[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 Wednesday and make sure to tune in to Henry's KCRW radio show every Saturday evening, or online, or as a podcast, or however else you decided to listen to the most eclectic DJ on LA's airwaves.
This installment includes Henry's thoughts on music's ability to change the world (if any man can do it …). And come back Friday for the awesomely annotated playlist for his KCRW BROADCAST. For more details please visit KCRW.com and HenryRollins.com
Listening to Ramones in Tehran
Hello from beautiful Australia. I am presently in Melbourne to play a few shows and hit some local record stores, of course.
This will be my twenty-sixth or twenty-seventh visit here since my first one in 1989. Upon landing here all those years ago, I learned very quickly that Australia is full of amazing bands. Not all of them get out of Australia, so one has to work to keep up with the lesser known but totally worthwhile bands here.
In the next few days, I will perform a ritual that I have been doing for many years. I will approach Vicious Sloth Records here in Melbourne, throw my wallet into the store and onto the counter before I walk in, and upon entering, yell out, “There it is, you bastards! Take it all!” or something to that effect. The three men who own the place will smile slightly and start thinking of what they will name their new houseboat.
Soon after, the Sloths will play me many singles and album cuts from the bands that have popped up since last I came in. I'll get the lot, the credit card will scream in agony and I will stagger out with new Australian jams.
When it comes to music, I am in constant acquisition mode. To me, getting the word out on new music is as equally important as acquiring it. In addition to utilizing my weekly radio show on KCRW, I mention bands in interviews and other ways as well. I have an agenda. I am on a mission.
It is in this part of our brief time here together where I will perhaps go too far out on a limb and you'll have to excuse me–but please allow me a moment to flesh out this idea.
I believe that music is the answer to a lot of problems that plague the world. Of course, there's the big stuff like war, climate change, poverty, water and food insecurity and other real world situations that require a lot more than music, and I am not trying to make light of these huge concerns. Nevertheless, here's my pitch: I believe that if more young people heard the music of other countries and if that music was part of what they used to evaluate those countries, then perhaps they would have a better understanding of those countries, their own country and the world-at-large. These conclusions could lead them to make better decisions as adults considering their futures, their countries, and the world, all things being connected.
Sounds grand, doesn't it? Perhaps a little too overreaching, like I want you all to join hands, make a large circle and in one voice, intone Michael to row that boat ashore?! Very well, but I think I am onto something. Mention Iran to some young Americans and ask them what they know about the country. Who knows what they might say? What if you told them that there's a music scene in Tehran that is so underground, you have to use a shovel to get to it? Bands and artists are sneaking around the city, exploring everything from Heavy Metal to Electronica and holding secret dance parties and other musical gatherings at great risk of arrest and injury. This information might make that young person think differently about Iran and want to know more. What if young Iranians had a chance to hear music made by young Americans? What if one thousand young Iranian people could come to the Coachella Festival? Do you think that experience might change the perceptions they have of America? What is a bigger threat to Iran's authoritarian regime, John McCain's desire to “Bomb-bomb-bomb-Iran” or a few million copies of the Ramones Rocket To Russia album in young Iranians' hands?
The jams must ceaselessly go global and know no borders! Next time you think of Syria, check out Omar Souleyman's “Leh Jani,” but I warn you, prepare to get down. He is not taking no for an answer.
It is my opinion that the more often music of the world spreads to more ears in the world, this horrific charade of endless war for endless peace becomes yesterday's incredibly bad idea.
In my journeys, I have left literally hundreds of gigabytes of music behind in young people's computers all over the world. Ramones in Iran? Too late, Ahmadinejad, they're in. I put a 100G hard drive of music in that country years ago. Stooges in Sri Lanka, check. Fugazi in Bhutan, done. Have 1T hard drive, will travel, will get up for the downstroke. 24-7 Global Block Party commencing.
Sonically speaking. . . I think music should be a global Ho Chi Minh trail to insure that the planet's youth won't get fooled again, if you know what I mean. Hoover feared Lennon, the government of Nigeria feared Fela. Lennon's music made a fool of Hoover. Nigeria's oppression of Fela Kuti made him and his music an eternal symbol of courage, resistance and strength.
I have often been asked if music can change things. My stock answer is that if music could stop wars then Bob Marley's and Bob Dylan's surely would have. That being said, I think music is an important tool for the progress of society and can indeed effect change. For example, in your lifetime, what has been the best motivator in helping white American youth forge an awareness and better understanding of the Black American Experience–The Civil Rights Act of 1964? Bussing? The speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King? I think it's Hip Hop.
I once had a dream that John Coltrane records were being played to cancer patients to cure them. It was one of the only pleasant dreams I've ever had! No doubt, there is work to be done, challenges to be met and miracles to be performed. Music loosens the lid on the jar.
Until next week.