be, a music city. Most of the people I have met over my 30-plus years here have been through the music scene. It's incredible the number of bands and musicians that Los Angeles can lay claim to, when you really drill down on it.

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All of this comes to mind when I drive the streets alone at night. I sometimes go out of my way to drive past buildings that used to be (and often still are) clubs, like the building that was once the Cathay De Grande at 1600 Argyle St. I saw a lot of things go down in that place, from great shows I watched and played, to drug deals. Many of the people I encountered there are now dead.

As I am sure you are well aware, this city's music scene has had a lot of death.

When I got here in 1981, I immediately met a lot of people. The band I was in, Black Flag, had some very heavy friends. Some of them were scary, some brilliant. Many are gone.

It is these people I think about when I drive by these old buildings. Thinking of them makes me realize that I have a history, and that a fair part of it is here in Los Angeles.

As pulseless as this city can be, these people -- even though they are gone -- give the place a sense of dignity. To have lived here is one thing. To have died here, I think, is quite another.

Some of them were such bright lights. So full of energy. They were often directionless, but that's part of being young. I was very different from them. I was trying to get somewhere, and everything I did was achievement-oriented. Basically, I played it safe, went the Boy Scout route, while many around me were living at high speeds, and with high risk. Some of them lived five years per year, and it was easy to tell that they were going to have short lives.


Some of them teased me for being lightweight. None of it stuck, though. What they were driving along the edge of, I was happy to go nowhere near.

It is in their absence that I often find my presence. Their sometimes violent and incredibly sad departures are part of my referential history and how I mark time.

Even though many of these people were not musicians, they were in the Los Angeles music scene. While our lifestyles were sometimes very different, our shared interest -- the music -- prevented us from being too distant from one another. So I cannot think of them without thinking of the music that bound us together. I cannot think of this city without thinking of the music, and the incredible nights. When I do that, these people fill my thoughts.

Many of them were true believers in the music, and lived for it completely. Trust me, I am not attempting to romanticize them and their choices. There was too much vomit, blood, arrests, thievery and monstrous awfulness involved for me to do that.

I can't help it, though. Some of them I truly miss. They were more alive than I will ever be. Perhaps they had a hold of some other set of facts. Perhaps they were able to see up the road and just didn't want to go long, so they went hard instead.


No matter your status or station is in this town, you are no doubt forced to deal with some of the most disingenuous, self-involved drips America has to offer. People so completely fake that not even they can remember when they used to be about something. When enduring them -- for even the shortest amount of time -- you can almost hear millions of your brain cells screaming in agony. These people who are now gone are somehow more real to me than many of the ones with whom I deal in the living world.

People who were so alive, maybe it killed them.

Jeffrey, Louie, Eric, Mark, Kim, John, Duce, Roger, Ed, Naomi and many others. Ultimately, those are just names, just people ending up where we all will.

However, the realness and wild incandescence of their brief time here stay with me, and strangely humanize these streets as I drive them at night.

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