[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 Saturday KCRW broadcast.]
10/29/12: As I sit here in Boston on a night off, I can see Hurricane Sandy-powered sheets of rain lashing the sidewalk. For the last two days, media outlets have been hyping the storm like it's a pay-per-view professional wrestling event. Programmed to want it all now, I almost found myself getting impatient for its arrival.
The East Coast is currently getting hammered by this incredible mood swing of Mother Nature. Some preachers have blamed all this heavy weather on homosexuals. I am sure this doesn't surprise you. Chaplain John McTernan blames not only the LGBT community but also President Obama and even Mitt Romney. The Westboro Baptist Church in cosmopolitan Topeka, Kan., unsurprisingly is overjoyed by the hurricane's wrath. I am in the position of having to be hopeful that I don't lose any shows because of the storm.
I am 159 shows into this tour, with fewer than 30 to go before it's all over, in December. I should be exhausted by now and very much over the prospect of getting onstage night after night, but I am not. I feel fine and ready to take the entire lap around the world all over again.
Why do I find it just fine to live for months at a time on a bus, in hotel rooms and in small, backstage areas? That's probably due to many factors; the enviable ones such as really liking what I do and the people I meet, and then the life-fail ones, such as the inability to feel loneliness or to miss someone. I used to when I was younger, but over the years that has faded, and then one day it hit me that I often live on the road, one way or another, for several months every year without noticing.
Years ago, touring was for me some voyage at sea, where one day you would come back to a familiar shore to be welcomed by that which was warm and familiar. I would sometimes count the days we had been out, not in frustration but with an awareness of the sheer amount of time we were holding the line. Now it is just life.
What has not changed is having music on board. I never hit the road without it. Modern technology allows me to take literally thousands of hours of sound with me. The musicians involved are all the community I need and probably all I can handle.
We humans are hard to deal with. We are a loud, complex and demanding bunch. Often, we are best dealt with from a safe distance and for only brief periods of time. This could be why a lot of marriages fail. Not everyone is cut out for so much required proximity.
Perhaps one of the best things about listening to music is that we are in total control of the sonic environment. One can be alone in a room with music playing and have the freedom to feel alone and not alone at the same time. The audiophile's obsessive quest for exclusivity and perfection is also one that seeks this state of precision.
I am not one who hates my own species. In fact, the farther down the road I go, the more I like people and find it harder and harder to hold them in contempt on a wide scale. This is a good thing, because I am in contact with a lot of people. Not only am I in front of thousands every single year, but I also often meet hundreds every week. It is not remotely a chore or a bother.
Actually, these people unwittingly keep me on my best behavior and make me a better person. They make me realize our very great differences: They are real. I am a performer. They come to the venue in the evening through the lobby, wondering what will be. I come in through the tradesmen's entrance hours before and know very well what will be. To let them down, to betray them in any way, is out of the question. I keep a healthy fear of all that. While I don't take myself very seriously, I take them with a great amount of seriousness. This is one of the reasons I like going to shows. Now and then, someone else has to carry the night and allow me to coast.
It is perhaps this constant level of compression, expectation and obligation that sends some performer types to unhealthy methods of coping. For me, it's the gym, music and one show after another — an opportunity to sharpen the blade and clear the air.
I know a few people. I see them infrequently and briefly. However, I carry thousands of people with me everywhere I go. For the last few hours, I have been alone in a room with countless people coming through two speakers as the wind and rain rage outside. Life is weird, great and dangerous. Music makes it tolerable.
Cartwheels to the Record Store Dept.: Recent arrivals to your local record store are two supercool releases by the Velvet Underground and Nico. The first, from your friends at Sundazed, is a five-LP box set of the first three Velvet Underground albums and Nico's Chelsea Girl, all in mono, as well as an LP's worth of VU rarities. The second, on Polydor, is a six-CD collection featuring mono and stereo versions of the first VU album, as well as alternate versions, single edits and a newly remastered version of Chelsea Girl, plus the VU Scepter Studios Sessions, Factory rehearsals and two CDs of live material from a show in Columbus, Ohio, on Nov. 4, 1966.
You know, if I had a radio show, I could turn all of this into a serious night of listening. Hey, wait a minute… get ready, Fanatics!
It's been a great night off. You, me, Sandy and the music.