Henry Rollins – Nights Above The Tree Line Review

Right. Time for my first official review in the music section. Although this disc doesn’t come out until April, I was lucky enough to get this from Mr. Rollins as the spoken word event I went to (go see the concert section!) and am going to review this for the Music Crew.

Note that when this is released, the disc will be going for about 11 dollars, and one of those dollars for every disc goes to Hollygrove Children’s Services.

This entire album came about, during his tour of the UK during Spring 2003. It’s a combination of previously unreleased items, along with bits from his books Solipsist and Broken Summers. Henry recorded these 16 tracks over two days in September 2003.

1. Johnny Hartman

Wow. Goth Poetry. It’s all that I can say to describe this. Melodramatic angst ridden prose about hating reality, the masks that people wear and talking about how the moon is a metaphor for what humanity should be like. It sucked that this was the first track because I really didn’t care for it. I knew this wouldn’t be his stand up spoken word comedy. But there is something about poetry slams and beatnick coffee houses that just ticks me off. I sat there listening saying, ‘Please Hank. Please don’t have on a Smiths T-Shirt. PLEASE.’

2. Maya

Maya is about the most intense scary woman Henry Rollins had ever met. And she does sound like a complete skank the way Henry described her. She was a low key drug-addicted hooker that Henry feels a mixture of pity, disdain and amusement for. How Henry could show compassion to this woman who did everything from bring geriatric old men into his band’s home and them give them head on down just shows he’s a hell of a better human being than I am. It’s a depressing story to hear all about the things that happened to this woman in the years Henry has known her. But you never feel sorry for her. Just creeped out that a person could live in this manner. Lots of death in this tale and it really does give you an example of just why Henry is a straightedge sort of chap.

3. Brick

Henry Rollins is reborn as a brick in 1951 which allows him to forever watch the woman he loves as he is in the building directly across from home she lives in. He talks about what that existence would be like, to only be able to watch and how it feels to know that no one knows you exist. It’s a very existential story told from the first person perspective. It’s not quite Kafka, Sarte, or Camus. It’s a good story though.

4. Polaroid
Henry describes a photo he saw only to turn it into a story about his Senior Prom. He hated it. He found it boring, felt he looked like Groucho Marx and how he doesn’t remember anything truly about his date. He found it, ‘A depressing waste of time.’

There is juxtaposition between Henry’s memories and the pictures. Again, it’s interesting to see how negative and angst-ridden Henry’s memories are. Are these the only ones he feels like sharing with us, or is his life real that depressing?

5. Parthenope

Parthenope is a girl’s name. And this is by far the best track so far. This reminds me so much of myself and the crazy ass bitches I go out with on a regular basis. I’ve said word for word the same things Rollins says to Parthenope. And so much of what Parthenope says to Henry is line for line what many girls have said to me. It’s the whole ‘You’re so intense. So Passionate. I’m not like the other girls. I understand you. I’m a person you can open up to and trust. Blah blah blah. Insert words that girls say and think they mean at the time but have no ability to back those statements up when they truly need to or at the slightest hint of self-sacrifice or effort.’ And it’s my “Smart ass comment. Fake egotistical statement said in such a way you don’t know if I’m being a cocky ass motherf*cker or trying to make you roll your eyes and laugh. Attempts to distance myself from your affection because I think you’re way too attached to me, coupled with the enjoyment of seeing your futile attempts to make me feel emotion too you, while all the while I wish you were a person that I could do just that with.”

And of course it all ends with a girl being super angry and psychotically obsessed towards me in a very final way while I continue to make smart ass comments about what a crazy bitch she was.

Wait. All those me’s should be Henry’s. I think. Like I said, this track is far too much my own life turned into a prose pieced by Rollins.

6. Kalifornia Dreaming

This piece is surreal as surreal gets. A dream within a dream only to awaken to totally alienation to the mockery of what the American dream has become. The entire track is talking about what is wrong about the typical American and how their gluttony and sense of self-righteous entitlement has ruined what once was great. This is about a dark a vision of America as it gets. And sadly, tragically, everything Rollins says her is completely correct. This is the kind of tale that makes Michael Moore look like a total optimist and happy flag hugging Bush loving patriot. People that have a problem with reality will hate this track. People who can’t accept America has issues and a seamy underbelly will go to our fan forums and bitch Henry Rollins out saying things like, “If he hates America, why doesn’t he leave?” But the fact of the matter is Henry loves this country far more than any gun hugging bible toting warmonger would have you believe. That’s why he wrote this track.

7. Coma Season

More goth poetry about time wasting and moments lost by hesitation. This is another track that totally bored me for the first minute due to the verbose description of angst. Long winded shallow sounding byronesque moanings. Then the meaning changes. He talks about there once being a time when things were good and sane and he could cope, but somewhere along the line he stopped caring, or at least knowing how. A bit of a change, as I expected it to all be one big dramafest. Kudos for surprising me. But still, not a piece I’d ever want to hear again.

