Our Man in Tibet (and Nepal): Henry Rollins on the Sad Faces in the Land of the Lamas, his Favorite Kathmandu Hotel, and the Genius of Blue Note Jazz
Our eminent columnist, Mr. Henry Rollins!
[The one and only Henry Rollins will be contributing a weekly column and far-reaching reportage to the music section of the LA Weekly. Look for your weekly Henry Rollins fix right here on West Coast Sound every Friday and make sure to tune in to Henry's KCRW radio show every Saturday evening, or online, or as a podcast, or however else you decided to listen to the most eclectic DJ on LA's airwaves.
This installment includes Henry's trips to Tibet and Nepal, an appreciation of Blue Note records, and the awesomely annotated playlist for his KCRW BROADCAST #82 for tomorrow, Saturday 9-25-10. For more details please visit KCRW.com and HenryRollins.com]
A few days ago, I was in the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet, getting power-walked by massive tombs of the Dalai Lama and incredible statues of Buddha. My tour guide was giving me the knowledge at a mile a minute as we were shoved along, sandwiched in between a European tour group and a Chinese one. All three guides were talking at once. I am sure I retained some of it.
You are only allowed an hour inside, so to see at least some of the place, you gotta jam. All this talk about Lamas present and past, at the rate of speed with which my wonderful guide was laying it on me, had me repeating one phrase, over and over. You know what it was? That's right, gunga-galunga, no, wait, gunga-lagunga. Look it up.
Most of the time I spent in Lhasa, I was on my own. I went to the aforementioned palace and the Jokhang Temple, the oldest one in Tibet, as well as one museum. Past that, I just hit the streets and walked all over the place. I walked and walked, trying to find neighborhoods, streets where people lived, but was unsuccessful. All I found was block after block of shops, some streets busier than others, but that was pretty much it.
I saw a lot of soldiers. The Chinese want to make it clear who is running the show in Lhasa. Every few minutes it seemed, there was an armed group of sullen, uniformed young men in two-by-two formation marching by. There were soldiers standing on elevated blocks, staring into crowds. I noticed plainclothes men standing in public places, keeping watch. I would walk away and come back later to see if they were still in place and they were.
I asked a Tibetan man about this and he said that they are Chinese undercover and they are everywhere. One of their fears is that someone will take down any Chinese flag and put a Tibetan one in its place. He also told me to look at the faces of Tibetan people. "They are all sad," he said. He told me that they are sad because of the Chinese presence. He also said that no matter what statistic you read about killings, arrests or detentions in Tibet, not to believe it, it's much more than reported.
It might have been the bluest sky I have ever seen. The air is thin, takes a little while to get used to.
I was told that I would be getting a headache around midnight of my first night there. It hit me around 0200 hrs. My skull was ringing like a bell. After that subsided, I didn't notice much besides the air being so clean.
Prayer is a huge thing in Lhasa. People walk long, clockwise laps, spinning their prayer wheels, repeating their mantra. I would walk against the current, so I could see the faces. Such a beautiful people. Some of the elderly people, their faces were so deeply lined and full of life. Some of the women, stooped over, walking slowly with canes, they looked like they had been walking all their lives. I was told by my guide that some people make this walk every day. The more you walk, the more blessings you get. From what I could understand, the culture seems prioritize good luck, protection and honesty.
It's on the way to the airport that you get a glimpse of a completely different way of life. About fifteen minutes out of town, there's a long retaining wall on your right. Behind the wall are garbage littered, muddy roads and squat, indistinguishable yellow brick buildings where people live. Laundry hangs from balconies, prayer flags are everywhere. Next to the buildings are factories, industrial yards, raw materials. The work looks grinding and dull. Early in the morning, people are already hard at it. I asked the driver if I could walk down any of those streets and take some photos. He smiled, shook his head, no.
At the airport, the man went through my passport so thoroughly, complete with piercing stares at me every several seconds--why, I thought I was at LAX! He begrudgingly let me pass. Hours later, I arrived here in Kathmandu, Nepal.
This forty-eight hours here was just a layover so I could catch a flight that I am at the airport waiting on now to Paro, Bhutan. Flights there are infrequent. The cultural differences between China and Nepal are as extreme as you can imagine. As soon as you clear customs and walk out of the airport, you are mobbed by men offering taxi rides, straining to carry your baggage, the air is thick with moisture and perspiration and you flashback to the last time you were in India.
Almost and hour later, through traffic that didn't seem to move, I arrived at my usual Kathmandu spot, the Yak & Yeti Hotel. I got my room, geared up and hit the streets.
