At first blush, the linkage of Henry Rollins, who came out of D.C.‘s straight edge scene—he’s obviously tight buddies with Ian MacKaye, the man who wrote the song “Straight Edge”—and Jerry Garcia, one of the most drug-friendly musicians who ever lived, seems more than a little bit odd. But maybe that’s just your square categories, maaaaan! Artists go where artists wanna go, and there’s no predicting where they’ll end up.
It turns out that even though he desists from using drugs, including alcohol, Rollins doesn’t really identify as a straight edge. (In that interview, Rollins discusses the handful of times he’s used marijuana, LSD, and mushrooms, and it’s a pretty entertaining read.) Discussing his penchant for tangents in his spoken-word appearances—and the occasional necessity for the audience to guide him back to the original fork in the road—Rollins in a 2008 invoked the atmosphere at Grateful Dead shows as a comparison: “It reminds me of when I’d go see the Grateful Dead, and Jerry Garcia would make a mistake and everyone would applaud: ‘Yeah, nice one, Fat Boy!’ It’s a very friendly environment.” So Henry Rollins likes Grateful Dead shows—here’s hoping that he dispensed more miracles than he received!
Wartime (Henry Rollins and Andrew Weiss)
Rollins former Black Flag band member Greg Ginn told Rolling Stone in 1985 that he dreamed of the group opening for the Grateful Dead and Dead tee-shirts were reportedly commonly seen worn by Black Flag’s roadies. As a working musician in California, it’s wouldn’t be all that unlikely that Rollins would meet Jerry—indeed, he probably did. In 1987, while working on Life Time, the first Rollins Band album, his studio was in the same building as the space the Grateful Dead was using when they remastered their back catalog for CD, and they hung out a little bit:
I was in L.A., mastering my first band album, Life Time, at a place I believe was called Digital Magnetics. The Grateful Dead were across from me, working on their first batch of CDs. I was told that all the way down at the end of the hall, a member of The Doors and their producer, Paul Rothchild, were working on remastering the band’s catalog for CD. ... I had someone relay a message to Paul and company that I was in the building. ... Moments later, Paul came into my small room and asked if I wanted to come in and have a listen to what they were doing. Uh, yeah!
In 1990 Rollins and his longtime bassist Andrew Weiss (who, incidentally, producer of several Ween albums) released an EP under the name Wartime called Fast Food for Thought. The EP’s fifth and final track was a cover of “Franklin’s Tower,” off of the Grateful Dead’s 1975 album Blues for Allah. Since Wartime consisted only of a vocalist and a bassist, it sounds very different from the Dead’s melodic guitar jamming. But the lyrics are entirely unchanged, and, at around eight minutes in length, it’s nearly twice as long as the original album cut, and honors the Dead’s jammy legacy.
In 2009, asked in an email interview “What made you want to cover a Grateful Dead tune?” Rollins replied, “We thought it would sound good with a go-go beat.” As it happens, a block away from my Cleveland apartment is a building with the words “Franklin Tower” written prominently above the entrance, and I think of Wartime’s cover every time I walk my dog. Here’s the original cut and Wartime’s take on it. It’s not for everyone, but I enjoy it.
The Grateful Dead, “Franklin’s Tower”:
Wartime, “Franklin’s Tower”: