On the move for a weekend of shows, I’m in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, by way of Syracuse, New York.
Two nights ago, returning from the venue in Utica, back to Syracuse, I got an almost one-hour lecture from the driver on how things are. I sat listening quietly, but at the same time, I was thinking about all those really cool, but too expensive for the likes of me, Joy Division bootlegs that are currently crowding eBay. Looks like someone is selling off a collection that must have taken years to assemble. The seller has high hopes with those exorbitant starting prices, he might have to …
“Why has Bill Clinton been kicked out of all public libraries in America?” the driver asks, ripping me from my illegal Joy Division LP reverie. Half to myself and half to the driver, I ask him the same question. “Because he kept bending over all the pages.”
I get it but can’t come up with an appropriate reply. So I look out the window and think about the audacity of the seller to put a $600 price tag on the Die Kalten Winde Des Winters two-LP set, which finds Joy Division in Koln on 01-15-80 but doesn’t include the full version of “Atrocity Exhibition” that ends the set, even though the CD version does.
The silence just sits there. Finally the driver asks, “Nothing, huh?” Now that’s kind of funny. I said it clunked a little.
Then the driver tells me that President Trump just signed the “Forever GI Bill” into law, but no one knows that because the fake news media didn’t report on it. I suppress the urge to tell him that I read about the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017, also known as the Forever GI Bill, in the failing New York Times as well as on PBS.org, that the bill was in the works for quite a while and passed unanimously through Congress, and that it wasn’t as if Trump came up with the idea or had much if anything to do with its drafting. Not to mention that any sitting president would have signed it.
Twenty miles to go. He then tells me that the South has risen again, they’re the ones with all the money, and that all the blue states are broke because they have over-promised with what they put in retirees’ pension packages. I don’t understand why he feels the need to give me all these fun facts but it’s his car and I’m along for the ride. I ask him if Texas and Florida have enough money in their state coffers to pay to repair the destruction from what Harvey and Irma have brought them without any federal aid. “Probably.”
He then tells me he has served around 30 years in prison. Sensing I’m being tested, I ask him if that was as staff or inmate. He smiles broadly into the rearview mirror and tells me that my answer shows him that I am a free thinker and not like what they’re hatching out of universities these days. He was a guard. After being in the Army and working in the prison system, he drives a car to supplement his income as he waits for his pension to kick in. I hope he isn’t getting over-promised upon. I think to myself that people all over the world grind out a living until they’re very old, but in America, you can get squeezed until your last breath.
We arrive at the hotel. The driver shakes my hand, thanks me for the good conversation and departs.
At the Syracuse airport
The next morning, after the brief shuttle ride, on which the driver tells me how well the president is handling Harvey but that he’s not getting enough credit, I’m at the Syracuse airport. On the other side of security, I stare at the back of a man’s T-shirt, because it reads “Black Guns Matter.”
I checked my show files to see if I’ve ever done a show in Bethlehem. I can’t find anything but I do see a lot of gigs in Allentown, about 20 minutes away. Allentown was always one of the tour stops that made my stomach jump preshow. That was one tough audience. We would play, the audience would beat each other up. They always left us alone but damn, they were a hard bunch.
Meanwhile, hundreds of miles south of where I’m sitting, Florida is getting ripped apart by Irma. I wonder if the subject of climate change or innovative construction strategies going forward will be brought up as Florida, Texas and other states who were visited by these severe weather occurrences start rebuilding.
To even discuss the idea that the climate is changing and that storms like this might be more frequent is, at this point, almost un-American. There is no way you’re going to tell Houstonians that they can’t move back to Houston because it might not be worth rebuilding. I know that the quick rebuttal is that disastrous weather has been raising hell for centuries, and when you get knocked down, you just get up and build it again. The good people of Florida and Texas will rebuild and brave the next storm because you simply can’t tell Americans that they’re not going to live where they want. I’m amazed that so many Floridians actually left the state when Gov. Scott urged them to.
For now, the weather is the news. The “it is what it is” starkness of the headlines, the images and stories, seem to obscure anything else happening in America or elsewhere.
These storms brought not only pain and misery but a lot of useful information. I hope that as we rebuild, something’s being learned.
Look for your weekly fix from the one and only Henry Rollins right here every Thursday, and come back tomorrow for the playlist for his Sunday KCRW broadcast.
More from the mind of Henry Rollins:
Make America Filthy, Hungry, Broke and Stupid Again
Ask Yourself What Side of History You Want to Be on
Don't Let the Trump Show Distract You From What's Really Going On