Henry Rollins: The Column! The Necessary, Vulgar Awfulness of Politics
[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.]
Over the years, November has turned into a more adult version of what October used to represent to me; the deep introspection derived from colder mornings and the earlier arrival of the evening. The shortening light cycle and the greater opportunity for darkness has always been a welcome change for me. I get up earlier to enjoy the predawn coldness and, for prolonged periods, I forget there is a world I live in and a human population I exist amongst.
I will be on the road for all of this month and will not always be afforded these early morning and late evening stretches of solitude. I will be either on a tour bus, in a hotel or heading toward an airport in the mornings, and in the evenings I will be with my audience. I will do my best to find time for music and deep thought.
I am looking forward to the end of the presidential election cycle. I found myself disagreeing with pundits and journalists as to who "won" the "debates," as I am of the mind that governor Romney and congressman Ryan brought absolutely all of their astounding hollowness to bear and were shown out for the amateurs they are. As far as the election is concerned, I have already voted. I know what I know and whatever comes next, I will survive.
In the last several weeks, as usual on tour here in America, I have been meeting a lot of people. Some of them tell me their stories. I really like these people. When I hear of some of the ordeals they have been through and what challenges they face, it makes me like them even more.
A few nights ago, after the show, a guy told me that he summoned all the courage he had and came out to his parents. They didn't take the news very well. He told me that some of the books I had written and songs that I had put my voice to had been of great help to keep him brave and alive. He now goes to high schools, talks to gay students and helps them. I told him that it very well could be that he's saved a few lives along the way.
A lot of the young people I meet in some of these small capital cities are often wearing shirts with a band's name or have some group's patch on their jacket. It is their identification and shield. It is when I see this that I feel closest to them.
Some of these cities are remote and perhaps not the most progressive environments. It's easy to tell how hard some of the youth are holding onto the music and how much it means to them. When I see all the hand-drawn stuff on their clothes, how excited they get when they talk about a band they drove five hours each way to see, it is inspiring.
Through all the negativity and low-mindedness that America has had its head deeply dunked into over the last several months, sometimes the only parts that were any good were the times I was either with the audience during or after the show, or listening to music. I guess what I am saying is that these were nonpartisan moments, instances of life not so polluted and burdened with vitriol and corporate grifters.
Politics, especially in America, is a necessary, vulgar awfulness that lowers the bar to where it often disappears. Access to music is my reward for enduring this social gutter crawl. To quote David Bowie from "It's No Game" on the Scary Monsters album: "To be insulted by these fascists/It's so degrading/And it's no game."
November is the month with clearly defined cheekbones, hungry eyes and a facial expression that verges on the severe. It is a serious and studious month that sits attentively with a straightness of posture that signals a desire to observe and learn. It is a more mature month that has shed some weight and acquired some subtlety.
The heated racket of my summer listening gave way to the sigh of autumn relief music. Now that November is here, I find myself in the gray, metallic Sturm und Klang of early Einstürzende Neubauten, The Fall's Hex Enduction Hour, Joy Division, Neu!, Nico, Bowie, Conrad Schnitzler, Cabaret Voltaire, the assaultive minimalism of Masayoshi Urabe and Keiji Haino, and the alone-in-your-room perfection of Dylan's Blonde on Blonde and Lou Reed's Street Hassle albums.
When the temperature drops in November, I reach for Gogol's short stories, Kafka, Daniil Kharms and collections of Robert Fisk's reportage from the Middle East. I read some, but find myself writing and listening more than anything.
There is a loneliness in November that doesn't cause one to ache so much as resign oneself to an emptiness that will be numbed and completely internalized in the gulag of the winter. November is perhaps the last month before the hypnosis of the holiday season, when a crassly overzealous retail shakedown and ritualized pantomime threatens to cheapen everything. Many of us will disappear at the end of this month and cease to exist until spring.
In this month, I will be all over America, working my way back toward Los Angeles for shows at Largo in November's last days. As it is now, I can't wait to be on the other side of the election, in a country somewhat less pressurized and sneering.
Post-election, America will be different and America will be the same. Breakfast will still be served but all those bumper stickers will suddenly look stupid. The best part about all this is that you and I will still be around. We, as Lincoln once said, "shall not perish from the earth." That is to say -- it's cool. Keep listening.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Los Angeles, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.