Henry Rollins: The One Thing I Got Right
[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: The Essence of Punk Rock
It was 1970-something when I concluded that reality and I were not going to play well together. Reality was a damn nuisance, and it was everywhere. I would ride the public buses of Washington, D.C., and witness adults, sitting and standing, in different degrees of exhaustion, folded newspapers jammed between their biceps and their ribs, some of them with a bagged lunch. I thought to myself that this was it, this is how things end up. You ride on these buses forever; even as an old damn man, you are still hauling your sandwich to work. I knew that some awful version of this nightmare scenario was probably coming my way.
Reality was grim. I was in hip deep and it was steadily rising.
I always liked music and could lose hours at a time listening to records. It took me until my teenage years to realize that I was medicating with music. I was pushing back against my stupid school uniform, instructors who called me by my last name and my classmates, who, while friendly enough, were not at all inspiring.
My natural shyness and the amount of Ritalin I was freaking on drove me like an express train to the extreme recesses of my mind. Music became an obsession. It was a way to get out, and it was so much better than reality.
I realized that music was going to be the way I survived living. I was going to process life though a music purification system. It totally worked, too. I would get up early in the morning before school, dose up on a couple of albums, drop the Ritalin and then walk to the bus stop and into the depressing, imagination-killing fields of high school. By the time first period had started, I was wired and slightly catatonic. As soon as I got back to my room, the music was on again until I had to go to work or whatever else I was tasked with. It was music as much as possible. It didn't even matter if it was the same record over and over again, as long as something was on.
When I connected with punk rock, the music overload was complete. This is probably when my contempt for reality was fully realized. I knew I would have to acquaint myself with it enough to stay fed and out of prison but that I would forever be at odds with it and never fully comply.
As the years went on, I found there were others who found reality to be a stultifying bore like I did. They wrote books, recorded music and often made marvelous paintings! I preferred the world I created with these ingredients than the one around me. Art, in all of its manifestations, is humanity's greatest hit. Science is cool but not as cool as Coltrane.
This is when I came to love the ritual of going to see live music. To be on my own, yet with like-minded people, was, and still is, a great thing. I don't need to have my convictions confirmed by a show of numbers. However, being among people in front of a band leads me to believe that all is not lost, that humans, now and then, can communicate on a higher level than the political and the practical.
Have you ever been among a group of people and you can't at all understand what they're talking about? This happens to me all the time. I used to think they were strange. I get it now. Morrison was right: People are strange, when you're a stranger. I know they're making sense, I do my best to hang in there and nod at the right times. I know they mean well, but for the most part I can't hang.
Please don't think that I am one of those squishy types who can't handle reality. I have plenty of real-world things to deal with all the time. I have deadlines, meetings, I answer the phone, I get turned down, I wait in lines and am forced to pass for normal all the time. I will say that it has never not been a strange experience. For me, human interaction is often a psychedelic experience. Not at all unpleasant but trippy.
I tell you all this because the month of October is when it makes sense for me to re-enlist and go into music/strange retox. The end of the year is nigh, and with all the activity and responsibility we adults are often saddled with, some of my weirdo racing stripes become faded from the friction and are in need of a top-to-bottom restoration.
It takes a lot of discipline and time, but I do my best, in this 31-day period, to listen to every record that has had a major effect on me. I rarely pull it off, but I have a damn good time trying. It is a great feeling to listen to a record I have had for well more than half my life and still find it to be amazing. It always makes me wonder how, when most things in my life were not working out all that well, I was right about an album.
Opening the door of music was at least one thing in life that I got right. It's not a big deal, it's like being good at eating pizza or sleeping late, but damn, it never gets old to me and it never loses its appeal. If anything, my music obsession is only getting worse as my curiosity increases.
It is in this month that I take a moment to steep, if you will, in the pages of familiar books and deep in the grooves of records that gave me enough breathing room to get by. For example, when John Boehner causes a shutdown, he's a weepy pain in the ass. When the Germs play "Shut Down," it is music to my ears.
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