[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.]
A few days ago, I was sitting backstage at the Paradiso in Amsterdam, in the same area where I was with Black Flag, touring Europe with the Minutemen in 1983. Preshow, I often sit in that room and focus on a spot where I remember watching D Boon and Mike Watt talking about their set. We had yet to play. We had a rough night on that stage — beer, skinheads. I turned 22 onstage. The next night, we were in Bremen, Germany, and The Fall were at the Paradiso. I still have the poster.
As you can imagine, there is a lot of history in some of these venues. In Hamburg, Germany, there is a venue called the Grosse Freiheit, or, in English, the Big Freedom. In the basement, down the hall from the dressing rooms, you can walk through a door and sit in the Kaiserkeller and look at the small stage the Beatles played on in 1960. At the Löwenbräukeller in Munich, Adolf Hitler staged his famous Putsch in November 1923. The backroom where he tried to intimidate the Bavarian prime minister is a dressing room for performers.
As the world becomes more technically connected (and often more humanly disconnected), events become historical almost as soon as they happen. Many music scenes, eras and venues all over the world are becoming the topics of books and documentaries. Some of these scenes and venues have hosted bands that went on to become massive and proved to be influential on some level. It is strange to see some venues being carved into posterity to lock in the verification of their existence while still operating full-time. Doesn't anyone ever yell out, “I'm not dead yet!”?
I am often in the odd/interesting position of being asked to testify for these tomes or straight-to-DVD blips on the great radar screen of history. I don't feel particularly historical, but more often than not I submit to inquiry.
Postshow at the Paradiso, I was sagging in a chair, having just harangued a standing-room-only audience nonstop for a little more than two hours and 45 minutes. (I use a stopwatch.) There was a knock on the door. I was handed the DVD of the Paradiso documentary that will have its screening this year. I am in it.
The next day, I was at the Effenaar in Eindhoven, Holland. I have been doing shows there since 1987. After the show, I was given a book on the history of the venue that features me. Great to know I once walked the earth.
The point I am making is this: Over the last several years, there have been a plethora of books, documentaries and other markers about “back in the day,” but that particular day is as long ago as last Tuesday. I wonder if this is all becoming a little too precious. Some people are fetishizing all this. Are these projects worthwhile endeavors?
I waver slightly on this point. History like this is often all but obliterated as an attic is cleaned and a box of rare punk-rock flyers goes into a dumpster. The world moves on. I think it's important to have some documentation of the past. That being said, I would hate to think that someone would ever think things were “better back then” and not be interested in enjoying the efforts of artists and bands who are in the world right now.
What I am trying to say is, none of this can be seen as an end or finish line. That mindset is defeatist and leads to nostalgic stagnation. The truth is music has never stopped being made and played.
I saw the first Minor Threat show. I used to see The Cramps play close enough to get Lux Interior's sweat thrown on me. The Bad Brains opening for The Damned in June 1979, Bo Diddley opening for The Clash, the steam room of a Ramones show, The Misfits and on and on. Those were great nights of my life and I was incredibly lucky. That being said, only a few weeks ago, I watched Pierced Arrows and Dinosaur Jr. play some of the most righteous sets ever.
I would hate to think that some people have found themselves in a musical cul-de-sac and have ceased to explore new music, or at least music that is new to them, because they are so glued to the past. The good news is that there is so much great music in existence that you will never get to hear a fraction of all the worthwhile music that's out there now.
After I started making records many years ago, I never thought of them in the same way again. They became fossils to me. People would get angry if we didn't play an old song and I would recommend they go home and pull out the 12″ vinyl dinosaur bone for a trip down memory lane.
With all this documentation comes a mythologizing that misses the point. I look at pictures of myself in these books or see myself on a screen somewhere and at times, I feel like a million-year-old fly trapped in amber. I would much rather be considered a Coelacanth, you know, the fish they thought was extinct but was found to be alive. Alive, I tell you — alive!
This historical stuff is great as long as you remember it is the past. As they say, the best is yet to come — as long as you keep showing up.