[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.]
Still in Australia, with a lot more shows to go. Right now, I am in Brisbane. We got in a few hours ago from Cairns in the north. Before that, we were in Darwin, which is way up at the top of the country. Last night was a sauna — I came off stage soaked. Now that we're more south, the weather is far less hot and humid.
I am 70-some shows into the tour. This is where some performer types either head home or start dialing in the show from their happy place countless mind-miles away. For me, this is where it gets really good, like the second hour straight on the treadmill. It takes about 50 shows to really know you're doing this for keeps; it's the part of the tour that makes you see how much you really want to do this. The show is either something you live for or want to run away from.
Some performers and bands are just not built to slog, and that's OK. For me, there has always been a great integrity to the artists who are out there every year, one way or another, doing their thing, racking up the nights under the lights. There is, however, a line between those who constantly tread the boards because it's what they do, and those who do it because they have nothing else they can do.
As performers grow older, I reckon there are two ways they can go. They can either be up there, playing more deeply from their guts than ever, or they can be phoning it in so crassly that it leaves a lump in your throat as you leave the venue at the end of the show. Years ago I was on tour, opening for a band that's been around for years — great music, lots of fans. During the show, the guitar player would turn his back on the audience and talk to his tech while playing pitch perfect. He thought nothing of showing a packed house how little the show meant to him. It was kind of heartbreaking and I don't think I'll ever be seeing that band again.
David Lee Roth, a man never short of a memorable quote, said this to me when I interviewed him 22 years ago. I think this really nails it:
“It's a labor of love. If you're in this for things other than the music — and we're all in this for things other than the music … the guy who said that money can't buy happiness didn't know where to go shopping. I'm not ruling out greed and avarice at all. But if those things are higher up on the list for you than the music, the whole parade will pale for you in the 100th hour of vocal practice.
My whole thing is based on — and this is for me, mind you — you have to discipline yourself, and through this discipline will come some level of achievement, and from this achievement will come your pride. There's nothing else but pride in all of this. The money comes and goes, the women come and go — but your pride can remain. It's pride that gets John Lee Hooker up the hill. It's pride that brought Muhammad Ali back.”
I really like that. Pride is a quality that I have always been somewhat at odds with, as it sometimes leads a person to an unreasonable point of view — I mean the “love it or leave it” crowd — but I think Diamond Dave is absolutely coming from the right place. For me, it's a matter of duty, service and dedication. David Lee once remarked to me that when someone buys a ticket to your show, that's a contract that person has with you. I live by that. You have to love it, and on some nights it's going to hurt.
Motivation has always been a fascinating factor when considering a touring artist, especially when the years stack up. What keeps one out there year after year? Perhaps Mr. Roth summed it up and there's no more to be said. I think there is, though, and this is where it gets really interesting.
I once asked Ozzy Osbourne, truly one of my favorite people in the world, if he was cool with singing Black Sabbath songs year after year, whether he was performing with Black Sabbath or out on a solo tour. He said it was great. I asked him how he could go out there, knowing he's going to sing “Paranoid” every night. He told me that is what people want to hear and that's what he wants to give them so they have a great time.
I believe him, but it's a line I could never toe. For me, the thing has to keep moving. At the risk of losing your audience, it has to keep moving.
A man who personified this? Miles Davis. He would put some of the most jaw-droppingly talented groups of musicians together, reinvent the genre, then dissolve the lineup and move so radically to another musical place that he would shed fans and send seasoned music writers into conniptions. Brains, guts, talent and cool, Miles had them all.
When I wake up every day on tour, I do a gut check. Am I looking forward to the show? I did this in the dark of predawn Cairns when I got up after less than four hours of sleep to fly here to Brisbane, where I will be hitting the stage in less than 45 minutes.
Am I into it? Absolutely. Motivation? Are you kidding?! There's an audience coming into the venue at this very moment. They're here! Can it get any better than that? In less than an hour, it's showtime. I feel like I have won the lottery.