Henry Rollins: The Column! The Time I Drank The Sweat From My Socks Onstage
[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.]
Florida is a crazy place and I have played some of the wildest shows of my life here. I just got off an airplane that took me from Los Angeles to Miami. It is late and I have to be back at the airport in a few hours to head out to Cuba.
I am sitting in a restaurant, where I suspect that I'm drawing suspicion by having a laptop in front of me. At my hotel, I asked the man at the desk if they had any food. He said no and pointed to the restaurant where I am sitting now. So, here I am, waiting for the food disaster to arrive.
We Americans are hard on almost everything. We are hard on our vehicles, our marriages and our heroes. Mostly, however, we are hard on ourselves. Beyond the tobacco, alcohol and drugs, it is the food that will bring this mighty nation to its overburdened knees. I'm talking about the stuff that is about to hit the deck in front of me -- a blood-thickening, artery-clogging mountain of rapidly congealing liberty. As I watch huge trays of food carried past me to fellow gastric gladiators, I realize I am witnessing freedom on the march. The sound system plays "It's 5 O'Clock Somewhere."
This is my fifth trip to Florida this year. At one point, as National Geographic cameras rolled, I found myself on the back of an alligator, holding its jaws closed. "Don't worry," said one of the men in attendance. "He's more of a runner than a fighter."
I have been coming to Florida for more than 40 years. I remember getting on an airplane with my mother going from Washington, D.C., down to Key Biscayne. There was a man sitting in the front of the plane with a huge head. "Henry," my mother said, "that was Richard Nixon."
In the summer of 1982, Black Flag did a string of shows in the state -- I believe legendary Florida band Roach Motel were the opener. One night we played a small place with particularly bad sound, which turned out to be a great experience in spontaneity and improvisation. It was the short-lived, two-guitar lineup of the band, and the noise onstage was at times hard to manage. It was hard to tell what song the band was playing, and after a few songs I stopped looking at the set list and went where the caterwaul took me. I have no idea what came out of me that evening, but people seemed to dig it.
On Halloween night 1984, we played a Miami spot called Flynn's. It was the usual violent sweatfest. Toward the end of the show, I gave the audience a plastic cup and told them that if they filled it full of money, I would do something really gross. The cup came back with some coins in it, and so I took off my shoes, peeled off my soaked socks and wrung the contents of both into an empty cup -- filling it to the top. I held it up, the crowd gave a collective "Ugh," and I drank it. Kind of like Gandhi, get it? Anyway, after the show, I used that money to buy myself some food at a Denny's.
In the summer of 1986, Black Flag played Orlando, I believe it was. The skinheads beat up our sound man the night before, and showed up that night to make more trouble. Before the show, I saw them out in the parking lot, and they looked pretty serious. I briefed the venue security, who all started laughing. They pulled out blades and said they wanted nothing more than a chance to stab these guys. At the show, the skinheads were out in force, giving me the Nazi salute. I stopped the show and asked the audience to look at these portly fascists, and wondered out loud how many hours of Third Reich basic training they could survive. That made them mad. The howling laughter of the rest of the audience couldn't have made them feel any better.
Ten years later, I was sitting in the great depths of a massive Florida arena's basement, the walls light green and the ceiling lined with florescent lights. We were playing the middle slot in a three-band show. Suddenly, the locker room door exploded open and the headlining band's singer came in to introduce himself. "HEY! MY NAME'S OZZY! I'M SO GLAD YOU'RE ON THE TOUR, MAN! IF THERE'S ANYTHING YOU NEED, LET ME KNOW! RUN THE P.A. AS LOUD AS YOU WANT! BLOW IT UP!" That's how we met.
Hours later, a golf cart took us to the stage, and we did our set in front of about 18,000 Ozzy fans. I told the band members to watch out for items that would surely be tossed onstage. I figured the audience would kill us, which was fine; at least we were opening for Ozzy Osbourne. But after a song, nothing, and then what sounded like applause. I told the audience who we were and then, again, was that low roar. We were rockin'!
Later, I watched from the side of the stage as Ozzy ran out to play. The audience felt like it was going to shake the place apart. This was when I realized that the sound I heard while we were playing was simply thousands of people engaging in casual conversation as they waited patiently for the main man to show up. Oh well. Ozzy is a very good man, and we remain friends to this day.
Indeed, it is 5 o'clock somewhere. It will be that time when I check in at the Delta desk tomorrow morning. Next stop Havana a go-go.
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