Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Oliver: 1991 Festive Tunes - Henry Rollins - 'Twas the Night Before Christmas

This was taken from a 1991compiliation album on First Warning Records called A Lump of Coal, which featured various alternative acts presenting their takes on Christmas songs (The Crash Test Dummies performing The First Noel, The Wedding Present covering Step Into Christmas etc).

Peel played this on Sunday 1 December 1991 and I think it's a really novel take on Clement Clarke Moore's poem as Rollins intones the poem through a sound collage which equates Jolly Old St. Nick with a burglar visiting a crime ridden neighbourhood. Either that or a more sinister Nick. Old Nick perhaps...

I was shopping in Sainsbury's a week or so ago and the staff member manning the self serve tills was bemoaning the fact that he had heard the same traditional Christmas CD for the duration of his shift.  I recommended A Lump of Coal to him and you can find it here.

Video courtesy of cakeworm1200.

Update as of March 2015 - I didn't realise that Rollins was a poetry and prose writer until quite recently.  I bought a copy of the album, Everything, which contained work from Rollins's ongoing book, Eye Scream, which he had been working on over a period of 9 years between 1986 and 1995.  Normally, I'd do a separate "Reflections on..." post, but I couldn't stand the prospect of listening to it a second time.  This is one angry diatribe and it is an exhausting and dispiriting listen.
Rollins is a good writer and his anger is palpable towards a variety of targets.  What starts out as an initial "The city (in this case, Los Angeles) is a cruel place" cautionary tale broadens out into an attack on..well.. everything.  The cast is made up of mad men, foolish hipsters, abusive fathers, desperate teenagers and lots of corrupt members of the Los Angeles Police Department (something tells me that Rollins did a lot of writing during the Rodney King/OJ Simpson trials).  And Rollins's ultimate purpose is to tell us how weak and pathetic we are.  There is one passage towards the end where he rants about how much he loathes the "weak" in all its forms - physical, mental, emotional.  He makes it clear that it's all our fault that we let the powerful (especially the LAPD) abuse us and the implication is that we deserve it for being such a bunch of losers.  There are many striking images (the stupidity of heroin parties which inevitably lead to a death by overdosing, which goes unreported because it will bring too much heat down on the dealer's head; how a 17 year old boy runs away from a violent and abusive home to the LA streets only to find himself descending into another kind of hell altogether; a call to arms against the LAPD, using rocket propelled grenades against their surveillance helicopters) and Rollins is a characterful narrator, you almost hear the choking smog of LA in his telling of the tale.  It struck me that Everything could be written from the perspective of an LA crazy, the last section sees the man who shot at the White House in 1994, celebrated.  That gives you an idea of how difficult this album is to listen to, more than once.
And just when our spirits have been thoroughly trampled, we get to hear the dreadful modern jazz score provided by Charles Gayle and Rashied Ali, which had been honking away obtrusively behind Rollins, in all its glory.  By the end of Rollins's story, I'd have been happier to hear the traffic sound effects in full than the music score.

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