When I was junior in high school I switched from an all boys Catholic school to a coed Catholic school. It was a K-12 institution and a lot of the kids at my new school had been in class together for over a decade. I showed up with shaggy dyed black hair, a pyramid studded belt, and a few of the other goth/punk items you can now find at your local Hot Topic.
I sort of fancied myself a tougher, male version of Ally Sheedy’s character Allison from The Breakfast Club. Cultivating misanthropic aloofness was my jam, but I ended up making friends quickly because I’m actually very friendly.
Despite dabbling in all the usual shit that would mark me as an ideal target (comic books, weird hair, Dungeons & Dragons, heavy metal) I never really experienced much in the way of bullying thanks to the cumulative power of having a cute college age girlfriend, my own car, and a willingness to give teachers a hard time.
One kid wasn’t having any of my nonsense, though. He had a shaved head, big muscles, and some kind of deep distrust of me because I read Anne Rice and Poppy Z. Brite novels. He called me Satan and seemed to always give me the mean mug like it was his job. For a couple of weeks he would try to make me flinch, which I would, but I’d always say it was because my reflexes were so high tuned. This was probably my earliest bro-science theory.
His vibe changed the day I brought in my copy of Henry Rollins’ Pissing in the Gene Pool. When he walked into class he swerved my direction for our daily stare down, looked at the book, and turned his head sideways like a curious pitbull.
“Satan, you like Rollins?”
“Yeah man, I’ve got like all his CDs and books. I like Black Flag too.”
“I love Rollins.”
Then he sat down in the desk behind mine and we started talking about our favorite bits on Rollins’ albums. I wouldn’t say we were super close after that, but we did talk about music a bit and no one gave me any shit for the rest of the time I was there.
Black Flag is a band that transcended their sound. Their attitude and work ethic is what I think most people, even die hard fans of their music, really respond to. They defined what it meant to be DIY and independent in business and spirit. I never cared much for Rollins Band, though. Everyone in the band is a good player and Rollins goes hard, but the music never did much for me.
The spoken word stuff is what I really love. I’ve gone weeks where all I listened to were Get in the Van, Sweatbox, Human Butt, and The Boxed Life. I absorbed those stories and Rollins’ ascetic aesthetic. What he was doing wasn’t comedy, but I didn’t quite know what it was. People called it spoken word, but when I bought other albums from that section of the indy record store, I hated them. The anger wasn’t there. The experience wasn’t there. It wasn’t punk. It was usually world music without the bongos.
I always wanted to do something like Rollins’ spoken word, but I thought you couldn’t just get up and tell stories unless you had done something else first. I honestly thought the reason Rollins got to do what he was doing was because he had been in a band first. It’s the reason, despite lacking all musical ability, I tried so hard to be in bands in my early 20s. My plan went something like this:
- Look cool
- Get in band based on strength of hair style
- Play rhythm guitar
- Quit band
- Start spoken word career
The is obviously the plan of an idiot, but I don’t get too down on that version of me. I didn’t now anyone doing what Rollins did and comedy seemed impenetrable. I’ve seen some very funny friends eat major dick on stage at open mics. It’s terrifyingly brutal to see someone you care about bomb and I didn’t want any part of it.
I gave up on spoken word and got into comedy. For a while, Bill Hicks bumped Rollins out of his spot as my favorite. By the time I became a Hicks fan, I had been reading obscure conspiracy books for years and had already started using psychedelics. Hicks had more to say to me while I was in my 20s than Rollins did, even though he was already dead by the time I first heard him.
Hicks was by most accounts a little ahead of his time. No one was talking about drugs the way he was (positively) and no one, except George Carlin, had developed and articulated disdain for both sides of the political spectrum with as much veracity. I guess it’s sort of a cliche now for white bearded libertarian leaning dudes to rave about Hicks, but he was someone I discovered completely on my own. I picked his first CD up at a used record store and had no idea what I had until I got home.
Eventually, I exhausted the Hicks catalog. Unlike music, you can only listen to someone speak so many times. I went on the internet and typed in something like “comedians similar to Bill Hicks.” That lead me to learning about all the allegations against Denis Leary stealing from Hicks. I hadn’t ever even considered that stealing jokes was a problem and eventually found my way to Joe Rogan’s legendary dismantling of Carlos Mencia.
I started listening to Joe Rogan’s podcast somewhere around the first twenty episodes. It was great back then. Just a couple of funny guys smoking dope and thinking about the universe. He and the rest of the podcasts I listen to are what I was always looking for when I searched through all those shitty spoken word albums looking for another Rollins.
Podcasts make cleaning the house, commuting and other lame activities actually kind of fun. You can really get to hear what people are about when they’re not trying to squeeze everything into a soundbite. I hope to one day have my own podcast. Eventually I’ll figure something out to talk about.