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Henry Rollins: Figuring It Out, All Over Again

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Thu, Nov 21, 2013 at 4:00 AM

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[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: Empowerment Through Libraries

For the last 30-plus years, I have been doing one long, uninterrupted improv. When I arrived in the adult world, I understood that, in order to eat, I would have to stay hungry, no irony intended. I mean I knew I would have to be relentless in order to hang in there. I would have to be fearless and be prepared for failure and setbacks.

I figured that since I had very little, I had about the same to lose. I worked hard at writing, did as many shows as I could (with and without a band) and went on auditions for acting and voice-over work.

I could hold my own onstage pretty well but bombed on the acting and voice-over front most of the time. It's not easy hearing "no" so much, and it defines insanity when you do the same thing over and over, hoping for a different result.

We all learn lessons in life. Some stick, some don't. I have always learned more from rejection and failure than from acceptance and success.

My employment is, unfortunately, approval-based. I live by the numbers. Ticket sales go up, they go down -- I like to think of it as ebb and flow, far less painful, easier on the stomach and ego. No tour I embark on is a "sure thing" but rather, an Odyssean journey of "maybe" and "hopefully" until it's over. When the audience goes elsewhere, and it eventually will, I will have to figure it out all over again, and quickly.

I also live by the contract and dangle by the option. When a time period is over (as with voice-over work), I have to wonder if they will renew. Maybe. Hopefully.

As nerved up as all this can make me, and it does, it keeps things interesting. When I'm at a red light on Olive and see people emerge from the parking structure, cross the street and walk into Gate 2 at Warner Bros., it has a calming effect. It's good to see them, employed, somewhere to go. For a fleeting moment, I think to myself that it would be great to have a steady job. On the other hand, I wonder how long I would last. I don't have the strength or courage that kind of regularity requires. To face it, week after week, would take a great deal of adjustment. It is the real world and I don't think I could hack it.

This multidecade scrounge-athon I've been on has kept my blood thin, but mostly it's kept me on the move, looking for the next thing. I have learned to multi- and over-task. In my line of work, there is no such thing as too much, just not enough.

Currently I am stationed in Toronto, working in an independent film where I am the principal actor, as well as one of the executive producers. Basically, besides the acting, there are meetings to attend, notes to take and issues to weigh in on. It's going to be a busy and eventful experience.

Hours ago, at a production meeting, I sat in a room filled with highly skilled, talented people -- props, camera, effects, casting, script supervision, etc. We went through every scene so every aspect could be analyzed for everything from practicality to cost and even possibility. For instance, we have a car driving away from a building. To have it merely leave frame, not so difficult. To have it leave frame and drive onto a street, that's a whole other thing; traffic, cops, money. For more than two hours, this professional and imaginative group rationally discussed the orchestration and construction of an agreed-upon farce.

I find this environment to be incredibly liberating and exciting. In order to put the film across, all of us will have to give this completely unbelievable story all the effort and sincerity we have. Since it is a feat of fiction, we will all have to believe it completely when we are shooting the scenes. To make it really rock, you have to over-believe it.

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