I turned 56 today. It’s an age like 27, or 41. There was no great epiphany to be had, it just kind of happened. I took it as merely being closer to 60.
It has been such a long time since I was young, I don’t remember it, besides a few of the more embarrassing blunders. Since death is inescapable, I am just going for it with all I’ve got and not thinking too far in advance. This way, the future is a little sketchy and the overall remains quite interesting.
I spent a few hours in Redondo Beach earlier today. I used to live there in the 1980s when I was in Black Flag. It is some of the best air and climate of any place I have ever been. I liked it immediately upon arrival and think about it all the time.
Now and then, in the warmer months if I am off the road, on Fridays around sunset, I will get an overwhelming urge to be down there — if nothing else, just to hear the electrical wires buzz and smell the ocean. When I have caved in and driven down there, I find it to be almost exactly as I left it. Getting back on the 405 and driving back into Hollywood is like leaving a dream. For hours afterward, my mind will still be down there. Even though I have been back in Los Angeles for hours, I am still thinking about it now.
Today I went there for a geographic gut check. To walk the old streets, stare at a few landmarks and check my mind to see if there were any past-to-present dots to connect. When I lived there, I felt like I was the keeper of a closely held secret. Beach life was a charmed existence. Being a city boy from the East Coast, the fact that I could, with very little effort, swim in the ocean was always amazing to me.
The relatively slow pace and quiet was a great environment for a socially awkward introvert like me to ferment between tours. It would have been easy to live there for the rest of my life, and I can understand why some people never leave. This is why, 30 years after I lived there, I have been back only about 10 times. I like it too much, which means it’s probably not good for me.
Without movement and challenge, I am prone to bouts of deep depression, with heart-thudding moments that I think might be panic attacks. I fear comfort. I fear falling prey to it. I fear things stopping because I lost the courage to potentially fail trying something new.
Now and then, I read about what some of the people I hit the starting blocks with are up to. After many years of artistic inactivity, they reform their bands, or make new ones with other old people. In their photos, they look deadly earnest and grim.
I resist any idea of trying to get back on any horse I got off of. I just don’t see the point. I don’t want to be what I was. I want to be what I haven’t been yet.
I went to Redondo Beach today so I could leave and once again overcome the grip that this place, less than an hour’s drive, still has on me.
As soon as you get set in your ways
The older I get, the more suspicious I am of many things that are considered traditional. As soon as you get set in your ways — ways often foisted upon you by people who have been dead for generations — you are susceptible to being broken by the winds of change.
This is how one can become dismissive or hostile when faced with a world that is constantly evolving culturally and technologically. When old ideas and practices are put on life support and allowed to live well past their use-by date, the consequences can be catastrophic.
The USA, a country birthed in genocidal, scorched-earth invasion, slavery, civil war and almost ceaseless corruption, needs to end its ceaseless self-savagery before there is nothing left to pillage. What’s the solution? Apparently, more guns, oil, homophobia, misogyny and racism, less separation between church and state, and less governmental transparency. Since a lot of this was in full swing before there was penicillin, isn’t it time to discard a lot of these traditional ways of conducting ourselves?
As to how ridiculous it can get and how quickly it can get that way, you need look no further than the current political situation this country currently toils under. It’s a dial-up administration in a wireless nation, as much as millions fearfully deny it. This is why the current gang in charge has to lie with such gusto. The knives are out. Flynn was the first to fall.
I am well aware of how easily I can lose any plot. I watch young bands play and note the differences from how I did it when I was their age. I sometimes talk to them and listen to how differently they think about what it all means and where they want to go with their art. My mistake would be to conclude that they “don’t get it” or that when I was their age things were somehow better, or that we were right and they are somehow blowing it.
I don’t always understand where they’re coming from, which is fine. As long as I know where I’m coming from, I remain open to different ways of going about things. And by doing so, I don’t have to carry the heavy burden of being trapped in the pages of some ancient book of old man bullshit.
I’m not trying to be young. I’m trying to be here. This is why I went to the beach. Returning there is great, but leaving is the best.
More from the mind of Henry Rollins:
White America Couldn't Handle What Black America Deals With Every Day
Bowie's Blackstar Is on the Level of Low and Heroes
No Matter Who Wins, America Is Only Going to Get Angrier