[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 am in the middle of a week of shows in New York City and living in the Soho Grand Hotel. Every evening, I walk an uptown mile to Joe's Pub, my place of employ, hit stage at 21:00 hrs., finish, eat and then walk back here.
The venue is located in an area where I lived on and off between 1993 and 1997. As I walk up Lafayette toward Joe's, my mind fills with memories. I used to occupy the Starbucks at Astor Place several nights a week. They had air conditioning and coffee, which gave me a break from my hotbox-from-hell apartment. A major part of my books Eye Scream and Solipsist were written there.
For me, NYC, music and my life are tightly intertwined. I had some of the greatest and worst times of my life here.
Sometimes when you meet a musician you are a fan of and he or she isn't the friendliest person, you walk away from the experience wondering if you will ever be able to listen to their music again. If that ever happens to you, try to allow the musician a little breathing room. Trying to write music, be in a band and keep it all happening is one of the hardest, morale-destroying, heartbreaking things you will ever try to do — and that's when it's going well.
After an entire week of working in a practice room for several hours a day, I would spend the weekends walking for hours. I would go from the East Village to Carnegie Hall and back just to burn off the energy of my frustration and anger. I would come back to my apartment, be unable to sleep or write and then leave again and walk to Electric Ladyland and back and try to sleep. It wasn't the city that was making me angry, it was trying so hard to make music and feeling like a failure while doing it.
Quite often, the listener has no idea how much goes into writing songs, making records, touring, etc. Perhaps if they did, they might not be so quick to download the music for free.
The streets of New York City are hallways of music greatness. I walked by the Village Vanguard on Seventh Avenue a few days ago and almost stopped to salute the place.
Legends walked these streets. Walking by 315 Bowery, where CBGB's used to be, is very hard for me. I tried to go there a few nights ago but couldn't bring myself to do it, too many memories. When you consider all the people who walked into that place, from The Ramones to Suicide to Television, it's a shame it wasn't made into a historical site.
I remember being onstage there one night in 1992. The place was packed, the heat was incredible, there was no oxygen in the air, and from song to song we were just completely killing it. I realized we were peaking, that we were never going to be better than we were on this night. The number of bands that might have done the best shows of their lives on that stage would be too many to count.
There is so much raw brilliance in this city it is at times overwhelming. For me, to be able to walk out of your apartment or hotel at 02:47 hrs., the time I am writing this sentence right now, and know that the lights of a deli will be on and there will be a man in an apron, sitting on a milk crate out front cutting vegetables, that there will be a diner open and it will illuminate the darkness like a beacon for insomniacs, makes it the most amazing city anywhere. To walk the streets in the early morning on the weekends and have to weave through all the people is to feel the pure electricity of humanity.
When I am in Africa, I always have the feeling that it's where everything started. When I am in New York, I know it is where everything ended up.
Sometimes, when I am living here for several days at a time. I will be sitting in my hotel room and it hits me that right outside the door is New York City and I feel like I just have to get up and go outside. This never gets old for me.
What does New York sound like? For me, the Charlie Parker at the Royal Roost recordings on the Savoy label are the total embodiment of the New York music experience. Yes, it all went down years before I was born, but when Symphony Sid introduces the group: “Charlie Parker on alto, Miles Davis on trumpet, Tommy Potter on bass, the great Max Roach on drums. To start things jumping without wasting too much time, the Bird, Groovin' High” and that barely believable lineup starts to play — DAMN, it moves me.
That's the thing, it ALL made its way here. From Dylan Thomas and Bob Dylan, Lenny Bruce, James Brown, Johnny Thunders to the Beastie Boys.
The fact that I have an audience in this city, one sold-out night after another, is something I will selfishly take as a compliment. New Yorkers have options. That when I walk the streets here, people will yell my name from their cars and wave or walk up and greet me makes me feel pretty damn invincible. Of course I'm not, but New Yorkers sure are. There is nothing like them anywhere.
The city never sleeps, never dies and never quits. Most amazing city in the world, nowhere else comes close. For more than 30 years, I have left a lot of sweat and blood on stages all over this city. If I am lucky, I will return again and again.