Henry Rollins: The Column! The Time I Made a Punk Rocker Cry
[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.]
Weeks ago, my L.A. Weekly super editor Ben Westhoff asked me about my plans for 2012. I told him I was about to start one of my typical tours where I would be spending several weeks on the road going from stage to stage, city after city, country after country.
He asked me how long this tour was. I told him that it would start to show signs of fatigue around the end of February 2013. "Would you write about some of the places you'll be, and perhaps send some old war stories from past deployments?" he asked.
Stories from the road? Moi?!
That's one thing I have. I have been touring for more than 30 years. It's what I do. My time off the road is full of anxiety and restlessness. The days in Los Angeles are only the countdown before I go back out into the world. I would rather be there, doing a show every night; the pressure of it keeps me tense and alert.
Some would say this is a crazy way to live your life. Out here, you have to earn everything and often learn the hard way. Years of dragging myself through cities all over the world have taught me more than I ever could have learned staying put. I no longer wonder why soldiers re-enlist or why sailors remain at sea.
As a journey of many miles starts with one step, a tour starts with the first show. For this one, it's Manchester, England. Tough town, great audience. Some of the best punk and post-punk music ever came from this city.
I got here two days ago, trying to beat the jet lag that, no matter how much I travel, I cannot beat. The first two days are complete misery. I stay outside to try to get on the new time schedule. I drink SmartWater and hit the gym in an attempt to acclimate myself.
I try to hit all the record stores I can, hoping to pick up something of interest, so when it finally finds its way to my shelves, I have a record that came all the way from Manchester, where the Fall, the Buzzcocks, Ludus and Joy Division come from.
It becomes harder to find something I need in Manchester record stores as the years go by. It's a music town and all the stores are pretty picked over.
I first came here in December 1981 with Black Flag. Due to poor planning, or perhaps someone's idea of a bad joke, we were booked to headline over the famous punk band Chelsea, fronted by Gene October. I was young and unaware of the political implications of a relatively unknown American band having one of the most established first-wave punk bands open for it.
Through the snow we made our way to the venue in our ridiculous rented box truck and loaded in. I fell asleep on the floor afterward, only to be woken up by a foot digging into my ribs. It was Gene October from Chelsea.
For at least a second, I was happy about this because I had spent hours of my minimum wage buying his band's records on import. I thought I was going to hang out with the guy from my record collection -- but it was not to be. He just started berating me for being from Los Angeles and told me that there wasn't any good music from there or something. I had to take it. I was the only member of my band in the room and was greatly outnumbered.
That night, October and his band were onstage and he told the crowd to make sure to beat us up. Ian MacKaye, then of Minor Threat fame, was out with us. He and I ran into the crowd and started yelling that we were the ones Gene October was talking about and were taking all comers. No one did anything. We ended up playing and did pretty well. I always wanted a piece of Gene October after that.
In the summer of 1984, Black Flag were in London, playing at the Marquee. A drunk Gene October staggered into our dressing room to use the toilet.
Bill Stevenson, drummer in Black Flag and the Descendents, said, "Henry, isn't that Gene October, the guy you said you were going to kill?" "It is!" I replied. Gene had an awful expression on his face. Bill said, "Kill him now. Kill him now," in a superbored voice, like we do this every day. Gene October started begging for his life. It was the best lyric he ever wrote and the performance of his life. Of course, no one touched him. It was hilarious to watch him blubber. I eventually sold my Chelsea singles. I wish things could have been different.
The first three tours of England I did were not enjoyable in the least. However, I kept coming back year after year and now have an incredibly loyal, fast and excellent audience. I love England and am always happy to be here.
Next stop, Glasgow!
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