[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.]
I turned 52 years of age on the 13th day of February. That morning, I found myself completely uninterested in this fact. My 50 birthday was interesting. I saw it as the beginning of some post peak, diminishing returns, downhill ride in Mortality's toboggan. It ended up not being a big deal.
This time around, I got a cake, a card and a lot of friendly e-mails from all over the world, all of which I answered after work that evening.
I figured since it was my birthday, I would suspend my usual rule of only listening to new music on the weeknights, which I do in an effort to keep moving forward, distancing the hounds of stagnation from my heels, and play some records that were more familiar. I consider this carbohydrate listening; comfort food for the ears. I usually reserve this kind of low challenge listening for Saturdays.
One of my true north, clear the air, reset favorites is the first Clash album, the UK version, which has different songs than its American cousin. I have been listening to this album since I was in high school and it still moves me.
So, I sat right in front of the speakers and took it in one more time. As I listened, I did a multi-level gut check. I do this kind of thing all the time: Before shows, auditions, anything where there is risk involved. I do the big ones in the early hours of the new year and on my birthday. I try to figure out where I'm at as far as motivation, intensity, etc.
When the album's last song, “Garage Land,” finished. I found myself very happy. Ecstatic, actually. Because I realized how angry I was. I got up, flipped the record over, started it again and resumed my self-analysis. As the songs played, I concluded that I was more angry than I was a year ago. This to be an achievement, something I have somehow gotten it right.
My anger does not manifest itself in destruction of objects, swearing in traffic, or attempting to get beaten up by another male several years my junior. Actually, it gets me up early, on the road and down it. I believe that contentment or any sustained period of joy that doesn't inspire thought that leads to action almost immediately is useless.
As the Clash album came to an end for the second time, I had to get up and go. I got in my car and went somewhere. I don't remember where I ended up but I do know there was coffee involved and that I listened to the Stooges Raw Power album.
I was 52 and still angry. Life had not worn me out. My too-many-to-count failures had not broken me and my modest successes had not softened me. One of the things I learned as I got older was that it wasn't the hard times you had to be wary of — it was the good times that could take you out. The only way to lose it all is to have it all first. I acknowledge a steep incline. I accept climbing and falling as part of the package. I don't rest. I take cover and prepare.
Someone who in my opinion vindicates my point of view is the Northern Ireland journalist and activist Eamon McCann. A few years ago, he and I walked the streets of Derry and he showed me where he was crawling on the ground, past the dead as bullets few over him on Bloody Sunday in 1972. This man has so much energy coming off him, he could light up a building. You shake his hand and you feel ten years younger. He and I would probably disagree on any number of topics but damn, what a ball of fire. He was around 74 when I met him and totally furious. We finished the interview, and as soon as he took the mic off, he yelled that he had to go meet someone to start a march or something, thanked us and went power walking into the dusk.
I would like to think that I could end up like that: old, energized and on the move. At 52, I realize that I don't care about my age unless I can get in a good joke. Beyond that, I am right now, always about to be the future. I am on until I am dead, like a light bulb. This is my no option option.
As I was sitting there at my caffeination destination with the Stooges causing perfect cranial chaos, I thought about a report I had heard about how little of America's budget goes to educating our very young. Bob Dylan was right about not needing a weathervane to know which way the wind blows. I fast forwarded into the future America, full of coarse, belligerent, fearful, undereducated citizens. Low on information and high on bad ingredients, they will fill every prison and battlefield and personify every American stereotype. There is a lot of money being spent to turn America into a nation of burger flipping, minimum wage earning addicts.
They will fight and kill each other. They will double down on brutality and turn the cycle of abuse into an industry. There will be huckster cheerleaders like Wayne LaPierre make them feel good about their paranoia as they buy even more bullets they don't need. When you hear Ted Nugent say, “If you want another Concord Bridge, I've got some buddies,” you know that America should be educating the hell out of its young people, lest they end up like him.
I would like to be part of that which turns all this around. I bet I have some buddies, too.
Fifty-two. It's a job and I'll take it. Like I heard a crew guy tell an actor on a set once, “Hold onto it like you're mad at it!”