PASSPORT; HENRY ROLLINS
Sunday 23 May 1999
'm on the road touring about seven to 10 months a year, but between tours I travel a hell of a lot. I'm not a home- oriented person. Rather than go home I prefer to see something else. Life is just flying by and I'd much rather be out there, living out of my backpack, hand-washing my clothes in hotel bathrooms, and so on.
When I come home and use my washing-machine it's like "nah, this is for lightweights". And after three days of being home I get antsy.
Recently I did a big trip and flew from the UK to Nairobi and then took a small plane out to the bush, and then went on to Madagascar for a week, then South Africa (not that interesting), then back to England.
Last week I was in Morocco. I had five days off between shows in the US and the UK so I thought, why not? I went to Casablanca and Marrakech and walked around, getting lost in the souks. At night I hung out with cab drivers and watched them argue with one another. I don't know what it is about the way I look (maybe the tattoos), but in Marrakech people were staring at me so intensely that they nearly crashed their motorbikes. But on the whole I don't get any hassle when I travel. I look pretty low- rent and people figure I'm not the one to rob.
One of my funniest travel experiences happened a few years ago when I got off a plane in Kenya. I was met by two Masai men on the runway. They were 6ft 7in gods - beautiful, ebony, tall, sinewy. I approached them, extended my hand and said: "How's it going?". They said: "Jumbo", which I guess means "hello", and then took my hand, rolled up my sleeve and laughed uproariously at my tattoos. I had been off the plane just two minutes and I was getting slammed by two Masai warriors.
Getting in and out of Third World countries can be a little dicey. I was leaving Kenya on the day that they celebrate the anniversary of their independence and the cab driver told me: "This is a good day to leave". Once I was leaving Cairo and it was the first day of Ramadan and also the first day that Clinton decided to bomb Iraq. As an American in a predominantly Muslim country, the tension in the airport was tangible. But I believe that feeling safe has a lot to do with how you carry yourself, I remained calm, friendly and hoped that it was obvious to most people that I was not necessarily part of that aggressive programme. Either that or I pretend I'm Canadian.
One of the best receptions I've had on tour was when I did some spoken- word shows in Israel. The audience was fantastic, very fast on their feet. Despite having to use a translator, I also got a great reception in Russia. There was an excruciating 15-second delay between my delivery and the audience's response, but they seemed to like it.
I never play a venue for longer than two or three days at a time. The short-stop thing is part of touring. Travelling a lot and seeing nothing is one of the frustrations but you just have to be determined to do things. You have to scrape yourself off the mattress in the morning and say: "OK, we can see two museums and a park this morning. Let's go." But in all honesty, I'd much rather skip the sights to walk the streets and talk to the people.
The most frustrating place I've ever visited was Hungary in the Eighties. I found myself thinking: "Why do I have to go to a gas station and bribe some guy to get gas? And why do I have to check in with the police every 24 hours?". I'm used to my big American freedom. By comparison, American culture is like the moving sidewalk in an airport - safe and sanitised. And if it's not, you can sue.
But although I find it hard to keep my mouth shut, I know the bottom line. I hate travelling in South America for that reason. The hairy factor is high there. One of the first things I saw in Argentina was a dead body on the street. There is a strong feeling that you could die there, that someone is going to take you out any minute. I try and get in and out of those places very quickly.
Henry Rollins's double compact disc `Think Tank' (Dreamworks) is out now; `A night with Henry Rollins' is on Channel 4 later this summer.
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