"We had heard that Washington DC had an all-black punk rock band. One of us found a flyer, like 'Damn! It’s real!'."
The thrill of discovering that this ground breaking group existed was exciting enough. But when a young Henry Rollins and his friends went to see Bad Brains for the first time, all their expectations of what this band might sound like were blown out of the water.
It’s 92 seconds of just sheer perfection.Henry Rollins — Don't Look Back
"June of 1979, they were the opening band for The Damned. Me and Ian [MacKaye – Minor Threat, Fugazi] got there early and out walk the Bad Brains onto the stage. These young, handsome guys – they’re all like 21, 22 – and they played this amazing music that made our jaws hit the ground.
"I’ll never forget. Most of the audience stepped away from the stage, intimidated. Me and Ian and Mark Sullivan [from Kingface] we all walked towards the stage and we’re all like, ‘wha-wha-WHAT is this?’.
"It’s like new science, cause the drummer was playing fast but he was swinging the beat.
"They went at the speed of light, effortlessly. The singer is landing with hard consonants on every beat, he’s singing like a drummer. It blew our minds!"
As a fan and now friend of the band, Henry Rollins was approached by Bad Brains singer H.R. They needed a car to drive to New York to pick up pressings of their first single, Henry obliged. As a gift, he received three signed copies of their debut release 'Pay To Cum'.
He’s still filled with awe listening to this song today, but there’s one part he hasn’t always been a fan of.
"I’ve never understood the title, and I’ve never liked the title," he says. "It’s been bugging me for 35 years!"
But going deeper into the lyrics reveals something other than deviant sexual indulgence going on.
'I came to know with no dismay, that in this world we all must pay, pay to write, pay to play, pay to cum, pay to fight.'
It seems much more about the debt of living a life, the onus of responsibility on each individual and the broader positive energy that can guide that.
Bad Brains stood out in so many ways, not least in the way their spirituality was fused within their music, even in something so deceptively titled as 'Pay To Cum'.
But ultimately, it was the unique combination of personnel and musical dexterity in this band that gave life to their sonic intensity and defiant messages and broke new ground in punk music.
"None of us had ever heard those parts, bass, drum, guitar, vocal come together in that way," Rollins says. "Bad Brains nailed it with that song. [It’s] one of those they should put in the time capsule to make sure future generations hear it. It’s 92 seconds of just sheer perfection."
Hear more about the song that changed it all for Henry Rollins on Don't Look Back.