DJ Anne Litt on Henry Rollins, the Music Mentor

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By DJ Anne Litt:

There is something about listening to recorded music collectively, among others.  Up until 18 months ago my central experience with this was clubs, festivals, and venues full of fans watching music performed live.  If I listened to recordings it was alone under headphones, in a meeting or with friends.

Last summer my musical godfather, Tom Schnabel, invited me to be a part of his resurrected music salon.  About 22 of us showed up at his house, ate hors d’oeurves, filled our glasses with red wine and proceeded to listen together to recordings of Nina Simone, Miles Davis, King Sunny Ade, Asha Bhosle, Dorival Caymmi, and even the Pygmies Of The Ituri Rainforest, Zimbabwe.  We did this every Tuesday night over 6 weeks.  It was my first experience listening as a student among others who love music as much as I do.

Tonight, a different music mentor, Henry Rollins, did the same thing but with a playlist chock full of 80’s punk rock, rap, studio spy tapes and outtakes.  KCRW and Henry gathered over 300 people into Echoplex and together we listened to Black Flag outtakes, Birthday Party spy tapes, Ramones demos, Bad Brains 2nd ever live performances… And that was just the beginning.

Up front, I should say that Henry and I share many of the same touchstones.  We grew up 90 miles apart in the same era. In college I couldn’t buy or play on the radio SST records fast enough.  Maybe that’s why the music and stories resonated so much or maybe it was the collective, formal listening experience.  I think there is something to that.

The best musical moment of the night for me came when Henry told a story about Iggy handing him a cassette which Henry took back to his apartment and discarded for two days.  When Henry finally listened, he recognized the words that he had written in a book had been put to music by Iggy as he played an acoustic guitar.  The song is called “Untouchable” and I am dying to hear it again.

Another great story centered around a byzantine set of events and travels that led to an impromptu remix of “Raw Power,” with Joe Strummer down the hall in another studio. Henry’s own  remix of “Raw Power” certainly took Bowie’s “anemic” remix to task.

The Bad Brains portion of the night also resonated as Henry played the classic single “Pay to Cum” after telling us about lending his VW fastback to H.R. to drive to NYC to pick up the 7” singles.  Anyone who loves the Bad Brains also wants to know the lyrics to that song.  Henry produced a plastic sleeve that he had saved for 30 years which contained hand written lyrics to the song as dictated by H.R. himself.

To this, Eric J Lawrence, who was sitting next to me, whispered, “I only wish I could achieve that level of nerd-dom.”

— Anne Litt