Henry Rollins: Why Do the Old Heads Rock Harder Than the Youngbloods?
I am still in NYC but have left the Lower East Side. I’m now farther uptown, at 14th Street and Ninth Avenue. The loud, drunken, student-age youths have been replaced by well-groomed, sleek adults.
All seven shows that Dinosaur Jr. did at the Bowery Ballroom were excellent. In the second set, the band brought out several guests who fell into two basic age groups: people from the 1980s and those much younger.
There were seemingly two different, basic approaches to playing. The younger artists were all wonderful but low-calorie burns, performance-wise, when compared with the older school guests. The young-bloods floated shyly onto the stage, often in partial readiness, sometimes not bothering to finish lines and not seeming all that concerned about it.
Their aged counterparts came out and kicked all kinds of ass. It was like this down to the last performer.
One of the most raise-the-roof moments of the run was when Mike Watt joined the band for two Stooges covers, “TV Eye” and “Fun House.” I’ve been watching Mike play since I first met him in 1981, when he was in Minutemen. He is a monster musician and a true force of nature. He was the bass player for The Stooges in their last two incarnations. I saw him hit it with Iggy and company a dozen times, and every time I thought he was going to keel over from playing so hard. He came out the other night and did it again. The man is unbelievable.
On the last night, John Brannon of Michigan’s Negative Approach and Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth sang together on the song “Don’t.” It was pulverizing. These people are cut from a completely different bolt of cloth.
I know a bit about what Kim Gordon, Mike Watt, Bob Mould and some of the older heads who hit that stage endured in their formative years. I believe that in many ways it tempered them, the way a sword maker heats and pounds metal over and over to toughen it. There were no cellphones or Internet, no well-established network of independent labels or venues. There was relative wilderness and financial uncertainty, with no thought of security or a careerist future. There was just the music and the will to keep playing.
They come from long rides in vans, through cold darkness, loading in late for a quick soundcheck and then going right into the music. After the set, they loaded the gear in their rapidly cooling clothes and tried to find a place to settle in for the night, but often got back on the road and drove to the next show. It was an existence that either you acclimated to, or it kicked you out and immediately forgot your name. When the smoke cleared, you were back at your day job, if you had one, with what you lacked hanging from your neck like the proverbial albatross.
Those who pushed themselves through that which broke so many others in those days might not understand any other way to hit it. Perhaps their different style of playing is a manifestation of some kind of post-traumatic stress, or a refusal to go quietly. Whatever it was, there was a huge difference. I will never wonder why people will still be talking about Gordon, Mould, Brannon and Watt years from now.
The morning after the Dinosaurathon was done, I immediately went into withdrawal. But I was rescued by two shows of my own, which sent me to Asbury Park, New Jersey.
Two trains from Penn Station later and into a promoter’s car, I was rolling past the Stone Pony and the vacant lot that used to be the Fast Lane, the first venue I ever played in this almost mythical beach town.
It was 5-27-82 and our van had been pulled into the grass divider by New Jersey’s finest, everything tossed out of our van, including our drummer, who somehow managed to still be asleep when the rest of us were lined up and asked about the drugs we were no doubt carrying into this paradise by the sea. Finally, we were allowed to repack and proceed.
I sat outside the venue and watched two adult men beat each other up and waited for soundcheck. Hours later, it was my turn to get punched as I tried to get into the venue to play. The large man at the door didn’t believe I was in the band. He begrudgingly let me in with a promise that if he didn’t see me up there onstage, he was going to find me and kick my ass. I can still remember his glare as I waved to him from the stage, with our 100 or less audience loosely gathered in front of us.
After decades of living in hotels, rent-by-the-month rooms and moving vehicles, I feel at once directionless and right on track. The only time I feel weighed down is when I am reminded of the past.
After the Friday Asbury Park show, a man came backstage with photographs of the 1982 Fast Lane show. All of us in our awkward skinniness stared back at me and I felt a slight ache all over my body.
I have been out here a long time. The shows feel like miles and miles of memory-filled boxcars that trail behind me.
On Sunday, I was back on the train, out of Asbury, headed for NYC and three days of one of the most uphill press schedules I have ever signed up for.
Today was nine hours. Tomorrow will be 11. The day after will be almost as long, but hopefully really fun, as I will sing a Christmas carol with Stephen Colbert. The next morning, back to Los Angeles at 0600 hrs., out of LAX and straight to the first interview.
Thankfully, the turntable will be standing by.
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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