[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 week 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.
Spring Time for Henry
You remember several days ago when we all turned our clocks an hour forward. That time change rings a Pavlovian bell for me. Seasonal change plays a large part in how I think, what I think about and definitely what I listen to and read.
The autumn is a great time of year for me. I reread F. Scott Fitzgerald short stories and passages of Thomas Wolfe and listen to records that I reserve primarily for that time of the year. Pulling them out of their jackets is like greeting old friends. Some would call this tradition. For me, it's ritual.
There are certain musics for certain times of the year. Weather and seasonal change affect what I play on my weekly radio show, for sure. Perhaps some of the playlists get a little too obsessive during seasonal transitions and peaks, but hopefully everyone hangs in there and keeps listening. I am fairly powerless to stop myself and give in to it all too easily. What our amazing audience makes of it, I can only guess. What I have always wondered was if it was just me who has this thing with music and the seasons. Over the last couple of weeks, the weather in Los Angeles has changed. I know you have felt it. The nights are not as cold, some of the trees are becoming aromatic and the night air is beginning to smell great. Where I live, I can hear the frogs starting their nighttime choral arrangements and the coyotes are getting restless. It's hard to put my carcass down on the rack at times like these, because I just want to stay up late, really late, and listen to music and let my mind go wherever it wants. Sleep seems like punishment at times like these.
Seasonal change in Los Angeles is often a very subtle thing. It's not as if we finally stop having to shovel the snow out of our driveways and can put our parkas back in the closet. We get some rain, some people drive crazy, there's some beautiful hydroplaning across major intersections as drivers grimly hold the wheel with one hand and finish their texting with the other. The skies clear somewhat for a little while and the palm trees turn a slightly deeper shade of green. The weather holds like that for a few incredible weeks and then comes summer and you, your car and your psyche are thrown into an urban Crock-Pot of fumes, gridlock and sleepless nights in hot rooms, staring at the ceiling and the clock before the din of the city starts again.
Well, cheer up! It's only March and we have a ways to go yet before the summer stir-fry starts. For me, there is no better way to enjoy the seasons than musically. As the weather gets warmer, I find myself listening to music that never feels right in colder weather.
As I write, I am on tour in America. Snow is melting, winter is losing its grip and giving way to spring. I had a night off last night. I sat alone on my tour bus, parked outside the Whitaker Theater in Harrisburg, Penn., and spent a couple of hours ushering in the new season with some of my cold-days-are-over jams. I don't know what you'll make of this, but it was Joy Division's second album, Closer; the Art Ensemble of Chicago's Les Stances à Sophie (with Fontella Bass on vocals); and Sun Ra's The Antique Blacks.
To my ears, jazz sounds better in warm weather and after the sun has gone down. While I will listen to some of my favorite jazz records in cooler weather, it's the warmer nights that really make them come alive. Something about those sounds and the heat of the night really makes it happen for me. In November of 1961, John Coltrane and his bandmates did a multinight stand at the Village Vanguard. Thankfully, producer Bob Thiele had the good sense to record those blazing nights. The energy coming off these tracks is off the scale. This is ultimate warm-weather listening. If I may be so bold, here's another suggestion: Eric Dolphy's excellent Out to Lunch!, recorded in 1964, which was also the last year of his life. It might turn out to be one of the best records you've ever heard and, again, great for the warmer nights.
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A shortlist of other great warm-night jazz listens: Oliver Nelson's Jazz and the Abstract Truth, Ornette Coleman's The Shape of Jazz to Come, Don Cherry's Complete Communion. All of these titles are fairly out selections, but to me, they make the night interesting. A record that I start listening to as soon as the weather warms up is Brian Eno's Here Come the Warm Jets, an altogether perfect album. And The Horrors' Primary Colours album, another great hot-night soundtrack.
I would like to think I am not the only one who gravitates toward certain records in different parts of the year. Now that we are entering into the upper-ranging temperatures, see if there are certain records or bands that are finding heavier rotation in your listening.
You might not have even noticed.
[P.S.: As some of you know, I do a radio show on 89.9 FM KCRW on Saturday nights, 6-8 p.m. This weekend's show was built on one of my favorite concepts for making a show: cool bands covering cool bands, engineered specifically for this time of the year. Tune in if you can.]