Henry Rollins: The Column! Sleep is the Cousin of Death

[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.]

See also: Henry Rollins: The Column! Occupy America

I have spent well over half of the last 30 years living on the road, all over the world. The two major constants in this time have been music and sleep deprivation.

I spend several days at a time without enough sleep. At first, normal activities become annoying. When you are too tired to eat, you really need some sleep. A few days later, things become strange. Loud noises become louder and more startling, familiar sounds become unfamiliar, and life reinvents itself as a surrealist dream. I always think it's what living in a Brian Eno album would be like. A couple of days later, still low on sleep, I forget what it was like to be rested, and that's when things get interesting.

I have been out and about in America for the last couple of weeks, shamelessly flogging my new book, Occupants. The routine runs like this: I arrive at a bookstore in the early evening. A little while later, people show up and sit or stand where they can. Someone at the bookstore introduces me and I go out in front of the people and talk to them about the book, travel and whatever else comes to mind. I do this for 35 to 45 minutes. After that, I hang out with everyone. I sign their books, albums or arms, take photos with them, listen to their stories and whatever else until they all leave. Then I leave.

The whole thing from the first word into the microphone to the last handshake is about three hours, nonstop. I get into a taxi and go back to a hotel room. The people I met that night stay in my mind and I think about them for quite a while after the event is over. It's a hell of a thing to go from all that to a small room. I like these people. They are incredibly friendly and thoughtful; they keep me extremely motivated.

It is not easy to meet and engage with that many people on a regular basis, and it takes a toll. My mind gets crowded; sometimes my own thoughts become harder to locate. As soon as I can wind down enough, I try to sleep for a few hours, and then it's off to the airport and on to the next city.


As often as possible, I try to make the days eventful. I hit the street and wander around. Get some food, hit the gym and then somehow stagger off to the event. On so little sleep, all of these activities are wild.

The last several days have been an interesting blur. Standing in the rain at Occupy Wall Street was great. I listened to a lot of people, talked to a lot of protesters, a policeman and even a journalist from the New York Post. From there, uptown to the bookstore, live interview with Thurston Moore, meet all the people, walk 30 blocks uptown back to my room, pack, write, sleep a few hours and then off to the train station.

More cities, more people, more miles but not much sleep. Occupy Chicago, standing in front of the Bank of America building at LaSalle and Jackson, listening to people create a human bullhorn by repeating the voice of a single person, who recites their message, one line at a time. BofA employees nervously enter and exit the building as police line the other side of the street. In-store appearance, some sleep and then off to another airport.

I sit at a gate. Through one eye I watch a television monitor tuned to neutral CNN. On the screen, live in Ohio, a road sign flashes, "Warning: Exotic Animals. Stay in Vehicle." The owner of a private collection of lions, tigers, bears and other animals has turned them all loose. Men have been dispatched to kill the escapees. I think of Ted Nugent dry-humping his couch as he watches Ohio get turned into a high-value target-rich happy hunting ground.

Tears in his eyes because he can't be there to bring a Bengal tiger to the ground with one of his signature Whackmaster arrows. Coffee nearly shoots from my nostrils. Almost as if given a director's orders, a man comes over at that moment and tells me he liked my work in Sons of Anarchy. I am coughing, recovering from my Nuge vision and can barely speak. He says something I can't understand. I nod, shake his hand and go back to clearing the coffee from my lungs. This is how it goes.


In this state, which can't be any good for you, music sounds amazing. There are records that, in my opinion, only reach their full potential when the listener is disoriented. I am listening to Vibracathedral Orchestra's Hex Hostess album as I write this. It is late, in the 30s outside my window; my eyes ache. I will be on a plane in a few hours. My small hotel room is now a floating ashram. Hearing this album during the day on a full sleep cycle would be pleasant, but at this moment it's a portal to another world. I have been on a steady diet of VCO, Ashtray Navigations, Wolf Eyes and other brain waste for the last several days now. I've had some of the best listening sessions for weeks. There's something about being under-rested and knowing that the situation is going to remain that way for quite some time that makes things more meaningful.

I would rather be out here in the world, with a backpack, some jams and a full itinerary, than anywhere else. The hustle and lack of sleep? I'll take this over complacency or the dull death tones of contentment anytime.

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