That's My Jam: My Work is Clean

Back in my roadie days I worked a show at the Milk Bar headlined by iconic punk rockers Fugazi. It was a particularly memorable gig for me (after soundcheck an impromptu jam broke out featuring me on guitar while the other band members switched instruments and goofed around, and this was all before I was charged with finding the guys in the band a suitable vegan restaurant at the Landing to have dinner at -- which, if you've ever been to the Jacksonville Landing you know isn't the easiest thing to find) -- but the reason I bring this up is because in addition to helping unload their gear and setting up the stage, I was the guy who ran lights for the show that night.

We had a fairly standard stage setup for lights at that club -- Footlights and spots so you could see the performers faces flanked on each side by a couple of banks of par cans that we filtered through colored gels for effect. Unless the performers requested something special we usually stuck to red, blue, and green. The spotlights were fitted with amber gels so they weren't so harsh on the eyes of the people on stage -- and everything fed back to a tiny little control board in the back with faders on it that we used to flash between "scenes."
Nothing really special at all when you think about it.
Anyways, I forget who opened for Fugazi that night (probably some local act) but during their set their lighting guy started flashing the lights, blinking the reds and fading back and forth between the greens and the blues. Pretty standard stuff, the kind of thing most people hardly notice at a small club concert like this.

But almost the minute the lights started flashing -- Fugazi's front of house engineer ran over to us and began freaking out about the gels. "What's with all these glam rock light effects, didn't you get the rider?"
Turns out, Fugazi wouldn't play stages with colored lights.
All they want is plain white spotlights on the stage that turned on and off. No flashing, no blinking, none of that at all.

Somehow this message hadn't gotten to the promoter, so during the next stage changeover we spent what seemed an inordinate amount of time removing gels from all the lights around the stage.

Anyways, the reason I bring all this up is that although Ian MacKaye and Henry Rollins come across as very different guys in person -- it's this same bare bones spirit that seems to infect both of them when it comes to creating.

Henry Rollins tends to just throw stuff out as it is. If you listen to his albums close, his voice rarely has any reverb, delay, or compression added to it. He's never claimed to be the worlds greatest singer by any means -- but for a guy who seems so focused and driven about details and disciplined thinking -- his music has always contained more than it's fair share of flubs and shaky transitions in the vocal lines.
When he was the frontman for Black Flag, a certain amount of sloppiness as a result of intensity was
an appropriate middle finger to all the perfectly produced pop records that were coming out a the time.
But with the Rollins Band -- especially this iteration of it featuring guitarist Chris Haskett (who would go on to tour with David Bowie) and bassist Melvin Gibbs (a frequent collaborator with Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid) -- Henry Rollins "it is what it is" approach to his singing always seemed a little out of place to me.
And yet, that's kinda what I like about it.
Rollins has always been more of a free-form singer, preferring to adapt his spoken word cadence to the rhythms of the band while weaving his ideas over the top of whatever foundation the music sets up for him. It doesn't always work (at least for me) -- but when it clicks the right way it creates the kind of groove that sort of gets into your head and stays there in a good way -- like marching music for getting through days that aren't always easy or clear to navigate.

It's almost as if the contrast of the imperfections of his vocal styles versus the tightness of the band makes the whole thing feel more personal somehow. Like you're privy to some internal monologue. Getting a look behind the eyes of someone who's focus is wound so tight that you don't know if it's a good thing or not.
Kinda like the way most people seem to view Rollins himself
But more than that -- Come in and Burn is one of those CD's I'll put on and play along with on guitar cover to cover. I can only imagine how much fun some of these tunes are to play on stage, especially with someone as intense as Hank leading the charge.
See what you think -- Here's Starve

[Listening to:  Helmet - "Like I Care" ]


Anonymous said…
I've never really heard much Rollins stuff. I've got that one album Weight but you know, just for Liar. Still never really got around to listening to the rest of it. It's odd. Usually, I'll listen to the whole album even if I buy it for one song, but I've never felt an urge to explore more of Henry Rollins' music. I like his spoken word for what it is, interesting story telling. I need not the music behind it.
Oh, and his role in that Charlie Sheen movie, The Chase. Which yeah sure, sucks, but it's good in how it sucks. It's the right kind of sucks.
And would somebody please tell me how you can keep ahead of a police chase while fucking in the front seat of a car?
Hex said…
WIGSF -- Liar is a great track, but at least to me it's not as representative of what that band as a whole was capable of as the songs on Come in and Burn. It seemed like on that disc he'd finally found a way to fuse that spoken word style with the driving rhythms this band could produce.

I'm with you on "The Chase" -- the whole movie is so ridiculous (especially that having sex in the front seat of a moving car with fog effects scene) that the only reason to even watch it is to see Rollins, Flea, and Anthony Kedis collect a paycheck for what was probably 2 days work, tops.

The odd thing about Rollins to me is that I own more of his books than his music. But he turns up in all sorts of other things I own -- Iggy Pop albums, William Shatner tracks, Bad Brains covers of MC5 songs, documentaries about skateboarding, in Batman Beyond animations as the voice of a recurring villian.. dude's everywhere.
WhatIGotSoFar said…
I know what you mean. I've got one Rollins Band disc. But, I've got that Tool song he appears on and every Batman Beyond DVD there is.