[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.
Over the last several years, some of my favorite nights of the year have been in August here in Edinburgh, Scotland. You're perhaps aware of the monthlong gathering called the Fringe Festival, or simply the Edinburgh Festival. That is why I am here.
The city itself is quite beautiful, and the Scottish are some of the more friendly and loud (and sometimes barking mad) people to be found anywhere. I get on quite well here.
The festival is responsible for some of the best and the worst moments of my year. The best is being here, doing a show on the same stage night after night. The worst is having to leave when it's over. I start to miss it as soon as I walk off the stage.
While Los Angeles cooks in August, Edinburgh is in sweatshirt, see-your-breath weather and it's hard for me to stay indoors for long. I just came back from a jet lag-induced post-midnight walk, complete with drunken, zigzagging miniskirted girls, laughing hysterically, seagulls overhead and that great night air.
This year, sadly, I will be doing only two shows here. For the next installment, however, I hope to be here for about three weeks. My promoter, Marlene, insists that I will go out of my mind, but I think otherwise. Even if I do (go mad), hey, what a great way to go. I love Scotland and this festival is one of the best inventions ever.
I am looking forward to my two shows here. I have a lot of new stories to tell, about trips to Sudan, Uganda, Tibet, North Korea, Vietnam and India. I'll also be dusting off some very old stories, this being my 50th year.
Two things that I somehow got right in my life have been an obsession with music and movement. I got to Edinburgh — via London from Los Angeles — several hours ago, and already I feel like I am alive again. Not to put down Los Angeles; it's not the place that gets me, it's being off the road that smothers me and makes me pace in my utilitarian domicile at night, waiting to be uncaged. As soon as I was out the door yesterday, things started getting better and better.
On the floor of the hotel I am staying in, the rooms have names of different cities from around the world. My floor has Marrakesh, Rio, Los Angeles, Barcelona, Milan, Tokyo, Sydney, Cairo and Havana. I have been to all of those but Havana. I will take care of that in November.
The streets of Edinburgh during festival season are what I consider an ideal urban environment. Lots of people with musical instruments. Lots of people laughing, singing and occupying public property. It can be a little much at times, but I think it's good for society to let people air themselves out and to make use of common space, lest every damn place go the way of privatization. Each year, every city in the world that can should have a multiday festival. More people meeting each other, digging new types of music, new foods, new ideas. You want to stop having so many wars? This could be a step in the right direction.
There are bands playing all over the place here. There are musicals, plays, actors and more comedians than you can deal with. Funny ones, too. Names you never heard before, who go onstage and completely kill it every night. Just walking the streets tonight shook off the jet lag, and now I can't wait to get onstage. I went to a record store earlier and, as I had hoped, there was the recently released three-CD reissue of the Fall's excellent The Marshall Suite album waiting for me. I have a Fall album, a new box of tea bags and a week of theater shows and festival dates in Scotland, Ireland, Northern Ireland and England, starting tomorrow. I feel like I have won the lottery.
Another thing about the Edinburgh Festival that stands out is this: Since it takes place all over town and goes on for so many days, there is a wide demographic of people showing up. If you get a good review on one of the nights, people who have never heard of you will come check you out. The young and old mix very freely at this event. It's a very cool thing to see.
The United Kingdom and Europe have been rocking amazing summer festivals for a long time. I've spoken to many people who run these events, and they all say it's about more than just music, it's about young people getting together and learning how to deal with each other and get along. Bringing thousands of people together for peaceful and fun interaction is the great human goal; the music is merely the bait. The older I get, the further into the world I go, the more I conclude that these festivals are going to improve things in this century.
During the next several days, I will be speaking to literally thousands of young people. I always conclude my all-too-short time onstage by reminding my audience that, as a favor to me, they must leave this event with a bunch of new websites bookmarked, email addresses of new friends logged and reading suggestions jotted down. I urge them to look around and see that these are their people, this is their time, and that things will change only as much as they bring that change. I hope they keep me around at these things for a few more decades. I am just getting warmed up.
(By the way, brace yourself for my radio show this Saturday on 89.9 FM KCRW at 6 p.m. It will be a scorching punk-rock overload.)
Until next week, when we reconvene in Ireland.
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