[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.]
See also: Henry Rollins: Nelson Mandela's Legacy
Just wrapped a great and fairly sleep-free week of long flights in small seats, challenging light cycles and festival stages.
Almost every summer since 1987, I have done festival dates in Europe. The music festival is a long-standing tradition there, and often these multiday events have massive attendances and huge acts playing.
Although the shows are not always easy to do — often with little to no soundcheck, and the challenge of whatever weather nature hands you — it's always worth it.
Perhaps some of you remember the awful news from one such festival in the summer of 2000, when nine people died at the Roskilde Festival in Denmark, when the crowd rushed toward the stage during a performance. We were scheduled to play the next day on the same stage. Many of the bands that were scheduled to perform had canceled, yet thousands of people were still there. The stage manager asked if we were going to play or not. I told him we would do whatever he wanted. He said play and so we hit it. Easily the strangest show I have ever done. Once everything is in motion, you can forget the circumstances to a certain extent, but on that day, the loss of these people the day before hung in the air for the entire set.
I was asked back to the Roskilde festival this year, to do a show a day for all four days, on four different stages. This plus jet lag would be a bit of uphill, but I took the offer immediately.
Airports in major cities, like LAX, are trippy environments. It is at once a national and international gathering of those in transition: The euphoric, emerging from planes, their journey at an end, and the determined, about to depart.
A few days ago, when I was waiting to head to Frankfurt and then on to Copenhagen, I watched people assault mountains of food from the many vendors. I thought to myself that in these environments, we don't eat food as much as we kick hunger's ass. The size of the meal is a throwdown, a call-out to how bad you want to be the last one standing. This posture is captured perfectly by the comedian Patton Oswalt in a routine he does called “Black Angus.” It's when I am sitting in airports, watching an endless parade of people pass by me, that I think a lot about what it is to be an American and how that manifests itself when it goes abroad.
I saw several groups of young people, many wearing the same athletic shirt, a team, off to another country to play. I watched them excitedly talk to one another, several of them clutching their brand-new passports. I am glad they are getting out and into the world. I wish all young Americans could get out of America for two weeks a year during high school and experience the huge world outside of America. I think we would all be the better for it.
Finally, it was time to board and off I went to Frankfurt, Germany, an airport that often requires several minutes of walking to get to the next flight. I don't know how many times I have been there. Hell, I'll be back again in two weeks for Wacken Open Air.
Several hours after that, I found myself in Copenhagen, Denmark, with a day off before the shows started. This is where the battle starts. Me vs. jet lag. I cannot stay in the hotel room. There is a bed in there, and if I take a nap to even out, it usually turns into a several-hour, dream-filled, semi-conscious toss-and-turn that depresses the hell out of me. So I do my best to stay out of the room, keep moving and pretend I am not tired enough to wander into a moving car.
This kind of exhaustion is what I think withdrawal might be like. Can't get anything done, can't think straight, everything sounds strange, it's no fun. However, this state is one I am all too familiar with.
The light cycle in Scandinavia at this time of the year only enhances the life-is-weird factor of jet lag. The sun stubbornly sits high in the sky until almost 9:30 at night, takes a brief break below the horizon and then starts making its way back up a few hours later.
I quite enjoy that part of the world. There are some strange and amazing bands and the people, at least my audience, are really cool.
On my night off, in an effort to level out, I left the hotel and walked along a road that bordered a field full of sheep. At one point, I stopped and just stared at sheep for a very long time. The sheer Zen absurdity alone was worth the trip.
Soon enough, it was showtime. Every day, I was on a different stage talking to thousands of young people. The jet lag had magically disappeared and the only hang-up was that I wished I had been given more stage time.
When I am looking out at all those bright, young faces, I get overwhelmingly optimistic. I really believe that these are the ones who won't get fooled again, to borrow from Mr. Townshend. I might be naive, but I think I am right about this and that the world is headed in a good direction.
A few hours after the last show, I was back at the airport, to take the same flights in reverse, back to LAX.
I am now sitting at my desk, fairly marveling at the temperature outside. L.A. swallows me up so quickly, I feel as if I never left; the shows seem about a year old. The combination of jet lag, sleep deprivation, the almost ceaseless light and the pressure of performance makes it all seem like a weeklong daydream. I'll take this over real life anytime.