[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.]
Several nights ago, I was standing in the parking lot behind the Art & Culture Centre in Corner Brook, Newfoundland, talking with people who had stuck around to meet me post-show. As we talked, I looked around and took in the excellent quality of air. If you check Corner Brook on a map, it might seem like a remote location. Being there is quite the example of way off in the great wide open. It's a beautiful part of the world, and at night most of the stores are closed and you get the feeling that you have a good part of the planet to yourself; the distant lights are merely there to provide ambience.
I heard young people talking amongst themselves: Where should they go next? A late-night restaurant was discussed. After they were done with me, they made their plans, broke off into groups and exited into the huge and beautiful summer darkness as I contemplated my 0415 hrs. lobby call and two long flights back to Los Angeles. One youth told me months go by there without an all-ages show, so mine was a welcome rarity. This is why I hang out post-show and meet anyone who is still lurking around the venue. It's more than a show; it is our lives out there.
Hearing how hard shows are to come by there made me think. I felt bad for them; I also thought that there is a sweet agony in that kind of exclusion. It forces a young person to innovate, exist as somewhat of an exile and, by doing so, further define themselves — how much better can it get?
When you're kept out of the adult world, it's a blessing in disguise. Since aging cannot be helped, the few years spent in adult awareness while being (for the most part) excluded from it is a unique time.
For some of us, those are times we come back to in our thoughts over and over again. We think of it as a more simple time and forget some of the misery-filled craters we found ourselves in. At that age, it's all poetry, isn't it?
Hearing what those young people were saying to each other stuck with me, and I have been thinking about them in the days since. I have, in my own way, tried to retain as much of that outsidelookinginatude as I can.
Some of the best experiences of my young life, perhaps almost all of them, center around music. Going to shows was great, of course, but it was the nothing to do, nowhere to go aspect of all that time — and its incredible abundance — that I sometimes miss and return to by listening to the records I heard in friends' bedrooms as we sat on the floor and tore time to pieces. At some point, this hangout ritual was given an upgrade as many of my friends formed bands and practiced in their parent's basements. These were some of the best times of my life.
Perhaps the most magic basement of my youth belonged to Nathan Strejcek's mother. An odd reference, I am sure. Nathan was the vocalist in a Washington, D.C., band called the Teen Idles, the first band to be on the mighty Dischord label. Ian MacKaye on bass, Geordie Grindle on guitar, Jeff Nelson on drums. I was the roadie and No. 1 fan and went to pretty much every show and band practice they had.
I would sit on the bottom step and rock out in the cool dampness. One time, the Bad Brains had no place to practice, or no gear, maybe both, but they came to Nathan's basement to practice. We got our own private Bad Brains show. Nathan's mom still lives in that house. I would like to go to that basement one more time.
To this day, as much as I love being onstage and going to shows, I still like sitting in a room alone, listening to records. It is a state of perfection that I have never equaled elsewhere besides doing this with Ian. We have been doing this since he was 11 and I was 12. Thirty-nine years later, we are still doing it whenever I am in D.C. It never gets old.
Being young and feeling exiled from others never bothered me. Solitude is an excellent soundtrack for music — that's how I think about it. Music sounds different when you're alone. It's hard to make the experience as magic if there's anyone else around. The great listening partner is rare.
I don't know how you feel about it, but when I am alone, listening to music in the car, on a long flight or just in a room, I feel like I am a master safecracker and the only one who has been able to line up the tumblers, open the door and enter the vault. A lot of what I listen to is outsider music that I suspect would fail with multiple people listening. Why bother trying when the Alone is fairly begging you to put on a record?
Are you patiently reading this, hoping that I am going to make a point? The point is that, as futile as living your life can be, these vast stretches of frustration and nothingness often enhance the music coming into your ears to such a degree that you can feel lucky to be on the outskirts of life.
As those young people went off into the Corner Brook night, I wanted to be one of them walking alone back to a small room — with ESP-era Albert Ayler records and White Light/White Heat by the Velvet Underground waiting for me when I got there.
Think about it: The night is always young. Music is the insomnia-addled, black-coffee key to the universe.