Literate, Cathartic, Bleak, Volatile Relief
I asked Billy to tell all about the most captivating musical experience he ever had, so I guess I ought to step up to the plate myself. (no idea where that expression originates...)
The first gig I ever went to was at the Mean Fiddler in 1991. I'd been to loads of festivals, and I'd followed local bands about making puppy eyes on a regular basis, I'd even played extremely badly alongside three or four indie chart toppers on their worst, most drunken gigs, but weirdly, despite living with a musician who'd charted, (once, heh), I'd never been as a punter to a proper single big name gig. So for my first gig ever, nervy, wired, not a bit drunk on gassy beer from Irish pubs, I chose Henry Rollins.
Here's what AllMusic has to say about Rollins:
Styles American Underground, College Rock, Alternative Metal, United States of America, Alternative Pop/RockYeah, well 1992 was a pivotal year for me, too, but in 91 I was still germinating. Although the sugar was turning to alcohol by then.
Tones Fiery, Passionate, Thuggish, Aggressive, Literate, Cathartic, Bleak, Volatile
In the '90s, Henry Rollins emerged as a post-punk renaissance man ... Since Black Flag's breakup in 1986, Rollins has been relentlessly busy, recording albums with the Rollins Band, writing books and poetry, performing spoken-word tours, writing a magazine column in Details, acting in several movies, and appearing on radio programs and, less frequently, as an MTV VJ. The Rollins Band's records are uncompromising, intense, cathartic fusions of hard rock, funk, post-punk noise, and jazz experimentalism, with Rollins shouting angry, biting self-examinations and accusations over the grind.
Similar Artists: Greg Ginn The Red Hot Chili Peppers Minutemen Jane's Addiction Husker Du Gone Fugazi R.E.M. Shudder to Think Jawbox Sonic Youth Faith No More Dinosaur Jr.
Roots and Influences: Minor Threat The Velvet Underground Thin Lizzy Suicide Led Zeppelin Dead Kennedys Black Sabbath Bad Brains Iggy Pop Phil Lynott Ted Nugent
1991 was a pivotal year for Rollins, for better and worse. The Rollins Band inked a deal with Imago that promised much-improved distribution, and also appeared on the Lollapalooza tour. But in December of that year, Rollins and his best friend, Joe Cole, were held up by gunmen waiting outside of Rollins' L.A. home. Cole was fatally shot in the head; the devastating trauma of the incident never quite left Rollins, and occasionally (though indirectly) informed his subsequent work.
I lived in Kentish Town, in a poxy one room bedsit, above a drug dealing drummer who drummed all night, below a mad pensioner with Parkinson's who never wore anything more underpants, and tended to shit on the landing outside my door. I was living cheaply so that I could afford not to go home during student summers, and in order to have more money to discover London's nightlife. This meant the Mean Fiddler was a stagger away from the local bad boy's pub, next door to the second best chippy in Camden. Muso boyf and I had a pissy row early on in the evening, and he stormed off to nod sagely from somewhere stage right. I stood on the fire exit steps to get a better view, and tolerated the racket of the support band. I think they might have been Silverfish, but it was a terrible gig for them, much worse than any they did when they got even more unpopular. I was wired, and I was in a pissy aggravated mood. Hurry up and get this fucking farce over with, I thought. I haven't any more money for beer.
Rollins burst onstage. Now, I was brought up laughing at shoegazer indie bands. 'Hard' for me was the moth-top fopsies of the Jesus and Mary Chain. Bands full of sweet, soul searching boys whose pseudonyms belied that they all used to be called Jeremy. My finest audience moment so far had been yelling (while off my tits on some substance or other) 'crack a fucking smile mate' at Lou Reed (oh, the wit). I had no idea that men like Henry Rollins existed.
Stripped to the waist, skinheaded, monobrowed, rippling with muscles and tats covering his entire spine and calves, in cycling shorts and nothing else (these were the days before Kiedis made such displays acceptable), a pitbull terrier in human form, Rollins looked like a bad case of steroids gone wrong. My eyes boggled and the thought flashed through my mind: "Fuck me, it's Buster Bloodvessel. Oh God."
I was certain I'd be slinking away from a neo nazi mosh pit within twenty seconds, trying not to be noticed.
Wrong. He was thrash, and it was electric. He stood barefoot on the stage and screamed, bent over double, till his undeniably mentally disturbed looking face seemed to be spitting the words directly at the stage floor, a few inches away from his nose. Each lyric was screamed in this contorted pose.
Okay, so the energy convinced me to stay for two or three tracks. Infectious. I pictured the boyf nodding sagely in a 'jazz' fashion, laughed cruelly, and bopped up and down excitably. Didn't matter what the music was like, the buzz was energised.
Then, between songs, Rollins talked. And talked and talked. He talked about what had happened to Cale. How seeing your best friends brains blown over your shirt make you reassess whether you want to act like a new metal dickhead all your life. He read some of his poetry on the matter.
He analysed how he felt. He weighed up relationships he had with his family, with his friends, with friends of his friends. He blogged aloud, essentially. It was intriguing: this thrash merchant, this angry looking single neuronned purveyor of white noise, was articulate. Emotionally aware. Intelligent even.
But what really captured me wasn't any of these things. It was his humour. He knew how he looked, and he played with it. With my expectations. Just when he'd suckered me into the New Man, emotionalguyintouchwithhisfeelings thing, just when we were eating up all the details of his therapy, he turned to the issue of a pal's girlfriend, whom he'd never really connected with. He analysed the difficulties they'd faced, and explained his decision to put the past behind him, and document his newfound feelings and understanding of her in a song. I was ready for a slowie on the rebirth of a friendship - a poem in acapella format.
"one - two - three - four - crouch: YOU FUCKING BITCH - I HOPE YOU DIE - YOU FUCKING BITCH."
God, I thought I was going to piss myself laughing.
I came out of my first proper gig ever walking about two feet above the ground, pogoed my way into the chippy and picked up the bloke. Bounced, shouted and laughed my way home.