Henry Rollins: The Column! We Are the Aliens, Everyone Else Is Earthling
[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.]
Coming to you from a small room offstage in the very cozy and cool Belly Up in Aspen, Colo., the smallest venue I play on tour. Aspen is one of the most beautiful slices of land in America, what Abraham Lincoln referred to in 1838 as "the fairest portion of the earth." On the way to the local gym, I watched skiers carving lines into a massive and extremely steep mountainside of snow. It occurred to me that I had never seen skiing before except on-screen.
The streets of Aspen were full of people in athletic, ski and snowboard attire. The jock/mountaineer/somewhat baked look seems to be prevalent among the youth, and the Euro-Beverly Hills casual look seems to be happening with the older folks. The stores sell clothing, gear, fur and other items that those with liquidity can afford.
It's a very rarefied atmosphere. The quality of air reminds me of Scandinavia. It is a very clean, civilized and tranquil environment.
As I walked back from the gym, I kept hearing the voice of the late Paul Winfield in my head, narrating an episode of City Confidential. "Aspen ... the last place anyone would expect ... murder."
If you spend a lot of time on the road in the touring racket, the whole thing can take on a great degree of strangeness after several weeks. The tour bus -- the "Steel Horse" that Bon Jovi refers to, or, perhaps more apt, the "Kinky Machine" that Hendrix talks about in "Third Stone From the Sun" -- is our transport from city to city. When we step off, we are always the same, but the surroundings are different. We are the Aliens, everyone else is Earthling.
This constantly changing landscape of people and places keeps it all very interesting and has made Sun Ra and Acid Mothers Temple albums a large part of the music I have been digging in the small rooms I inhabit preshow this year.
Touring musicians and performers deal with this blur of temporary dwellings and cramped confines as a constant. Some adjust to it or find a way to deal with it; others, not so much. Often, these travelers try to make the road more like home, never fully embracing their surroundings. They spend weeks at a time on the road, fighting every mile of it.
Their denial-driven misery seeps into every aspect of their lives and, unfortunately, into their shows. It is one of the biggest wastes of time to watch a dialed-in performance that cost you time and money. It is an insult on every level. Rarely does someone who doesn't want to be onstage fool an audience. To watch this is like witnessing an animal dying slowly -- the best part being when it's over and the communal suffering stops.