A few weeks ago, Heidi, my manager and big boss, told me I was driving her crazy. “You’ve been acting like a caged animal since you got back from tour,” she said, and then made me an offer I couldn’t refuse: Heidi would send me away for a week to a country I had never been to, so I could work on my next two books. The catch was, I would not know where I was going until the day I left.
She’s right, of course. I have been frustrated since I got back from the road. I have a lot of work, and I thrive in environments that have little distraction. This is how I’ve spent many Christmas breaks. I’ll fly to an interesting place, and for several days, when not walking the streets, I’ll edit and proofread manuscripts.
I always thought the lives of writers were glamorous, at least through the romantic lens of their biographers. Sometimes even the authors themselves wrote about it, like Hemingway in A Moveable Feast, depicting the younger version of himself working away in the cold, early-morning hours, somewhere in France.
I’m no writer, but I like to pretend I’m one now and then. I told Heidi to go ahead and book the trip.
I think she was slightly taken aback that I said yes so quickly. What other answer could I give her? The idea was just too good. I asked for some basics, like climate estimates and what electrical-outlet adaptors to bring, and that was it. Yesterday, I was wheels-up.
There must have been quite the memo sent around to everyone at United Airlines. Ever since last month, when Dr. David Dao was dragged off a United flight in a now-famous incident that just recently settled, with the doctor getting an undisclosed amount of money (probably yuge), the charm offensive is on. During the first flight, passengers were thanked frequently and profusely for being customers and for our very existence. All the attendants said goodbye as I exited; the pilot was outside of the cockpit, an ATM machine of gratitude.
Still, in the back, where I was sitting, the seats were small, the distance between them seemingly less than ever. When the person ahead of me put her seat back, I was almost pinned to mine, and the man sitting next to me seemed to need a lot of legroom. I endured my stress position and read.
After another flight and several hours, I arrived at the hotel around 0030 hrs. This is how I ended up in Lima, Peru.
This is only my seventh time to this continent. It’s not that I don’t find it interesting, but I’m more attracted to places that take a long time to get to, hence all the travel I have done in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
I have some record stores lined up and am hoping to be able to score more of the Chilean psych music I found in Santiago a couple years ago. Perhaps it might have crept up here on import, as well as some music from Peru, which I know absolutely nothing about but am all ears to hear. If weather permits, I’ll be hitting the streets and walking all over. I’m hoping for some anti-Trump graffiti. During the Bush years, I found it all over the world.
In every South American country I have been to, the cities and the people I’ve met seem to be very progressive. Just being here for less than 24 hours, the same thing that has greeted me in previous visits is all around me: a high level of sophistication and readiness for the world and the future. I’m looking forward to my days here.
I wanted to note, in my humble column, the recent passing of a good guy and musician, Cel Revuelta. Cel was the bass player on the last Black Flag tour in 1986.
Little in my life prepared me for Black Flag
Cel took the job, which was probably a really good offer at the time, to play dates from coast to coast with an established band, over a seven-month period. What Cel could not have known was that he had signed on for one of the hardest tours of duty the band would ever take on. It was a lot of shows, and with them an almost dependably high level of violence. The audiences were less than thrilled with the band’s new material, and we players — never much for getting along all that famously — were starting to show signs of stress.
Cel walked into all this without warning, context or preparation other than being an extraordinary musician and a streetwise man from a tough city. He did great. I always admired his quiet but strong presence. He never said that much but had a great sense of humor, which would occasionally make an appearance. He was a minimalist’s minimalist. He toured with a gym bag and one of those thick, blue Navy peacoats.
After that tour, and in the decades to come, I would see Cel occasionally. It was always good to check in with him. A few weeks ago, I got the bad news that he had been battling a rare kind of cancer — and then, a few days ago, he was gone.
While the band didn’t always get along, everyone liked Cel. He’s been on my mind a lot these last several days. Being in a band, even on the most superficial level, is never easy. If you’re trying to get somewhere with your music, it can put you through quite a lot. Little in my life prepared me for Black Flag, but being in the band prepared me for everything that came afterward. I hope that Cel’s time out there gave him something he was able to use.
[Editor's note: When Henry knew him, C'el Revuelta spelled his first name with an apostrophe, which was how his name originally appeared in this column. But he dropped the apostrophe later. At the request of his friends and family, we have updated the spelling of his name to Cel Revuelta.]
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:
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
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