Producer Craig Leon (The Ramones, Talking Heads) shares stories and tracks with Henry Rollins

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Craig Leon and Henry Rollins

Years ago, during one of my first conversations with Henry Rollins, he gave me props for playing Craig Leon's "Donkeys Bearing Cups." At that time I was still fairly unaware of Leon's legacy as his albums Nommos and Visiting hadn't been reissued and were somewhat hard to come by. I had the track because it was one of my favorite cuts on a Daniele Baldelli Cosmic compilation. Beyond that, I wasn’t totally aware of the breadth of Leon’s work.

Rollins' relationship with Leon, on the other hand, stemmed from a longtime fandom by virtue of Leon having had a literal hand in the development of New York's Punk scene in the mid-late ‘70s. Without Leon the Talking Heads wouldn’t have ended up on Sire Records. More importantly however, he also produced The Ramones, Blondie, Richard Hell, The Fall and one of Rollins’ favorite bands of all time, Suicide. On top of all this, the man is a visionary composer and artist himself. His albums Nommos and Visiting are wild super heady proto-techno excursions.

This past Friday, Craig (and longtime collaborator Cassell Webb) performed their latest work - a kind of sequel to Nommos and Visiting - The Canon at the First United Methodist Church of Pasadena for The Ambient Church. It was the first time they’d performed together in the United States in over 2 decades. The event was one of the most moving musical experiences I've had in years. Opener Ana Roxanne laid an ethereal bed of dreamy layered vocals and ambient loops that entranced the audience. The show and church's altar were lit by some of the best (most psychedelic) projection mapping I've ever seen by a mysterious dude whose Instagram handle is simply "defaulteric." The Canon was performed from start to finish, with live tweaks, twitches and organic peaks and valleys that made it an unforgettable night of music.

Then Sunday night, Craig and Cassell joined Henry Rollins in studio. Rollins played two hours of his personal favorites of Leon's vast body of work and periodically interjected to tell stories about recording Debbie Harry, tinkering with multi-track overdubbing to create Suicide’s ghostly ambient sound and turning the Moog synthesizer into a legit Classical music instrument.

The episode was truly FANATIC as it was full of revelations and music discoveries both for die-hard fans and the uninitiated. Rollins told Leon what it was like to run home from the schoolyard and listen to his friend’s copy of The Ramones’ first album for the very first time, 3 times in a row, on his family’s stereo before his mom got home. And how that was the moment his life changed forever.