[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.]
As I write this, I am sitting in one of my favorite spots – my old neighborhood in Washington, D.C. I am in the area this week, working on the H2 show 10 Things You Don't Know About.
Several minutes ago, I called D.C. resident Ian MacKaye (Teen Idles, Minor Threat, Skewbald, Minor Threat, Fugazi, Evens) to let him know I had arrived. As I was speaking to him, I saw his brother Alec (Untouchables, Faith, Ignition, Warmers) crossing the street. I called him over and, for a few seconds there, I was with two people I have known for over 40 years, one in front of me and one in my ear. I appreciate the smallness of this place.
My time here is brief, as tomorrow I will be up and at it, predawn, back at work. But for a few hours, I can take my eye off the ball.
For me, this place, these streets and the people I know here are all intertwined with music. Before music was my obsession and inspiration for breathing, life wasn't all that interesting to me.
When I have the opportunity to walk around here without an early-morning obligation waiting or a ton of details to manage, I try to reinforce the lessons that these people, streets and years have taught me.
The information (if there is any) and how I interpret it (if I am not misreading the tea leaves) has become clearer and more important the further I go.
The operative word that rises to the top of all the data is “urgency.” I love this noun. I live urgently. Most things I do, I do with urgency, and often a healthy dose of fury thrown in to keep the blood thin. Forward is the only direction I feel safe operating in. Whatever it takes, I must keep getting on to the next thing.
I use the past – that which I have achieved, the massive amount of things at which I have failed – as momentum and pressure to, if anything, go harder and more courageously onward. Failure, while not optimal, is often the result for me. I have learned to wipe the blood off my mouth and smile.
This is one of the things that makes the occasional visit to the old neighborhood worthwhile. I need constant reminders to stay with it, to keep throwing myself into the propellers. My instinct is to sleep too long and sit too still as life hurtles by like an express train. If I think it's a good idea, it is probably not the way to go. This being the case, I am in constant conflict with myself. The more I lose the argument, the better it is for me.
The last few days have been great. We are on location. We are working our asses off. We are making a great season of television. I am in my most favored state: employed. Six days a week, we get up at some awful hour and get out there. The day is what we make it and ours to screw up, so we make it great. I am kicking Time's ass as it kicks mine. Working at this capacity is existence on full.
To maintain this level of operation, I find it useful to pass through the old streets now and then to reinforce the idea that this is where I come from, not where I am now or where I am returning to “when it's all over.” Because, to me, there is no retirement, there is no “enough already.” There is only the next thing. Too much familiarity is dangerous. One or two grains too much comfort is deadly.
Why do some people wait so many years to expose the cowardice they have been cultivating for so long? Such a virulent strain do they harvest that they not only seek out their laurels but completely defoliate the forest. They become perverts who molest their own history. Not only do they do this but often they have the audacity to charge money to witness this self slaughter.
Why do some people, who have created something that means so much to so many, treat not only their past but those who trust them with such contempt? What malevolent insanity could drive you to do that? Perhaps you hate these people who invested so deeply in what you put across that you figure they should be punished for their naivete?
In this retro age, be wary of bands reformed, lineup suspect, corruptly vending shoddy goods badly. Party people, it's real bad.
The present and the future is all I have. The past, my past, is a museum. One long, cautionary tale to never return to. Curate and provide docent assistance to archaeologists and the curious, sure, but to repeat and carry forward, never.
I've taken a lot of my cues from the aforementioned Ian MacKaye, since he was 11 and I was 12. He has no detectable sign of nostalgic impulses and has always moved ahead.
In his band days, he practiced something that I never noticed until years later. When someone in his band wanted to leave or when he thought the unit was no longer viable, instead of switching out personnel, he would, with a profound absence of ceremony, scrap the band and start from scratch. He told me that, in his opinion, a band is a relationship. Once you lose a member, you lose the relationship.
Damn, that's impressive. I wish I had guts like that.
On the other hand, people should just do whatever they want. If they want to fall for the lie that the best is behind them and turn into a human oldies jukebox, that is for them to do. Hopefully, they don't subject others to their miserable lack of innovation.
It's nice to be back in the old neighborhood. In a couple of hours, I'll be out of here.
When in doubt – go.