Henry Rollins: Will I Be Able to Finish Listening to All My Records Before I Die?

Not a photo of Henry Rollins' record collection. He actually owns way more than this.EXPAND
Not a photo of Henry Rollins' record collection. He actually owns way more than this.

I can’t help it. Whenever I’m in the room where all my records are, I look at the shelves that bear the weight of the ones that have not yet been played, and all I can think of is death. I think of my future not in terms of how dazzlingly bright it could be but if I will be able to get all these records heard before I keel over.

I have this idea that at a certain time, I will hold in my trembling hands the last of the unheard records. I will give it to my caregiver, who will put it on the turntable, and together we will listen. As the last tune fades out, I will exclaim, “I did it!” My vital signs will start dropping and, a few breaths from my last, I will look down and see the USPS box of LP mailers containing more records, and I will once again be slammed into life’s mainline.

I spent most of last year on the road and stripped out many record stores and engaged in frequent online vinyl acquisitions. I passed through Los Angeles enough times to unpack them, play a few and then leave again. At the end of last year, I was afforded a few days off and realized I had accumulated over 1,000 records in this way.

I intend to listen to every single one. Staring at them, and all the other records that have been standing at attention, many for years, waiting patiently for their turn, I see that I’ve put myself into an existential wet paper bag that I’ll probably never punch my way through. I have reconciled myself to having a good time trying.

Near the end of last year, I returned from London with a little less than 10 days before my tour resumed. I thought that it would be cool to see if I could get 100 things listened to, be it vinyl, CD or cassette. I arrived back in Los Angeles on Dec. 17 and started almost immediately. When I’m off the road, my usual goal is to listen to five releases of some kind every day. I can usually hit it. Doubling up was like 10 Saturdays with free pizza.

I will confess my inability to resist a test pressing. If I had my way, I would have a test pressing of every single record I own. I am actually trying to do that. They often come with only white labels, a generic sleeve and a press one-sheet. I like the utilitarian look of them. They often sound incredibly good, getting punched off the master at the front of the run.

Punk-rock test pressings are rare or nonexistent. They’re a big damn deal to the few people who care. It’s an ironic pyramid of obsession. At the top are only about three people, but they are really into it, like lawn-chair-in-front-of-the-theater-a-month-before-the-premiere into it. Small labels don’t always order test pressings, and when they do, there are often five or fewer made. They end up with a band member or label owner who loses them, whereupon they turn into Maltese Falcons and fly away into the scented darkness of mystery and speculation.

Recently a test pressing of The Damned’s album Music for Pleasure, released on the Stiff label in 1977, appeared on eBay. After almost 40 years of doggedly tracking down any Damned rarity, I had never seen one. I wrote my has-one-of-everything pal, John Esplen, in Newcastle, England, and asked if he had one or could verify that they actually exist. Rarely is there a factoid from the genre that he can’t confirm with trainspotter precision. Yes, they exist, and of course John has one.

The winning bid was a few bucks short of $2,800, with only three members of the MWNL (Men With No Lives) throwing down the gotta-have-it dough. Like I said, there are only a few but they are intense. In my mind I see the winner holding onto the record as he is pulled into a hurricane and disappears, only to land four minutes later, three miles from where he started, glasses askew, right shoulder dislocated. He rotates it back into place, his mouth forming the smallest grin that lasts only a fraction of a second. He readjusts his glasses and walks through the wasteland of destruction, into an uncertain future, still clutching the record.

I found a lot of test pressings last year and rocked as many as I could during my 10-day sonic op. Occasionally I would surface, like a submarine, to see what was happening in the real world. Never was it good.

Time got it all wrong making Donald Trump its person of the year. He’s not nearly as talented as Kellyanne Conway. It should have been her. She’s fascinating.

Do you remember a man named Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf, otherwise known as Baghdad Bob? He was the single comedic shaft of light, albeit one with the diameter of a hypodermic needle, in the otherwise sunless hell of the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Bob was the guy who would look down the barrel of the camera and state that the Americans were running back to the safety of their mother’ skirts rather than confront the awesome might of the Iraqi forces — while a Starbucks was being built behind him.

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Bob could turn roadkill into unicorns. Ms. Conway is like that, but mixed with a Crocodylus niloticus and drizzled with a Joseph Goebbels reduction. When she smiles, lawns die. When she speaks, the face of truth freezes into an Edvard Munchian scream and goes offline. Out of raw fear, her children are never late for dinner, even if it’s iguana jerky again.

The records were better than the news. Happy 2017.

Henry Rollins: Will I Be Able to Finish Listening to All My Records Before I Die?
Heidi May

Look for your weekly fix from the one and only Henry Rollins right here every Thursday, and come back tomorrow for the playlist for his Sunday KCRW broadcast.


More from the mind of Henry Rollins:
White America Couldn't Handle What Black America Deals With Every Day
Bowie's Blackstar Is on the Level of Low and Heroes
No Matter Who Wins, America Is Only Going to Get Angrier


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