[The one and only Henry Rollins contributes a weekly column and far-reaching reportage to the music section of the LA Weekly. Look for your weekly Henry Rollins fix right here on West Coast Sound every Thursday and make sure to tune in to Henry's KCRW radio show every Saturday evening, or online, or as a podcast.
August used to be a sad month for me. As the days went on, the thought of school starting weighed heavily upon my young frame. That, coupled with the oppressive heat and humidity of my native Washington, D.C., only seemed to heighten the misery.
The idea of putting on the uniform — yes, I wore one of those prep school outfits, with a blue blazer, gray pants and striped tie — only heightened my melancholy. Wearing that getup, I felt like a punching bag. As the days of August slowly passed, I felt more and more like I was about to go off to the big house. I hated school that much.
August was the month in which music went from a gateway to enjoyment to a narcotic for me. I used it to escape what I knew was coming: Months of lockdown on long bus rides, antagonistic teachers — we were told to refer to them as “instructors” — dull classmates and an environment that rejected me as much as I rejected it. As much as I tried, I couldn't stop August from ending.
August, month of misery, month of music. In a desperate attempt to somehow steel myself against the coming wide-awake nightmare, I would listen to records endlessly, sometimes playing the same one over and over, trying to extract anything that would give me the strength to endure.
But, at first anyway, I either had the wrong records or wasn't listening the right way. Because as great as my LPs were, they weren't doing the trick. (Well, Hendrix's Manic Depression and I Don't Live Today were somewhat helpful.)
I needed more and, thankfully, help eventually arrived. My pal Bert loaned me the first Clash and Ramones albums. I listened to them repeatedly and experienced a very rapid attitude change. For better or for worse, I have never recovered.
August 1978, then — the drum roll of a month that led into my last year of high school — was unlike any other. It was a month of music, indeed. By the time I headed to my first period, I felt like Captain Benjamin Willard going upriver.
I wanted a mission, and now I had one: I'd become the single Punk Rock Guy at my school.
There was one boy who sometimes had a cassette of Black Sabbath with him, which we would listen to in the back of the bus, but beyond that it was just me and the music.
My grades were nothing to write home about, but Joe Strummer gave me the strength to stand up to the bastards.
August grabs a hold of Los Angeles and its inhabitants, places us on an anvil and merrily pounds away.
Sure, there are some moments at night or before the sun comes up that are somewhat tolerable, but for the most part we are routinely forged, fried and flattened by the heat.
Take yesterday, as I baked like a potato on the 10 west, going out to KCRW for a staff meeting, rolling slowly along with the music blaring out of my speakers hypnotically.
August is a month we gamely trudge through like Sherpa guides at extreme elevation. I sometimes wonder if we aren't one huge medical-test group; if Los Angeles isn't the site for a massive, multidecade experiment on human stress levels.
August is now a month that I enjoy very much. It comes in roaring like a dragon, full of rage, breathing fire. We know something it does not.
August has only 31 days to live. As it seeks to turn us into bricks, all it does is fuel our desire for the autumn months it is powerless to stop.
When August heats the air, we hose it down with great music played at all hours, on porches, at house parties and in clubs, cars and small rooms.
From our perches all over the city, we think of the sound of rain and the cool nights that are to come. The music will sound good at those times as well.
August brings into sharp focus and a furious boil everything I've been listening to in the late spring and summer. They are all in heavy rotation to the point of oversaturation because I will be putting them away soon, to bring out my late-third-quarter listening favorites that prepare me for the most exalted of all listening months — October.
August dictates long listening sessions to Fall Peel sessions and B-sides, Coltrane and Ayler live recordings, Bowie, Eno and Roxy Music, Unrest, Minor Threat, Buzzcocks, Ruts and King Sunny Ade.
This is the month to start listening to Eric Dolphy no earlier than 0100 hours.
And of course it is a great month to get out to the shows, remain hydrated and be considerate to your fellow concertgoers.
August is a monster but, thankfully, a monster that we can control to a great degree. Even in this heat, we are still so cool.
Until next week.
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