Live Life, or It Lives You
[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: Metalheads in Germany
I have been restless for as long as I can remember. Perhaps this started when I was a child, moving every few years with my mother around Washington, D.C., different summer camps, different schools, never once feeling "at home" anywhere. I not only have never registered this sentiment, I must admit a fair bit of contempt for it. The idea of "home" as an unconditional, safe, no-fire zone, I just don't believe it. In fact, I think to carry that notion is to lack awareness. I reckon any damn thing I take for granted, I deserve to lose.
I will act on almost any opportunity to be on the move. To live out of a backpack for great lengths of time is optimum. Perhaps this comes from so many years of touring and spending several months a year in challenging environments. Maybe it's just a world I can understand.
A few years into a life on the road, I saw people who were in the same line of work start to burn out. They would bail out of the life for all kinds of reasons. Marriage, kids, economic turbulence, expectations destroyed by the hardships endured. Sometimes they just died.
I saw the road as the perfect proving ground, the place to test and master myself. I decided that I would not just survive the rigors of endless miles but that I would thrive and prevail.
To travel from stage to stage with the obligation of delivering the goods, trying to maintain a barely realistic level of consistency as my raison d'etre, has been a constant in my life for more than 30 years. This is my code. This is what I trust. Knowing that most of what I do to earn a living is approval-based only makes things more interesting, if not abundantly clear: Once people stop showing up, I am out of a job, or at least out of my current jobs.
My unconditional sure thing is that I don't have one. This is the information. This is what I know.
At this point, I medicate with movement. If I am in prep mode for a trip, I find my mood indestructibly good. I outline the pack with great scrutiny. I run my lists of everything from currency, climate, electric plug adaptors, camera gear, chow and cover -- every contingency I can conceive. At go time, I am practically on sprinter's blocks, ready to get out.
I like existing in difference places. Tours aside, I travel for what might seem inessential reasons, like to see a band play. This is fanatic, obsessive behavior perhaps, but to me, this is where I get life lived.
To answer the eternal question: What is the meaning of life? Whatever you say it is. To me, life is an either-or proposition. You live it or it lives you. These are the choices I allow myself. This puts me in an adversarial relationship with life. I have never seen it any other way. Harmony is boring.
It's not so much that I invent excuses to travel, it's that to me, being off the road is the excuse for not having the guts to stay moving. I wallow in self-disgust at the ease with which I fall back into the round-edged patterns of my off-the-road routine.
I have been back here for about a day and a half. Yesterday I stood up from seat 55H after about 10 hours and 48 minutes of flight from Seoul, South Korea. One day back and I feel like I have been put under by an anesthesiologist.
It was with all certainty that, several weeks ago, when I found out that The Stooges were playing the Citybreak Festival in Seoul, I knew I had to go. My absence, I quickly reasoned, would be a massive life-fail, a caving in to the strictures of "real life," which more and more to me is only mediocrity sticking its ass in my face. So tickets and rooms were booked, logistics worked out and off I went.
In the approximately two days before The Stooges' stage time, I wandered the streets of Seoul as soon as the oppressive heat and humidity would allow. I had no destination in mind. I rarely do. I just pick a direction and go. I walk city streets at night all over the world as often as I can. It had been a few years since I was in Seoul and things were fantastically unfamiliar.
Walking all over, sweating through my clothes, was like being cracked out of an ice block. In the brief time I was there, I established a great and semi-crazed, sleep deprivation-fueled existence. Walk, write, sleep, work out, eat and get psyched to watch The Stooges hit it one more time.
Great show. Stooges rocked it. Audience went nuts. Seeing kids in the front row singing along with some of the songs was so righteous, I nearly teared up.
Post-show, I went out for one last walk and chance to take in the incredible levels of heat and moisture. I think Henry Miller and Thomas Wolfe would have approved.
Many mutated hours later, I am back here. Depression is at a manageable level. I am already coming up with new plans for the next jailbreak. Until then, I'll play normal, show up on time and hit all the marks. I need this. It's grist for the mill. The anger will rise and with it, the curiosity, and that's when life starts sweating, because my hand is around its throat and I am squeezing.
Years ago, I was on a boat sailing on the Nile River. In my journal, I wrote that the world was just big enough to hold me. Just big enough to contain my interests and that the best thing for me would be to be out in it as often as possible. Anything else would be capitulation. Some might call this escapist. I call it living adventuristically.
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