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Henry Rollins: The Column! Songs in the Key of Tour

[The one and only Henry Rollins contributes a weekly column and far-reaching reportage to the music section of the LA Weekly. Look for your weekly Henry Rollins fix right here on West Coast Sound every week and make sure to tune in to Henry's KCRW radio show every Saturday evening, or online, or as a podcast, or however else you decided to listen to the most eclectic DJ on LA's airwaves.

This installment includes Henry's musings on his musical rites of Spring, plus the story about the time when he personally refunded his Canadians fans for a ticket overcharge--with cold, hard cash. And come back for the awesomely annotated playlist for his KCRW BROADCAST. For more details please visit KCRW.com and HenryRollins.com

For the rest of Henry's columns, go to our Henry Rollins archives. To subscribe to his RSS, click here.]

Hello from the road. I am in Toronto, where the snow, although melting, is still piled high. This throws a barometric monkey wrench into my "Spring is here" thinking. We left the tour bus behind in Buffalo, N.Y., rented a car and drove up here a few hours ago for this one date.

Weeks ago, after tickets had gone on sale for this show, I started getting mail from polite but frustrated Canadians who told me the ticket price was unusually high, and while they were certain the show was worth it, why the sudden spike in cost?

I work very hard to keep the ticket prices low at every show I do. It takes more than just telling the people you work with that that is the way you want it.

Sometimes things get confused, someone sees an opportunity to invade the wallet of a concertgoer, and ticket prices leap upward.

I go over it again and again with everyone involved to keep things fair. Believe it or not, you will hear this from a large number of performers: We want your attention more than your money.

It's true. Most of us road animals just want you to show up, have a great time and find yourself absolutely unable to live without us every time we come around.

Anyway, I told all the people who wrote me that I would look into this, and I did.

Apparently, there was some kind of error and an extra $10 got put on the price. After the beating the purchaser takes from the TicketBastard outlets, 10 more bucks is just mean. Nonetheless, the show sold out the day the tickets went on sale. That means everyone sucked it up and threw down.

I contacted those in charge and told them I would be requiring a $10 bill for each ticket sold, as I would be personally handing out those bills at the beginning of the show. I included that I wasn't kidding and that they would have to go to a bank and really get all that cash together. They said they would.

I arrived a few hours before the show and was handed this Scarface-size pile of tens. I rehearsed the walk-through and looked forward to laying all this money on all these people. The performance-art aspect of all this made for a memorable night. This was weeks in the making.

For more than three decades, I have spent months at a time living all over the world. As time goes on, I have refined the pack for maximum function and efficiency. I have to carry it all with me, so every ounce I shave off matters.

Backstage areas are my world. I do not try to make them more like home, as some touring acts do. I am not putting scarves over lamps or lighting incense to create a mood.

What I have been doing for many years is to try and turn small, flat surfaces in poorly lit, cramped and sometimes crowded rooms into workspaces. I always have multiple things going on pre-show.

Over the years, the backstage office has become more electronic and weighty. Computer on, Internet access happening, phone at the ready, etc.

The one thing that has always been a constant has been music. Without access to music, these tours would be more challenging than they are already.

Many years ago, all I had was a few cassettes I would bring with me on the road. I didn't have a way to play them besides the van's tape deck, which we would all fight over.

On an epic tour across the continent of Europe in early 1983, Black Flag and the Minutemen all traveled in one van, and the Minutemen's bass player, Mike Watt, somehow became the gatekeeper of the tape deck up front and took control for days at a time. As Chuck Dukowski white-knuckled it through the Alps in this vehicle sans snow tires, we listened Watt's way. Thankfully, Watt's taste in music is excellent; we were treated to King Crimson, Albert Ayler, the Soft Boys and Blue Oyster Cult. Eventually, I was able to get my Velvet Underground tape into the deck.

Over the years, I have gone from bulky accordion boxes of cassettes and a Walkman to a book of CDs and a Discman to a few iPods, and a 1T external drive with 650-plus gigabytes of music. For playback, it's a Soundmatters FoxL V2.

Now that I have access to so much music as I am on the move, I am getting a lot more listening done and putting myself on a fairly rigorous regimen of checking out music new and old.

This week, I have been listening conceptually. Double albums -- the great statement!

 

When a musician or a band has an idea they see worthy of four sides of vinyl, like The Who did so brilliantly with Tommy, or a profusion of strong material like Led Zeppelin did with Physical Graffiti, they boldly set forth to test the devotion and endurance of their fans and risk a ripping by the press.

Double albums besides the aforementioned that need no introduction: The White Album by the Beatles, Electric Ladyland by Jimi Hendrix.

Double albums oft overlooked but worth your while: Zen Arcade by Hüsker Dü, Double Nickels on the Dime by the Minutemen, Trout Mask Replica by Captain Beefheart, the Shaft soundtrack by Isaac Hayes.

And the No. 1 genius double album of all time? In my opinion at least, Songs in the Key of Life by Stevie Wonder. Absolutely mandatory listening.

Oh, the handing out of the $10 bills was a great success. Everyone loved it. It took 22 minutes to hand them all out and get back onstage. Totally worth it!

Later tonight, another show. More miles, on and on.

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