[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.]
September is upon us. In its final weeks, August was staggering crookedly, profusely bleeding from the puncture wound in its side from a dagger shot by an assassin dispatched by our collective heat-fueled discontent. Every year, August lashes out in volcanic fury, rising with the din of morning traffic, its great metallic wings smashing against the ground, heating the air with ever-increasing intensity. August, the great and doomed warrior of summer, knew that the end was near. Yet so titanic is its rage, it will takes weeks for its body to cool.
Late summer is fired, blasted winds, beginnings, middles and ends — all ending. For some it's a parting wave to youth, love, conquest and deathless time. In the face of this destruction there is revelation, epiphany, agony and exhaustion. Empty pursuits on fruitless plains in search of lightning, or perhaps even nothing.
We know it, therefore we must slay it. We know that in September, we will wander through the warm winds of summer's wreckage. We will welcome summer's ghost.
In the cooler temperatures and shorter light cycle, with calm clarity, we will take stock of summer, we will run the numbers and check the statistics, over and over again, sleuthing, separating the layers, filtering, isolating and analyzing. With an almost imperceptible nod, we will say, “Aha, now I can see you,” as we grind its charred remains under our heels.
From the confines of small, hot spaces, I have contemplated the heat. I wonder what went through the mind of Proust in his cork-lined room, struggling for breath as he wrote through airless, timeless space, trying to recapture what was lost. I think of Elvin Jones sweating through his suit, pummeling his drums behind John Coltrane as the quartet fully committed to a version of Impressions. I think of Rimbaud's body starting to disintegrate in Harar in the beginning of 1891, the year of his last summer. I think of the opening pages of Mikhail Bulgakov's novel The Master and Margarita, where Berlioz and Bezdomny met on a hot spring evening. They looked for a drink and found only warm apricot juice, which they drank. They had no idea that within a few minutes all hell was going to break loose.
Throughout August, with almost sadistic joy, I watched summer slowly die. I overplayed the records of my favorite hot-weather artists in an attempt to reach full saturation. On the first day of September I put those records away for months.
August is a funeral. I already know the end of the story.
August, the summer's last messenger of misery, is a hollow actor.
As the days pass, residents of Los Angeles start to detect signs of change. The green of the trees becomes weary, pushed to its physiological limits by its great efforts. The insects' nocturnal choir starts to thin and the coyotes come down from the mountains in search of pets.
Heat bends music, warps the mind and changes one's idea of time. I have never experienced anything like walking out onto the stage of an oversold venue and, before the first note is struck, realizing that there is not going to be enough oxygen for all of us. On these occasions I would look back at the drummer and we would just slowly shake our heads. This one is probably going to kill us and the audience has come to watch us die.
Two songs in, it's like the Thrilla in Manila, sans the Ali/Frazier fists of fury. Halfway through the set you just don't think you're going to make it.
On a couple of occasions we were afforded a brief respite, but only because the drummer had passed out. One night in Florida, summer 1992, it was so hot that by the end of the set, all we and the audience could do was stand still and just get the songs over the wall without collapsing. I will never forget all those empty faces staring at us.
There were nights when people in the audience were passing out every several minutes and would get passed to the front of the stage. Our stage crew would carry them off to the side. I remember how their arms would flap lifelessly. I think the only thing that got us through was anger and our youth.
Once, at a Ramones show, we were packed in like punk sardines and somehow a scuffle broke out. I think the two combatants were unable to really swing at each other — there simply wasn't enough room. Joey looked from the stage and sagely concluded, “I know how the heat can get to a guy … .”
In one of Ryszard Kapuscinski's great books about Africa, perhaps The Shadow of the Sun, he talks about how the sun drives the entire populations of villages, including their livestock, under trees when the sun is bearing down upon them. If they can't find shade, it is very possible that lives will be lost. He then concludes that almost all of the Earth's surface wants humankind dead. It's a hell of a thought.
Hopefully soon we will be afforded some relief. I will shelve my Albert Ayler albums in favor of Hancock and Shorter solo recordings along with their great collaborations with Miles. It will be time for Atlantic-era Coltrane and the last recordings the Buzzcocks did for United Artists, the excellent second albums by Generation X, Valley of the Dolls, and The Damned, Music for Pleasure. Then of course, there are all The Fall albums I have associated with cooler weather, including Perverted by Language and Hex Enduction Hour.
I can't wait to roll these out next week.
And so, we say farewell to August, the end of things ending.