How we met: Henry Rollins and Nick Cave
Sunday 23 March 1997
HENRY ROLLINS: On 30 March 1983, the Birthday Party played Los Angeles. Me and all the guys from Black Flag went to see them do two sets at a small place called the Roxy, and they were thoroughly godhead. They were one of the all-time premier live bands.
The next night, Nick went to see a band called the Minutemen at a club called the Lingerie. I was there, too. I see Nick Cave sitting at a table, and I'm like, "Woh!" So I walked over and said, "Hey, Nick, I'm Henry Rollins, I'm in the band Black Flag," and he goes, "Sure, I know who you guys are, you were at the show last night, right?" He was really cool and we talked for a while. I think I bugged him. It didn't seem like it, but looking back at it now I was probably very annoying. I had all these questions I wanted to ask him because the Birthday Party were my favourite band at the time. But he was very nice to me. He didn't tell me to go piss up a rope or anything.
We exchanged letters, and I saw him again the next summer, the summer of '84, when he'd started the Bad Seeds. I was in England with Black Flag, getting ready to start a European tour, and I went to Bristol, I think, to see the Bad Seeds play. It was an awesome show. I recorded it, I still have the tape. I said hello afterwards, and then I found out that he was staying in a hotel about three blocks away from mine in London. So I'd get together with him after band practice and hang out with him, and we've kept in touch since then. I see Nick about once a year, which is about as much as I see anybody I don't work with. You wanna see me, then be in the band. Otherwise, I see you when I see you. But that means when I do run into him, it's really great to see him. He's an excellent human and I love him a lot and that's the bottom line. He's one of my favourite people. And I think he's a tremendous artist. The new album is just ridiculously good.
I worry about anybody who indulges in the rock'n'roll trappings. Nick has gone to a few areas that I'll never go to, but to me that's not a reason for liking or not liking somebody. Different strokes for different folks. I think you probably live longer if you don't mess around with things, but Nick is an adult. It's none of my goddamn business what he does.
Over the years, he's broadened himself as an artist, and he's turned himself into a really good man. He loves his kid, and, man, when you saw him on stage with the Birthday Party you would never think he could be a father. The father of the Antichrist, maybe. It's really cool to see Nick be a good dad, and be wrapped up in his son. Luke could be one of his greatest masterpieces.
I think he's a much more complex character than I am. There's a lot more going on in his lyrics than would go on in mine. He's a very amazing wordsmith. He can do pretty much whatever he wants with the English language. I tend to use words as blunt instruments to wound and do bodily harm. Lyrically, he's one of the people who gives me courage to write love songs. That's a topic I tend to feel very vulnerable writing about, and Nick is one of the inspirations because the guy is pretty fearless with the pen. You really gotta be brave with words and Nick is. Always. He's one of the guys who keeps me honest.
He has a great band, too. The Bad Seeds are a band I will travel a great distance to see whenever possible. What Nick goes after with them is so incredibly interesting every time, because it's always different. He always takes chances. The art comes before the commerce. As far as the music business goes, he's one of the good guys. He's the real thing.
NICK CAVE: The first memory I have of Henry is from '83, in some club in LA, where we were watching the Minutemen. I'd done a gig recently, and I was complaining about a bruised rib or some other kind of injury that one incurs on stage. And Henry says, "Yeah, I've got quite a few aches and pains, too." He rolls up his trousers and his legs are covered in cigarette burns where people have been stubbing their cigarettes out on his shins. I thought: Fair enough, you win this time. But I'll be back.
I really liked him. He is a really likeable person, and I had always liked his work, so that was a step in the right direction. And there's something about him that is so alien to my way of living that he is a kind of continuing enigma to me. What Henry does is just get on with the job without complaining about it. My records are basically a litany of complaints against the world, and I'm quite like that in real life as well. But Henry's just like: if you've a problem, get on the road and work. I think Henry somewhere along the line has invented himself, invented this character and has lived it without compromise, and I think that's just amazing.
He has a just-fucking-say-it-and-do-it sort of attitude: "This is what I am, take it or leave it." I find that really attractive, because I don't have it at all. He appears to have an absolute confidence in what he's doing. I don't have that. I'm just plagued by doubts all the time, and I never get that feeling from Henry. It's not like he's going to read a review of his record and it's going to piss him off for too long. Whereas I'll remember it for years and remember the guy who wrote it. Henry's kind of like a bomb shelter in the way he conducts himself, but underneath that there's something extremely human and genuine and vulnerable about him.
We spent most time together when I was writing my novel in LA in 1984. I was there for about four or five months. He used to come around the house and do push-ups on our living-room floor, much to our delight. I'd be banging up speedballs while he was doing press-ups in the same room. His behaviour in a lot of ways isn't that much different from mine. It's extremely obsessive. He's a workaholic, and a lot of that's quite similar to being a drug addict. He finds great comfort in his work, which I do as well, but I also find great comfort in drug-taking. He's never judgemental, though. He's concerned at times, but he never disapproved of my behaviour. And I never disapproved of his exercising either.
Over the years, he seems to have become more and more focused on what he wants to do with his life. He's traded off a lot of things to do that. If you're singleminded about what you're doing, attachments to other people can just get in your way. Whereas, he's very open to the experiences of life. Every moment is some kind of event for him, and he takes as much from it as he possibly can, and then he's off onto the next one. With attachments to people, there's something there that he's decided that he's better off without. That might be quite a sad thing, I don't know. But he always seems to be doing all right to me.
The way I like him the best is seeing him perform. I don't think I've ever seen a concert of his that I didn't think was great - and that's both spoken word and the band stuff. His writing takes on a whole different dimension on stage. It's really funny then, and I don't always get that from his writing. Even though I love what he does, his writing is relentless. It's like, fuck! It's like a punch in the head. It's like being taken out the back alley and being robbed and raped and beaten in the head, which is not always that enjoyable.
I can't really remember a lot of anecdotes. All sorts of shit was happening in LA, we were getting up to things, but fuck knows what happened. I was taking enormous amounts of drugs, and I don't remember a lot, to be perfectly frank. It was an insane period.
Henry Rollins's new album, 'Come In and Burn' (MCA) is released tomorrow.
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