[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.]
I am in Bristol, England. The cold outside has permeated the walls of the utilitarian backstage area where I am waiting before I walk out onstage. I have an electric heater pulled in front of me and occasionally warm my hands over it so I can keep writing.
The cold backstage is one of the things you can count on this time of the year in England. These rooms have a spare and austere build that seems to say, “Comfort, like success, would only lead to your downfall.” It may sound strange, but not only have I grown used to these often less-than-cheerful environments, I don't mind them at all. If you can thrive in these conditions and hit the stage every night, you're good to go.
It is the relentless grind of rooms like these, travel, erratic sleep opportunities, meals that are often less than great and myriad other destabilizing factors that send many touring performers back to more tolerable environs with a more predicable continuum. Basically, this isn't for everybody. Unfortunately, many of the people who find it objectionable have to live like this for more nights a year than they would like.
I have been touring and performing far and wide for more than 30 years. At this point, I am more in my element out here. I guess you could consider me institutionalized, to a certain degree.
I tour in any weather and in any place that will have me. I have no preferred country or season, as long as there aren't many nights off. The strangest times of my life have been spent off the road. The older I get, the stranger and more difficult the “downtime” becomes. By the time I have gone to the grocery store twice, I feel like I am on “pause” — but that life remains in “play” mode, passing me by. As the days off the road tick by so quickly and easily, my guilt grows, and I feel that I am taking the easy way out.
Beyond guilt, and feeling that I am becoming soft by sleeping in the same bed every night and having so many things within such easy reach, I just don't trust it and, ultimately, it doesn't seem real.
There is a very powerful motivating force that keeps me out on the trail. This may sound odd, but I like to be in service and under obligation. Service is a strange word applied to being onstage, I know. I feel a great debt to the audience, because firstly they walked into the venue and secondly, they are trusting their night and the irretrievable time contained therein to me. I would rather lose a finger than let them down.
This Damoclean sword that hangs over my head nightly is an obligation that keeps me on the balls of my feet and leaning forward. I quite enjoy it. I am used to the more than generous amounts of anxiety and stress it produces.
The thing I have not mentioned is that all of this is by and large a tremendous amount of fun. The fact that I have an incredible audience all over the world is — besides knowing Ian MacKaye since I was about 12 — the best thing that has ever happened to me. My affection for them has long ago leapt over the border into obsession. Every night onstage must be a complete give. Never can it be dialed in, acted out or served without total ferocity. Only having to hit the stage night after night, month after month, to the point of single-minded, narrow focus will do it for me.
In 1986, when the band I was in, Black Flag, broke up, I was determined to stay in the game, so to speak. The group's demise has been a great motivator in the last quarter-century of my life. That year, I told myself that I will not become addicted, irrelevant or inactive. I will not rest on past achievements. I will not rest at all. I will be productive, prolific and freakishly hardworking. I will do more shows than all my other ex-bandmates would ever have the stamina to withstand. In that respect, I have never looked back.
One of the things that keeps the backstage moisture and frigidity at bay is good music. Good playback is a must. At this moment, I am listening to a Sun Ra album called On Jupiter from an iPod through a Soundmatters FoxL V2 speaker setup. The FoxL V2 is easily one of the smartest additions to my gearbox; it fills the room excellently and makes for a great listening experience. For the next several months, this will be my primary listening source.
I have enough new music with me to last quite a while. Road manager Ward and I have been having great luck at local record stores over the last several days, and now there's even more great music to check out.
Great music and a show a night — this is all I could possibly ask for. Hopefully people show up every night and let me do the work.
The sun was out today here in Bristol. The walk back from the gym to the tour bus was great. I don't know how it could get any better than this. Keep rockin'.