[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 Saturday KCRW broadcast.]
I use music to keep my life in check. Really, I do. I can get through almost any tough situation if I have the right soundtrack.
I become genuinely excited when I find out about a new release. I often pre-order the record or petition the label for an advance copy. Music — listening, acquiring, discovering, the facts, the history, the minutiae — it never gets old. I have been hooked in this way since I was teenage. I would like to think that I'm only getting warmed up.
Music helps me to fortify myself against the often depressingly grim realities the state of things currently offers.
In many ways, America is on the receiving end of a pendulum that has been swung with great force, and for a long time, outward into the world. The impact is a wake-up call on every level. Domestically and internationally, things are getting all shook up. Bills are coming due, minorities are not as minor as they used to be and a country that is historically resistant to change is changing. It's the same old God, gays and guns stuff but, unfortunately for those sincerely and generationally invested in the past and the oppression of others, it is becoming the hardest possible thing to sell to the texting generation. These aging Amerikaners are not taking the whole equality thing well.
All the while, society's tectonic plates are ceaselessly shifting underneath. More is being shown and known. The actual ingredients of the American way are sometimes rather awful.
With high-definition clarity, Americans and the rest of the world can access images of dead children in Afghanistan. Understandably, many recoil in anger and disgust. As Americans, we are often tasked with cognitive dissonance as normal operating procedure. We are horrified at the thought of America being the killer of children, yet we also know that America has been killing kids all over the world for a very long time. Can this be stopped? Of course. You. Just. Stop.
But apparently, “we” can't, and for this, we pay. For every child killed by American ordnance in Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan and Iraq (at least), a ceremonial marker should be placed on the lawn of the White House. Every Easter, visiting children can hunt for brightly colored eggs amidst the markers. President Obama, a Nobel laureate and father, should be just fine with that. In front of the newly built George W. Bush Library should be a veterans memorial wall with all the names of the fallen in Afghanistan and Iraq, including all the post-deployment suicides.
Of course, nothing like this will ever happen. It would be too much for America's collective stomach.
Age has taught me that there's nothing new under the sun. A brief history of those who went to and eventually had a mega bummer time in Afghanistan: 330 B.C., Alexander the Great. 1219, the Mongols. 1839, 1878 and 1919, the three Anglo-Afghan Wars (the Brits, who should have become used to losing by that point, needed to read the memo three times before they finally packed it in). 1979, the Soviet-Afghan War. The Russians, those still living, eventually hightailed it out of Afghanistan with such speed that they left tons of their war toys scattered all over the country. Years ago, I spent hours climbing in and out of abandoned Mikoyan-i-Gurevich (MiG) fighter jets at the Bagram Air Base there.
America, all these years later, running excitedly and lost in the deep fog of hubris and military industrial complex go-go can-do exceptionalism, has been in Afghanistan for one reason or another, for decades, getting all killed up.
Whenever I see a picture of an American soldier talking to an Afghan elder, I think of what Lou Reed said in “I'm Waiting for the Man”: “Hey, white boy, what you doin' uptown?”
Those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it — at the behest of others who did indeed learn from history and ran the numbers. One day, we too will leave all of our war junk there for the kids to play on. No one there will be bothered to ask what took so long. They already knew we were leaving. America has fiscal quarters. Afghanistan has eternity.
And it is because of all this that I need to listen to a lot of music. Life being so brief, I have decided that music makes it better. This is not an expression of escapism. A self-regulating, self-medicating coping mechanism is more like it. At least with music, it doesn't matter which warlord-in-chief is in office. The tunes just keep coming.
There are so many great records out and coming out this year, so many great bands coming to town, you will want to cancel your sleep appointments. Here are three reasons to jump back and kiss yourself on your way to the record store:
Thee Oh Sees, Floating Coffin: Hot on the heels of last year's Putrifiers II, John Dwyer and company have unleashed yet another rockin' slab of sonic freedom that excites right from the opening of its first track, “I Come From the Mountain,” all the way to the end. Out now on Castle Face.
White Fence, Cyclops Reap: Eleven new songs from Tim Presley, aka White Fence. TP further defines and expands his psychedelic explorations with this excellent album, also on Castle Face. If you can't get enough, check out the work he did in collaboration with the very talented and prolific Ty Segall called Hair. (C'mon, y'all, these are California artists. Support!)
White Mystery, Telepathic: The third album from the Chicago-based brother-sister duo of Miss Alex White on guitar and Francis Scott Key White on drums. They are so cool. Minimally structured songs delivered with fuzz, skill and attitude. They will be in California this month.
Many of the bands on the Coachella stages also will be playing locally, so if you have the time and inclination, you can get even more to cure that which ails you.