Henry Rollins: Why I'm Not Playing Music Anymore
[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: Harmony at Dischord
Immediately, I would like to apologize for writing to you from my current degree of exhaustion. Though I am seemingly too tired at day's end to even lift my fork, I have to say that things are going well.
I have been living in the Arlington, Va., area for about two weeks now, working on a history-based television series that probably will roll out later this year. That is a lot of good talk, but we have to get the thing done first. Our excellent producer has set the bar very high, and we are all leaping up to it as best we can.
The days often start early with a crew meeting in our first cameraman's room. Walkies are redistributed, now charged, gear is checked, and our producer breaks down the day's locations, considerations and potential challenges. Permits. Lots of permits. We are briefed about our guests; their time limits, range of expertise, etc. Personnel are divided into groups and directed to different vehicles and away we go, into the snarl of morning Pentagon- and city-bound traffic.
Besides merciful moments of B-roll acquisition, I am pretty much in every shot. I interview scholars, experts and experienced veterans of their respective fields. All of them require a full run to keep up with. As they speak, names, dates and assorted bit of information swirl in my head like a ticker-tape parade. My job is to keep it all moving along and somehow encourage our subjects not to throw their hands up in frustration and bolt!
I am hanging in there as best I can.
At the end of the day, we drag ourselves back into our rooms for a few hours. Not long after I have gone semi-comatose/paralytic in a chair, there is the now-familiar sound of rustling paper under my door. It is the often 40-plus pages of information I need to be conversant in for the next day of work. I read as much as I can until I am unable, set the alarm and get the lights out.
Soon enough, I am back up again. I finish the reading, shower up, coffee, protein shake and off to the crew meet.
This is work I am lucky to get and I am grateful for it, but damn, it takes a lot out of me to get it over the wall. It is in this environment of performance, adaptability and endurance that I thrive and feel right. That being said, it makes that which lives outside of this world often difficult for me to handle.
From the window of the room I am living in, I can see the National Cathedral. That's near my old neighborhood in Washington, D.C. From this building, I am only a few miles away from Dischord House. I am here, yet at the same time I am not. This existential duality is as frustrating as it is emotionally confusing.
Last night, we wrapped out at around 2000 hrs. It was the "night off." I got into this room and the exhaustion hit me like a stick. I looked out the window at the cathedral and tried to urge myself out of the room, into the car and back to the old neighborhood, but soon realized that I wasn't going anywhere.
This is what I want. I want total exhaustion from tasks that are outside of my skill set. I want my determination and anger to focus my energy. This is not an easy way to go, and it might not be good for one's constitution, but at least I don't feel old.
I got asked by someone if I was going to go on tour this summer and play what at this point is old music. I told the person that I wasn't because that currently, my future is getting in the way of my past.
I tell you this because in the summer months, you can count on bands that have been gone for years who will reassemble and go onto stages all over the world playing "vintage music." Perhaps they are on a Proustian mission to recapture that which has been lost. I read the interviews where the musicians claim that now they can really play this music. I don't doubt them, but therein lies the problem. Musicians should not play Music. Music should play musicians.
Bands that think they have a handle on Music are no longer battling the beast. They think they have mastered Music. They have not.
Music cannot be mastered. What they think is control and mastery is not only hubris but even worse, it is Music's great indifference. Simply put, Music no longer plays them. Music has moved on to more worthy combatants.
This is why I stopped touring with a band. I put up my fists and there was no longer anything there. It was heartbreaking, but it was clear. Music had moved on. Such was my reverence for its limitless power, I faced this truth and moved on in search of new battles.
Thankfully, Music is but one of myriad beasts with which to tangle, and in this kind of conflict, age is meaningless. Life is short. When one beast dumps you, summon the guts to find another. If it tries to kill you, the party has definitely started. Otherwise, life is a slow retirement.
To each their own. This is how I am running my show.
So, as much as it trips me out to be working near where I was raised, with the familiarity of the air and memories that pop up like targets on a combat shooting range, I am far more focused on getting this new work done. Not ever being satisfied with the parts of it that I did well but always being angry at the parts where I failed.
In this context, I am not interested in winning -- only fighting.
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