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Henry Rollins: The Glorious Cold

[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.]

See also: Henry Rollins: A Bloody Mess

I am still working away here in Toronto on the film He Never Died. We have completed another week and wrapped out around 0230 hours this morning.

It's been an interesting schedule of darkness. The sun sets quickly here. Most of the time, we are creatures of the night. The cold is incredible. We shoot outside for hours and hours. Crew members run around in thick coats and hats. The actors, dressed in far less, jump into a warm-up vehicle between takes.

A few nights ago, on the last shot of the night, amazing actress Kate and I were in one of our usual high-intensity scenes in weather far below freezing. My face got so cold that I was unable to get a few words in a sentence out. I worked on it as we set up for another take, saw how cold Kate was, and completed the take.

Some of the coldest weather I have ever experienced has been in Canada. In December 1984, Black Flag saw fit to work their way west from Quebec to Vancouver with a brief dip back into America for a show in Chicago. From there, we went north for some reason, straight to Winnipeg and onward, like that's the place you want to be in a dying van in winter. It was an amazingly bad idea. Perfect in its dumbassity and yet another typically painful chapter for the band.

Previous to this ill-fated voyage, I had no idea what real cold was. Watching a documentary with people hacking their way through some polar wasteland is merely a visual. Actually trying to deal with cold that can literally kill you is quite a different thing.

None of us were ready. We were driving our vehicles while wrapped in blankets, trying to get to poorly attended shows in the middle of nowhere. All we could do was laugh. We had brought this upon ourselves.

I think Saint Vitus was out with us as well. We got through just fine but damn, what a lesson in what to hurry up and not do again.

Truly, if you are not properly attired and have not provided yourself with options, this kind of cold is deadly. Humans are pretty crafty but will fold quickly in severe cold.

The other day, we were shooting by a river. The wardrobe department had put thermal underwear in my trailer. They knew I wasn't going to wear it. I will take almost any opportunity to tough it out and see what I am made of. One of the wardrobe gals came up to me and, in a professional but firm tone, fairly begged me to wear them. To please her, I did. Great idea! We are out there freezing our asses off, while ducks land in the river and paddle around. It was obvious who the rugged individuals are.

Of course, for the last shots of the night, when the cold is in full bloom, my character has to look like he has come out of the river. I put on a set of clothes that have been all but soaked in baby oil, so they look wet but are not. Baby oil, I was to find out, is an extremely excellent conductor of cold. Brings it right to your skin and seems to suppress any of that pesky body heat you might be trying to generate.

Between takes, I was asked why I was laughing. When you're that cold, in front of cameras with a bunch of people running around working their asses off, the combination of determination, absurdity and slight madness is hysterically funny to me. Yet at the same time, I will take this over a desk job any day. At its coldest and least enjoyable, it is still a total blast.

I am not an actor or an artist by any definition. I am an employment hyena. I am happy to make a meal of what the lions leave behind.

Somehow, I have been in a lot of films and television shows. These experiences are, for the most part, always good or bad for the same reason. I have been in films that go straight to DVD and end up in truck stops for a few bucks. The fact that it might not be the most amazing plot does not mean that you can't give it your all and have a good time. It's down to cast and crew. When you have to work with and exist amongst cynical, burned-out personnel on a set, it doesn't matter what you're shooting or how much you're being paid, it's not worth it. Unfortunately, I have been on a few of those, and it's enough for even a work-addicted person like myself to pass it up.

On the other hand, working in an environment like I am in now, I only wonder how depressing it's going to be when we wrap out of this several days from now. We are all working really hard, and having such a great time making this thing come to life, that stopping will be the hardest part.

The scenes we shot several hours ago were very full-on, with things getting broken and people being knocked around. We went at it as if our lives depended upon it, over and over, for hours.

Adrenaline is a bad date. Great when it's coursing through your body, awful when it leaves you to the reality of your physiological limits. Pain was my alarm clock this morning. As Mark E. Smith of The Fall says, "Everything hurts."

Later, for my big Saturday night out, I will trudge through the cold to the local Starbucks to listen to music and space out in my notebook. With only a thin pullover for winter wear, the journey will be painful. If it goes anything like last Saturday, upon entering the establishment, the lights will expose the tears that the cold have wrenched from my face. I am definitely not a duck.

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