Henry Rollins: The Doors Achieved Something More Than Just Music

[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 Sunday KCRW broadcast.]

Los Angeles is a city where the eclectic and surreal often mix freely. There are so many scenes to make: If you do it just right, you can see and experience a lot in a short time.

Now and then, my schedule is such that I attend multiple events in a single week. I know for some people that’s just how they live. But it’s not always the case for me, so when there is a lot of nightlife on my itinerary, I marvel at Los Angeles and its incredible level of activity. It’s why you see all those low-cut vans with the driver pointing things out to the passengers. We live in a city that people come from all over the world to check out. It’s pretty cool.

Last night at the Echoplex, the great Michigan noise unit Wolf Eyes hit the stage at 2200 hrs. The group features John Olson, who owns and operates one of my favorite record labels, American Tapes, which boasts more than 1,000 releases on CDR, LP, tape and the occasional lathe. Almost all of them have handmade packaging and are numbered, limited editions. I think he is one of the most interesting artists/musicians working today.

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For three quarters of an hour, in a suitably dark and slightly cold room, Wolf Eyes battered the audience with pulsing, twisting noise. We were all into it. I was happy to see that so many people had showed up. It’s not easy to get into what the band does.

The next night, to keep things wildly divergent and interesting, I was onstage at the Classic Rock Roll of Honour Awards, put on by Classic Rock magazine. Usually this event happens in London, but for the first time it was in America, right here in Los Angeles. I had been asked to give the “Inspiration,” basically a lifetime achievement award, to The Doors. John Densmore would there to accept.

The Doors are a band that has been in my life since I was very young, when my mother bought their first album. I didn’t understand why a group would name themselves after something like a door, but you could not have explained Aldous Huxley’s “doors of perception” concept to me at that age.

The song “Break on Through (To the Other Side)” blew my mind. It was fast, and the singer yelled. There was a lyric that grabbed me: “I found an island in your arms/Country in your eyes/Arms that chain/Eyes that lie/Break on through to the other side.”

The Doors were the first band I ever heard that made it clear that everything wasn’t necessarily going to end well. As a young adult, I reconnected with their music with a different understanding of what they were about. Their second album, Strange Days, became a well-worn ally. I made more than one pilgrimage to the apartment-building roof in Venice where, it is said, Jim Morrison composed some of his early lyrics.

The story of the band is steeped in myth-tinged legend, but the facts of their brief history are as compelling as they are at times tragic. Jim Morrison was a true wild man of rock & roll. Try as I might, I can’t imagine him past the age of his death at 27, so it seems that I have bought into the lore as well.

But why not? Some songs by the band just stop you in your tracks. The Doors truly achieved something more than just music.

  Tonight’s event, hosted by Sammy Hagar, will be at least interesting, right? At 1730 hrs. a car will come to gather me and my life’s showrunner/constant combatant of 17 years, Heidi May, and transport us to the Avalon for the proceedings. Back in several hours.

2341 hrs.: What happened tonight mirrored the experience I have had at past awards ceremonies. I spent several hours at the Avalon amongst a bunch of successful musicians and then, after a short drive, I was home, standing in the kitchen, wondering if I could commit to a can of soup at such a late hour.

This is the aspect I find interesting: the normalness of my life compared wit a few hours of heightened and enhanced reality.

Ultimately, they’re just people, but the sheer density of rock luminaries in the venue was significant. I am a fan, so it’s cool to walk by someone I enjoy listening. I have met a few of them over the years and, as shy as I am, was able to say hello to a couple, and even boldly introduce myself to one.

At one point in the evening, Hagar, who I thought was a fun host with a natural sense of humor, slightly misread one of his cue cards. I knew that in a few seconds I would be onstage. Usually, someone takes you to your mark and when you’re called, you walk right on. Not tonight. I started making my way to the stage and soon saw that there was no clear path. Hagar had announced my name, and now the seconds were ticking by and he was asking aloud where I was.

I threaded my way through the seated audience and made it to the stage. Slightly out of breath, I said my brief piece and brought out John. He read a cool “thank you” he had prepared, took his trophy, and we exited stage left for photos and interviews.

The best part of the night, besides getting to thank The Doors via John Densmore, was watching an all-too-brief set by a Long Beach–area band called Rival Sons. They were on fire, just fantastic. They obliterated the idea that rock & roll has any chance of dying.


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