[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.]
Several days ago, I was in Washington, D.C., on a night off and had the opportunity to attend a Q&A session Ian MacKaye did at a website-design place, which hosts weekly events for its staff. Ian was asked to speak about the concept and construction of the very cool Fugazi live download series at the Dischord site.
At one point Ian asked the audience what it is that he, as a record company, sells. Not wanting to leave my friend hanging out there, I volunteered, “The past!” Ian countered with, “Plastic.” I think we're both right.
Think about it: No matter who you are, the past plays a large part in your life. I am all about living in the present as best as I can. Try as I might, there is only so much I am able to achieve on this front. For instance, my reliance on the past makes it unnecessary to take a driver's test every time I get in my car. Every single record I have is a fossil. All the punk-rock posters of skinny visionaries on the walls of my office are the past. I enjoy looking at them. I like walking down old streets from my youth. I think it's interesting to visit a personal landmark and see how it has changed, or what around it has changed, and apply those thoughts to facilitate a clear and progressive perspective. It's not nostalgia; it is moving forward with some contextual awareness.
Several summers ago, at the behest of an old band member, I joined him and the three others to “put the band back together again” and went on the road for six weeks. At band practice, it sounded good. The old jokes were still funny and it was good to be with them again. I got swept up in the whole thing.
Within a few shows, I realized that I had just signed on for a month-and-a-half-long bummer. Certain proclivities of some members, as young men, were possibly understandable and worked around. Sadly, some of these destructive activities were still being practiced, now hardened by years of repetition. It was a heartbreaking, incredibly sad thing to witness, not to mention infuriating to endure. Huge lesson learned.
Sometimes the actions of others drag you back into the past. They attach themselves to you from their fixed and often regressive position and all of a sudden, there you are — again.
More than 30 years ago, I was at one of the first punk-rock shows I had ever attended. It was basically a house party with a small PA. It was a big damn deal for me to be in front of bands playing literally inches away from me, to where you're handing back lost drumsticks.
The singer of one of the bands was shirtless, a peroxide blond and a total rock & roll animal. He was all over the place and knocked into me a few times. At one point, he dropped to the floor on his knees in the middle of the small group around him. There in front of him, sitting in a puddle of beer, were two unused cigarettes. The singer picked them up and ate them like he did it all the time. So gross, I still cringe just thinking about it.
Turns out, he's a really cool and crazy guy, friendly and bright, with an extraordinarily beautiful girlfriend. Besides H.R. of Bad Brains, he was our scene's other alpha. A few years later, I ran into him. He was rail-thin and in very bad health. He had changed his name and was now doing some kind of goth-music performance art. He gave me a cassette, which I played as soon as I could. It wasn't good. I wondered what had happened to this guy.
Fast-forward a few decades. A few weeks ago, I am in a bookstore in Washington, D.C., for the release of a photo book that captures brilliantly a few of some vintage D.C.-area shows. This singer features prominently in the pages. His power and charisma are right out front. You can look at the faces in the audience — he's got 'em completely.
I did some writing for the book and was asked to speak. As I was talking to the audience, I heard someone yelling incoherently. It was the singer, crawling on the floor in front of me. He looked homeless and way out of his mind. I got him to quiet down and talked about him and his great band. The people there, most of whom had the book in their hands, looked at the photos and looked at this man, who reeked of alcohol and old sweat. I could see the pain in their faces. I can't imagine the pain that was registering in mine.
After the event, he told me the CIA had given him black mold, but he had beaten it. I told him to take good care of himself and went into the night with quite an ache. I really like this guy. He needs help.
A few hours ago, a church in Virginia contacted me and told me a homeless and disoriented man was there, claiming he used to be in a band and was friends with Bad Brains and saying he knew me. They wanted to know if it was true and if I knew anyone related to him who could be contacted.
On the case immediately, I reached out to Ian and he connected some dots. Within an hour, the rocker's father had come to get his well-into-his-50s son. From his father's phone, our friend called Ian and asked if he could live at his house and oh, guess what, he's going to get the band back together.
The past is the Jabberwock. Forget not the fallen, but beware the jaws and claws. With your vorpal blade going snicker-snack, kill the fucker, as you go galumphing on.