In Which My Mind is Blown by Henry Rollins: “Rare Cuts and Conversations”

(photo: Jeremiah Garcia)

Let it be known that last night in Echo Park, my life was altered. Through a rare stroke of luck and good fortune, and the infinite kindness of one Nic Harcourt from our very own TheLiveBuzz, I was able to attend a KCRW event with Henry Rollins called “Rare Cuts and Conversations.” Aside from the fact that I have long been a fan (or fanatic, if you will) of Henry’s musical career, both with Rollins Band and a little musical group known as Black Flag, I’m also a fan of Henry’s writing, spoken word, and expansive charitable work for causes like World Hunger Relief and the USO. If you listen to his radio show (and you SHOULD listen to his radio show) you know that the man has incredible taste in music, taste that reaches far across time and genre and cultures. What’s truly inspiring about Henry Rollins is that he himself is an unabashed fan, a collector, and a true music nerd. On his show, he often alludes to certain rare and unreleased tracks from his personal collection that he is unable to ever play on the radio without breaking the trust and confidences of the people who have bestowed these various records and tapes upon him.

Last night, to an intimate crowd (barred from bringing in phones or recording devices of any kind) at the Echoplex in Los Angeles, he played some of these extremely rare and incredibly amazing tracks. For three hours. With anecdotes and stories. Before I get into what transpired within those walls, I’d like to burden you with some personal background on myself, which I can do because this is my blog and I said so.

As a young, awkward, fairly unattractive (with pictures to prove it) girl growing up in the South Bay of California in the nineties, my musical journey took a sort of strange path. At the time, most of my compatriots (and myself, admittedly) were busying ourselves with the post-grunge alt-rock KROQ scene of Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, and Hole (and some other questionable bands, like 311 and the Toadies, whose CD “Possum Kingdom” definitely lived in my collection via the BMG music club). Ever the intrepid researcher (also known as isolated nerd) I channeled my love for Nirvana (see: jumping on bed alone screaming lyrics at the walls) into a search for more, more like this, more power, more movement, more more more. So it went that I happened upon a book called Route 666: The Road to Nirvana by Gina Arnold, and holed up in my room (Swatch phone, MAD Magazine collection, many Trolls) I pored over the pages and absorbed all my young twelve year old mind could. It was through this incredible book that I discovered Fugazi, Black Flag, Bad Brains, The Minutemen, The Replacements, Husker Du, and a slew of other life-shaping artists whose cassettes and CDs I purchased every week from Wherehouse Music or Go Boy Records with my meager allowance. So while I was never part of the original scene that got to soak up Gregg Ginn’s sweat at The Fleetwood in Redondo Beach (ironically right next door to my hometown of Torrance) or bask in the beauty of Mike Watt’s bass lines, this music still carried me on its back through my youth, and scored my own private rebellion.

(photo: Jeremiah Garcia)

But enough about me. Back to Mr. Rollins, and the set that blew a hundred minds. Throughout the course of his life, Henry Rollins has interacted with and befriended some of the greatest musicians of our time (see: Ian Mackaye, Nick Cave, Chuck D., Johnny Ramone) and along the way has gotten his hands on some of the rarest recordings these people have ever produced. Ever the hoarder (bless him) he kept it all, and because he did, we got to hear some of it. I won’t share the entire set list (both out of respect for Henry and a selfish need to keep the magic to myself) but here are some highlights:

Black Flag — “Louie Louie” – with Henry on Vocals

– We heard several Black Flag studio outtakes, but this was my favorite. The first Black Flag version, with Dez Cadena on vocals, is pretty much perfect, but hearing Henry’s unique vocal stylings on a classic track like this one was pretty great.

Nick Cave – “From Her to Eternity” (alternate version, just vocals and piano)

– If Nick Cave isn’t a large part of your musical landscape, this may not be the post for you. Listening to this haunting, stripped down version of the masterpiece from the Nick Cave and Bad Seeds record of the same name almost brought tears to my eyes (but then again I cry at romantic comedies and vaccuum commercials).

Birthday Party – “Little Doll” (Stooges cover, live)

– Birthday Party covering the Stooges. That’s all that needs to be said here.

Iggy Pop – “Untouchable” solo acoustic song with lyrics from Henry’s writings

– After hearing about how Henry got his hands of The Stooges’ Raw Power ORIGINAL MASTERS and did his own mix of “Raw Power” (which we heard and which, with Henry’s turned up harmonizing back-up vocals, was quite amazing), Henry told us tale of how one day Iggy Pop (also known as Jim) popped a black tape into his hands, and it turned out to be an original song Iggy had recorded of himself singing one of Henry’s poems. NO BIG DEAL.

Dee Dee King – The Goon (unreleased demo)

– Did you know Dee Dee Ramone, master songwriter of all the classic Ramones songs we know and love, did a stint as…as rapper? ME NEITHER. Apparently this is no secret but not only did Henry pull out the original press release about the Dee Dee King album (pretty sure they referred to him as a “hip-hop genius”) he also played us this track of an unreleased demo for a song called “The Goon” (sample lyric: “I’m an expert at rappin’ with the yo yo/I’m rocking the mic like a psycho”). And now my jaw hurts from throwing itself the floor.

Joey Ramone – “I Don’t Want You” (solo with acoustic guitar, found on a cassette in Johnny’s closet)

– (So maybe I love The Ramones). This was one of the most arm-hair raising tracks of the evening for me. Apparently this tape was found in Johnny Ramone’s closet after he passed away (Johnny was also a bit of a hoarder) and his wife, Linda, entrusted it to Henry. The tape contained an acoustic version with just guitars and vocals of the song “I Don’t Want You” recorded by Joey Ramone and given to Johnny Ramone in order for him to learn the song. Joey’s version sounds like it was recorded in his bathroom but is still incredible, and with one listen it was clear the released version (which is also awesome) belied some of the profound aching Joey poured into that song.

Bad Brains – “Pay to Cum” (live version from their 2nd ever live show)

– If you’ve ever seen a Bad Brains show you know the incredible frenetic vocal assault that is H.R, but hearing them play “Pay to Cum” in what was the infancy of their band, at their second ever live show, you could really feel all the youth and vinegar and rage and genius that was just taking shape. Listening to this track made me feel excited to be alive.

Charles Manson – “SST Recording Studio”

– Charles Manson sent in demo tapes to SST Records. SST Records made him a record. It was never released. There are five extant copies. We heard a track off one. That is all. Carry on.

Fugazi – “Waiting Room” (first ever Fugazi demo)

– And then I died. Twice.