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Henry Rollins: The Column! Henry Reminisces About The Ice Cream Shop Where He Used To Work

[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 have many traditions and rituals. None of them is based in reality, but none of them is based in superstition. Many of them are based in music. All I can say is Fanatic is as Fanatic does. There are certain records that I put away after a certain time of the year and don't take out again until the right season is upon us. There are records that I play only after the sun has gone down, and records that cannot be played until the weekend.

Unfortunately for the sane people reading this, I have the same fixation with literature. Here is an example: Every October, for well over a decade now, I read out loud from Thomas Wolfe's Of Time and the River, specifically "Book 3: Telemachus." Wolfe's protagonist, Eugene Gant, returns home in October to Asheville, N.C., after receiving the news that his father is dying. It is very beautiful and powerful stuff. The book is based in truth, with Gant being Wolfe. I have stood a few times in the room where Wolfe's father passed away. Seek this writing out if you can.

One of my favorite rituals is to spend at least 24 hours in Washington, D.C., in October. It's my hometown and favorite month of the year, after all. This week, I have a presentation at the National Geographic Theater. I will be narrating a slide show of photographs I have taken from all over the world. As I prep for that, I have a few days here in Washington.

The weather has been great so far -- cool, dry, crisp. The nights were made for walking. I tracked about three hours last night. Most of my destinations were music-related.

I walked by the apartment where I lived as a very young boy. That's where, thanks to my mother, I first heard Jimi Hendrix, the Beatles, Bob Dylan, the Doors, the Rolling Stones, Isaac Hayes and many others.

It was in this apartment that I first became a music nut, spending hours alone in my small room at the back, listening to records over and over again. This was the late 1960s and things were racially tense in the city and it was hard to escape bad experiences. I had more than a few, which in retrospect were good for me. They politicized me at an early age and made me hypersensitive to racism. The room and the music were good escapes.

 

Several blocks later, I found myself sitting in the storefront of my last straight job, back in 1981. It was an ice cream store then; now it's a fresh food restaurant. The owner is always cool to me when I come in to visit. He had a photograph of me on his wall but it's gone now. He told me that a woman came in and ran off with it.

When I worked there, the place required a lot of cleanup after a big Saturday. I would press friends into service so we could get out of there before the sun came up. (They were paid in ice cream.) We had a small stereo stashed above one of the freezers and would crank the Germs, the U.K. Subs or whatever was at hand. The visual must have been great: all these future D.C. music heroes working away with this crazy noise leaking onto the street.

From there, I walked to the house an old pal of mine, Mike, used to live in. We would sit in his room and listen to records for hours. Those were some of the best hangouts ever. He turned me on to a lot of the music I am still listening to now. The house was up for sale. I sat on the front steps and listened to some of those songs in my earphones for quite a while.

The last stop of the night was a couple of miles away. It was the last apartment I lived in when I was still in high school, before I went out into the world. I lived in a room on the right corner of the fifth floor. That was the punk rock room. The Sex Pistols, Damned, Saints, Adverts, Buzzcocks.

It was in that room that I sat on the edge of my bed on Feb. 15, 1979, and wondered what I was going to do with all of the albums sitting on the shelf in front of me, which were now meaningless. I had just walked back from the Ontario Theater after seeing the Clash. They changed the way I thought about live shows, music, attitude, authority -- pretty much everything.

 

I do these walks at night, alone, and sometimes for great distances. I walk through cities at night all over the world. I often listen to music as I walk; it makes city streets seem like film sets. It's also a great way to get hit by a car. I wouldn't suggest this activity in Cairo, for example.

I access most things I do via music. Long drives and flights, the gym, preshow windup, postshow wind-down. Music makes life possible. People are great, but they can be problematic; they have a lot of needs. I like them, but interaction is at times difficult.

Music is the best possible deal. Hundreds of thousands of hours of it sit patiently, waiting for you to engage. I can't think of anything that delivers more consistently -- or a better month of the year than October -- to prove the point.

May your weekend be sleepless and jam-o-fied.

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