8. Accident

And Henry more than makes up for it with his next track. It’s a tale about falling in love with a woman and how they had to part while he went on a tour. When he comes back he waits to hear from her, knowing she is very busy. On the third day back, he learns that he will not be hearing from her now or ever again. What follows is a commentary on grief and how with it thankfully comes selective amnesia and the human mind’s ability to deny everything that has happened to them.

9.Visiting Los Angeles

A cutting track on the conditions of Los Angeles. Acid Rain, polluted water, evil cops, and other hilarious cruel commentary about LA. Best line of the track “Come on you Mongoloid rapist; let’s go!” I don’t know why but I laugh my ass off every time I hear it.
There is cruel commentary especially towards the LA hospital system and their procedures. According to Henry, LA hospitals let you perform the minor surgery of removing bullets from limbs or knives from thighs yourself. If even half of what Henry says is true; never get sick or shot in LA.

And the hospital is nothing compared to the commentary about the air and cops. I know it’s easy to bash the LAPD and done by everyone, but Rollins outdoes himself here.

By far the funniest track on the entire album. You have to hear this one. You really do. A classic bit of Rollins hidden amongst a lot of other stuff.

10. Music Boy

A simple and quick track about the fact that most music fanboys don’t have a clue about what being a musician is all about. In a little over a minute, Rollins comes out and says it’s about the music and nothing else. I can’t say much more about this.

11. Day of the Bed

Ugh. MORE goth poetry. I hate morbid dark depressing whiny stuff. If I want dark, I listen to Bauhaus. It’s a good commentary on pain and the inherent neuroses within humanity. It’s just not my bag. Henry seems to really be stuck on the thought that suffering is natural and any sort of happiness is an illusion. It’s so sad to hear him talk about sex as one of the most depressing things to him. How it’s just an attempt to hide his psychic wounds. I love Rollins, but when he’s dark, he’s f*cking DARK. It’s odd I guess for me, to be the one whose supposedly a standard-bearer for an entire subculture of people typecast as dark and moody and spooky, and yet I’m a happy bouncy Pikachu hugging guy who just happens to wear a lot of black and look like a character in a Hideyuki Kikuchi novel and even odder for a man who is known for his comedy, fast paced music, and an icon to a subculture that intersects, but not overlaps my own; to see him revealing himself as an emotionally injured individual with a lot of pain and grief makes me wince.

Or maybe it’s just that we have a lot in common yet are mirror opposites at the same time. Or maybe I just don’t ever want to look back when I’m 40 and see a lot of my printed or spoken word to be inherently sad. I want people to laugh and talk about the passion within my words. To see the joy of life and to know I was always able to see the break in the clouds, not the red before the tempest. There is beauty in decay and tragedy it’s true, but at least I know that Rollins is able to temper the dark with the light. I just wish there was more of the light on the album.

12. Stalingrad

Girl is wanted by guys. Girl finally chooses a guy. Guy rips her heart to shreds. Girl is wounded and hate filled. Girl meets Rollins. And slowly she learns to trust and love again. Lots of metaphor for sex with war.

13. No Shore I

I listened to this track 3 times. All I could think about was ‘Waiting for Godot.’ And Kafka’s, ‘The Trial.’ I really found it hard to concentrate on this track. My mind just went wandering while I listened. The first time I couldn’t concentrate. The second time I did too much and looked for a deeper meaning to the words. The third time? I find it to be about the void and love. It’s odd. Certainly not my style. But it’s also the deepest track on the album. Take that for what you will.

14. No Shore II

As Rollins says on the back cover, this is his tribute to Thomas Wolfe. I prefer this to the first one. It makes me think of an endless labyrinth of one’s own making. It’s about loneliness and being lost in one’s own life and futility of all. FUCKING morbid. A permanent disconnect between even lovers. By far this talks about how humanity is cruel and petty and horrific by nature. That mankind does not create. That Mankind merely destroys. Again, basically everything said in here is true. It just depends on whether you want to listen to the track and be depressed, or do exact what Rollins says you will in the spoken word piece; deny the truth and get pissy about it because you can’t handle reality.

15. Eugene Gant
What is home? How does one find it? And what makes a home secure for one that dwells there? What makes a home peaceful and sublime? That’s what this very short track is about.

16. Disintegration

Longest (and last) track on the album. Ever wonder why Rollins tours? Why he is constantly on the road? And what he does when he’s not touring? This is the track for you. Here we see Rollins at his most real. For him the tour is life. Without it, he merely goes through the motions. A zombie doing duties between sprints of rebirth. The tour gives him energy. The fans give him a reason to go on. The music and words he writes and speaks are his blood and soul. And without them, he is hallow. Why can’t Rollins maintain a relationship? Listen to Disintegration. Why does Rollins feel a permanent disconnect with everything and the silicone filled bosom that is the breast of America? Listen to Distintegration. Besides Kalifornia Dreaming, this is the track that makes the entire album worthwhile.