Henry Rollins: The Column! Ghosts of Los Angeles Music Past
[Look for your weekly fix of 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.]
Tonight I was driving to the Trader Joe's on Santa Monica Boulevard, east of Gardner. I reflected upon the fact that I have been based in Los Angeles for well over half my life. While not from here, I am definitely a local at this point.
Los Angeles means many things to many people, of course, and we all have our own version of the place, whether we live here or not. The city is one of those destinations that attracts and repels visitors from all over the world on a continual basis. It takes a certain kind of person to call this city their home.
For me, Los Angeles always was, and will be, a music city. Most of the people I have met over my 30-plus years here have been through the music scene. It's incredible the number of bands and musicians that Los Angeles can lay claim to, when you really drill down on it.
All of this comes to mind when I drive the streets alone at night. I sometimes go out of my way to drive past buildings that used to be (and often still are) clubs, like the building that was once the Cathay De Grande at 1600 Argyle St. I saw a lot of things go down in that place, from great shows I watched and played, to drug deals. Many of the people I encountered there are now dead.
As I am sure you are well aware, this city's music scene has had a lot of death.
When I got here in 1981, I immediately met a lot of people. The band I was in, Black Flag, had some very heavy friends. Some of them were scary, some brilliant. Many are gone.
It is these people I think about when I drive by these old buildings. Thinking of them makes me realize that I have a history, and that a fair part of it is here in Los Angeles.
As pulseless as this city can be, these people -- even though they are gone -- give the place a sense of dignity. To have lived here is one thing. To have died here, I think, is quite another.
Some of them were such bright lights. So full of energy. They were often directionless, but that's part of being young. I was very different from them. I was trying to get somewhere, and everything I did was achievement-oriented. Basically, I played it safe, went the Boy Scout route, while many around me were living at high speeds, and with high risk. Some of them lived five years per year, and it was easy to tell that they were going to have short lives.