[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.]
For the last several days, I have been in and out of Philadelphia, working on the show that never ends, 10 Things You Don’t Know About. We started about 80 days ago and are over 40 shooting days in, with a ong way to go. I get off easy compared with the people on the production end. I really don’t know how they do it.
The weather has been moving us around a bit. Suddenly, we were faced with three days off. When we got word of this massive 72 hours away from waking up at the crack of dawn — and going full-on until wrap — I think some of us just didn’t know what to do with so much time. I love having “problems” like this.
The prospect of spending three days in Philadelphia was not all that interesting to me. I have nothing against the place but, to be honest, it’s really hot here — like Kolkata — and some of the streets have an olfactory assault that is oppressive. I needed an alternative.
On the eve of these incredible three days, I wrapped around 1800 HRS. and changed into my normal clothes in a van heading toward 30th Street Station. Camera operator Tom and I walked in and almost immediately saw the sign for track 5. Tom was headed to Baltimore, I was headed to Washington, D.C.
Earlier in the day, I had called my best friend of more than 40 years, D.C. resident Ian MacKaye, and asked him if he was going to be around. He said he would. No matter how much time we spend together, our conversations going for hours, it’s never enough. I had seen him days before when we were in D.C. for about an hour — barely even enough to get things rolling.
On that occasion, he had to cut out, and after he left, I walked for almost three hours through the perfect night air. As the time passed, the one thing that kept going through my mind over and over again was to tell Ian that we can never stop listening to music. Not a thought of any great intellectual heft, but all those years ago we bonded over Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin and from there into countless other bands. Music is in our DNA at this point. It has filled our conversations for literally decades. At the time, this thought seemed like the most important thing.
On the taxi ride from Union Station to the hotel, I was so happy to be there, I thought I was going to levitate off the seat. After checking in, I stayed out on the streets for hours, walking to different landmarks and just taking it all in. It’s a simple joy, all I need. At times like this, it’s about as perfect a slice of time as I have ever experienced. I want nothing more than what’s in the backpack on my shoulder. I don’t want a place to live, I don’t want anything more than to be in that moment.
I walked to the apartment I lived in while I was in high school. The lights are never on in my room when I pass by, but this time they were. It’s six floors off the ground, but I could see one of the walls and remembered the Bad Brains and Teen Idles fliers I had taped up. That’s the apartment where I heard the first Clash album. I didn’t stay long. Trying to explain all this to a cop, no thanks.
The next day, I met up with Ian and we hit the streets in and around the Mount Pleasant neighborhood. The first Minor Threat show was held at 1929 Calvert St., at a house party in December 1980. I was there. To stand in front of the place with Ian and be able to see where the band were set up, almost 34 years ago, was almost too much to wrap my head around. Several blocks later, we walked by Bo Diddley’s old place and then the Black Panthers’ old residence. Later, we went by where the Ontario Theater used to be, where we saw Bo Diddley open for the Clash in 1979.
The next day, through the heat, I walked to a different neighborhood and went to my schoolyard, where, in the late ’60s, I first learned about racism and heard the Jackson 5. I have been back to this place many times over the years. There’s never anyone there. This time was the most interesting of all the visits. Mother Nature is reclaiming the schoolyard. It’s quite beautiful. A tree is growing through the jungle gym, roots have broken down a wall, lines of weeds have come up through the cement of the yard. An area where I spent quite a bit of time being scared is being eaten by vegetation. It’s like some kind of great revenge.
I told Ian about that thought I had after I saw him last, about how we must keep playing music. Instead of looking at me as if I was an idiot, he gave me a most serious look and nodded, as if I had hit on some main vein of truth.
There is a way to turn almost all words into poetry, and time into suspended, rapturous revelation that exists beyond time — moments that are perfect and completely your own. At this point, I will go far and wide for as much of that as I can get. It makes existence desirable.
Enjoy the moment. Slow down time. Get lost for a while. Find your summer in the relentless, generic heat, and float.
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