Henry Rollins: There Are a Lot of Black Flag Fans in Santiago, Chile
Photo by Heidi May
The air is cool and humid. The wind is rustling the palms outside the outdoor, roofed common area where I am sitting at the Kaimana Inn on Easter Island, or Rapa Nui as it’s also known.
Two days ago, I was in Santiago, Chile. When I arrived from Quito, Ecuador, around 0700 hrs., I got to the hotel, crashed for a few hours, then hit the street.
A lot of headphones, dyed hair, tattoos and rock shirts. I walked by one girl who looked punk rock. Several seconds later, she ran back to me. “Are you the guy from Black Flag?!” Close enough, I confirmed. She hugged me as if we hadn’t seen each other in years.
She asked me what I was doing in Santiago. I explained. After we did the almost-always required photo for verification, she hugged me again and said she wanted to show me a tattoo. She pulled up the side of her shirt to reveal a tank that said “My War,” with the Black Flag logo next to it. She couldn’t have been more than a couple of years over 20.
Every few blocks, someone would stop me and stare in disbelief. “What are you doing here?!”
The next day, I went back out. I looked through the window of a small shop below the sidewalk. I saw a Charles Mingus record and went in. The woman there asked, “Are you looking for anything special?” I told her that was all I was looking for — life was too short for anything less. She laughed.
We exchanged names. Tienda had great music coming through her system. It was deep, guitar-heavy psychedelia that reminded me a bit of early Dead Meadow. I asked who the band was. Chicos de Nazca from Chile. She asked me if I liked it. Si!
I pulled out my steno pad and started taking notes. I asked if there were more Chilean groups she could play me. Next up, Tienda rocked La Hell Gang. Very cool, jammed-out guitarism that I can’t wait to hear more of.
She gave me directions to a nearby record store called Needle. We did a photo together on her phone and I got on the move. I always get a feeling of excitement when I am on the way to a record store.
Minutes later, I arrived at Needle. A man pulled out his phone and showed me the photo I had just taken with Tienda. In an interesting moment of déjà vu, the man asked, “Looking for anything special?” I pulled out the steno and showed him the bands I had already heard.
Like Tienda’s shop, Needle had hardly any Chilean music, but I was able to get more band names and picked up a record called The Psychedelic Schafferson Jetplane on a label called BYM, which stands for Blow Your Mind. The guys at Needle told me to check out all the bands on BYM. Thankfully, some of these records have domestic releases through the great labels Mexican Summer and Sacred Bones.
By chance, I looked through a window, met Tienda, went to Needle, and now have a ton of new music to check out. I learn the same lesson over and over when I travel: Stay out of the room, hit the street, night and day, as much as possible, because that’s where it all happens.
I have been going to some of these bands’ sites and buying their records digitally, as well as searching out other Chilean groups online, such as A Full Cosmic Sound and Los Knock Knocks. For the last two days I have been digging these new sounds and am stoked to hear more. Looking for music is a job that’s never done and never gets old.
Easter Island is an interesting place, to say the least. The water surrounding it is almost electric blue and the island itself, pockmarked by massive volcanoes, is one of the most remote locations inhabited by humans. Approximately 6,000 residents host up to 80,000 visitors a year, drawn by the exclusivity and the moai, the large statues that are all over the island, creating an almost Dali-esque landscape
The small island is having difficulty with water, garbage and a lack of ability to recycle. Whatever plastic and metal is not hauled back to the mainland is put into trenches as landfill. On my first day, I found one of the dumps. It looked similar to the one I read about in an online piece posted by the Smithsonian.
The standing moai, which have fascinated me since I was a child, have all been re-erected. The most famous site, Ahu Tongariki, which features 15 moai, was reconstructed after a tsunami sent them several meters off their platforms, or ahu. Iron rods now keep them in place.
What visitors see now is completely real and truly amazing, but the result of a massive, islandwide, UNESCO-style restoration. If the moai were all left, as many have been, on their backs staring into the sky, or facedown like guards passing out while still at attention, the attraction to the place would be nowhere near the same.
Gazing at these ancient curiosities, I wondered at the mindset of someone who takes months to carve a moai, or one of the many who moved these multiton pieces, sometimes over kilometers, to their final positions. What, if any, is your incentive? What is your concept of time, ambition or the future? Do you dream of one day leaving the island? To where? This, to me, is more mysterious than the moai.
I bought two bottles of water. I am taking the empties back to the mainland tomorrow.
More From the Mind of Henry Rollins:
The Major Labels Are Screwing Up Record Store Day
When You Claim Racism Is Over, You Get a Dylann Roof
Why I'm Not an Atheist
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