Interesting timing. I walked right into the country's election day. I turn a corner to see hundreds of people in the streets, flyers littering every square inch of the ground and a cacophony of horns and humanity. I wandered through the throngs and after several minutes, noticed there were no westerners that I could see. Also, no one with a camera that wasn't a phone besides mine.
I walked into a mass of people and a man grabbed me and said, "Journalist!" Before I could say I wasn't, I was shoved to the front of the crowd to see a band and people dancing. "Please take pictures!" Well, ok:
I got some great shots, was thanked by several people. I was caught up in the crush of it all for quite awhile and only walked back to the Y&Y after it started getting dark. The energy and excitement level was incredible. What a day. I am really liking that Canon 5D mk II for urban situations, the smaller body size doesn't scream CAMERA! as much as when I take out the 1ds Mk III on the streets. I always bring both, one for back up but am using that 5D a lot now.
So now, off to Bhutan. Why? Good question. Certainly on my list of places to go but not anywhere near the top. Perhaps because it's said to be one of the happiest places on earth, which to me, translates into pretty sights and boredom. I was in the neighborhood, so I figured my time was now. A few days in Paro and Thimphu, should be good. Of course, I will let you know. The next installment of this humble travel tale will hopefully be very lively. From my destination after Bhutan, Hanoi, Vietnam. I will be doing my radio show on the streets. A racket like you've never heard! I can't wait to get back there. I don't know why, but I always feel "at home" in Southeast Asia. Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Burma, you name it, I dig it and miss it as soon as I leave.
I told you all that to tell you this: there's a radio station called KCRW FM, 89.9 on your dial. At six pm, this coming Saturday, there's going to be a broadcast on said station for two hours that will be completely worth your while to check out. The details are below. Read on!
DON'T MISS SATURDAY NIGHTS ON THA K, KCRW FM 89.9
6-8 PM - HENRY ROLLINS
8-10 PM - DAZZLING LIZA RICHARDSON
10-MIDNIGHT - MARIO 'MASTER SWITCH' COTTO
KCRW BROADCAST #82
Fanatics! Last week, we melted the studio with the sounds of Jimi Hendrix and tonight, another smashing concept show! Eleven tracks, all amazing, all from one label: Blue Note! There is no way the Blue Note label is unfamiliar to you Fanatics. If somehow Blue Note was able to evade you, it would be like not noticing you had a herd of rhino in your kitchen, but nonetheless, Fanatics, it's a Jazz label like no other on earth. The catalog is so impossibly huge, the roster, so overwhelmingly stellar, it is more than one can deal with. It seems that anyone who ever picked up an instrument and checked the box for Jazz musician has shown up on a Blue Note session or six. The label was started in the late thirties by Alfred Lion, Francis Wolff and Max Margulis. Perhaps you have seen some of Wolff's incredible photography, a black and white master in lowlight settings!
As with last week's show, we are again spoiled for choice as to whom we selected for enjoyment tonight. There is simply no way in two hours, to even approach the enormity of Blue Note in any way besides picking out some great tracks, just ask KCRW heavyweight champion, our Sunday Superman, Tom Schnabel! Tonight, Fanatics, we have done just that. Look below at the absolutely stunning line-up we have for your enjoyment! I know you dig it when we go all out Jazz, so tonight is one of those nights. Shovels out, Fanatics!
Remember last year, when I did the two shows on the streets of Indonesia and India? Remember the chaos that ensued as I was nearly run over many times by motorbikes? Days ago, Engineer X and I were working in the mobile mini-mosk on tonight's show and he looked over my schedule and instructed me to do next week's live on the streets and send it in. One of his many good ideas. So, that's what I am going to do. I can't tell you how it's going to come out. All I can tell you is that I am going for it on the streets of Hanoi, Vietnam it's going to be loud.
But tonight, it's Blue Note. I think you're gonna love this one. So, when it's show time, get the coffee brewing and settle in. Until next week, hang loose and STAY FANATIC!!! --Henry
E-Mail address for Henry: Henryontheradio@gmail.com
01. Joe Henderson - Our Thing / Our Thing
02. John Coltrane - Blue Train / Blue Train
03. Wayne Shorter - Footprints / Adam's Apple
04. Herbie Hancock - Maiden Voyage / Maiden Voyage
05. Sonny Clark - Voodoo / Leapin' And Lopin'
06. Bobby Hutcherson - Les Noirs Marchant / Dialogue
07. Don Cherry - There Is The Bomb / Where is Brooklyn?
08. Ornette Coleman - Airborne / Love Call
09. Eric Dolphy - Out To Lunch / Out To Lunch
10. Andrew Hill - Subterfuge / Black Fire
11. Duke Jordan - Starbrite / Flight To Jordan
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