“The Boy Is Gonna Rock” – Chapter Six Excerpt

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Although Black Sabbath was probably my overall favorite band growing up, Alice Cooper was my first true rock god hero. So when news hit that we were confirmed to open up for Alice on his “comeback” tour in fall of ’86, I freaked. This was top-of-Mount-Everest, life-destiny-type shit, and I would be going full circle in a big way.

At the beginning of Chapter Six: The VVI Circus Hits America, I talk extensively about the “unique, but complex, hierarchy of power within the VVI organization,” in a section I call All the King’s Men: Understanding the VVI Power Matrix. From there, I discuss how my first drum/cymbal endorsement was negotiated over a phone conference by Dana Strum who, unbeknownst to me, used a British accent and a different name as he pretended to be a member of our management team! (Don’t ask me why…)

Let’s pick things up from a section in Chapter Six that truly encapsulates the times:

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Cranking Up the Hype Machine

By now, the record had been out for a couple months and was slowly climbing up the charts. The “Boyz” video was enjoying modest, but steady, rotation on MTV, and there was a solid, ever-escalating buzz about the band on the street and in the world of rock media. KNAC, the local Los Angeles metal station, was playing the shit out of the record. In fact, they had some kind of top ten most requested tunes show, and we soon found that “Twisted,” one of the heavier tracks on the record, was either near or at the top of the list each evening, right alongside Metallica and Megadeth. I made it a point to try and listen in every night. Exciting stuff back then.

Of course, the VVI hype machine was fully in gear by this point. I remember that a promotional tagline started popping up everywhere about how our record was “the fastest-selling debut album in the history of Chrysalis Records.” Not exactly sure how they arrived at that metric, but it sure sounded good on paper.

Another idea that sounded good on paper was this notion that VVI would have the world’s first all-female road crew. It seems like Vinnie and Dana were doing an interview somewhere, perhaps at KNAC, and jokingly made this suggestion. When the interviewer pressed them—like, “Really? An all-female road crew?”—it was game fucking on. They ran with it like it was a real thing and talked about where and how girls could apply for the job on this upcoming tour. And, naturally, a bunch actually did.

A couple weeks later, we even had a large group of applicants show up at Baby-O Studios for an “interview,” so we could make this huge PR moment out of it. There were photos galore and interviews with the prospective new crew members—all of them encouraged to dress up for a night on the Strip as opposed to a day schlepping gear. Genius PR move? Perhaps. But I just remember thinking that day, These girls all think this is real. And Strum, ever the ringleader, was speaking intelligently and professionally with them, in methodical detail, about gear logistics and tour scheduling. He did everything but hand out W-2 forms. It was fucking nuts.

But the craziest part is this: I don’t recall any discussion about this all-female road crew thing being some sort of publicity stunt. We just proceeded with things as if it was really going down. In fact, for a minute there, I thought that maybe it was for real.

Eventually, though, after we got our little fifteen-minute media buzz out of it—and yes, it was covered in a lot of places—the whole thing just sort of rode off into the LA sunset, without any further explanation. This was the VVI way.

Road Prep

With the Alice Cooper tour set to kick off in a couple weeks, VVI jumped into rehearsals at SIR, the very place where I had originally auditioned. One of my finest “Christmas morning” memories from this initial rehearsal period was the day that mammoth Sonor Phonic Plus drum kit showed up in all of those boxes. Good Lord, what an event that was. You have to realize, Sonor drums were recognized as the Rolls-Royce of the drum world back then, with their unparalleled craftsmanship and war-tank hardware. There was nothing like these things. The drums were thick and heavy, with nine-ply beechwood shells and this lush, glossy-black grand piano finish. The cymbal and tom stands were these massive, steel architectural masterpieces unto themselves. And, of course, the price tag for a set like this would’ve been way, way out of range for my broke ass so… thank God for endorsements!

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My “first love”

The Sabian offices were just over the hill in the San Fernando Valley, so me and my tech at the time, Chris LaMarca, took a ride over, connected with Pat Rogers, the West Coast artist relations guy, and selected a full set of Sabian cymbals, complete with a gong. Fucking awesome! Sabian Cymbals was kind of the new kid on the block back then, as Zildjian and Paiste pretty much had a monopoly going on. So, while I had played a few here and there, I wasn’t intimately familiar with them. But I tested out a wide variety and selected a full set of the most explosive and epic-sounding cymbals I had ever heard—and never looked back. I’m still a proud Sabian endorser to this very day, all these years later.

Once we got all the gear together, it was time for the mighty VVI to start rehearsing. But this quickly proved to be yet another hurry-up-and-wait situation. I just remember there always being so much chaos, activity, and drama beating beneath the surface of the VVI machine. Always. As such, practice time featured Dana’s continual zigzagging between our rehearsal studio and the phone behind the counter at SIR. Simply put, this motherfucker was always on the phone.

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Mark and I doing our best Dana Strum impersonation at rehearsal

And I know it wasn’t for nothing. Dana was constantly dealing with all manner of business: Talking to management, the label, the agent, the bus company, each of our individual endorsement companies, prospective road crew guys, and on and on it went. So we would play a song or two, then a call would come in for Strum and he would have to excuse himself. Thirty minutes later, he would reappear, we would play another song or two, then it was back to the phones.

Once Strum left the room, we knew it was going to be a hot minute, so Mark would usually jump out to the snack machine or the pay phone. That’s when Vinnie would turn to me and say those magic words: “Wanna play?”

And man, that was all I needed to hear. I would usually launch into some kind of up-tempo double-bass groove and we would fucking go off. He would crank his shit up, then his fingers would disappear into the fretboard as a continuous onslaught of notes exploded around the room like a busted fire hydrant. It was rad.

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At rehearsal with the V-Man

In my mind, I always envisioned our “duets” as a sort of metal version of what jazz greats John Coltrane and drummer Elvin Jones used to do. Just freedom to burn, in these endless phrases of notes that adhered to no form, no structure, and no time frame. We would just fucking wail, although still careful to play off of one another. It was a blast, and despite the overall lack of actual band practice, I would sweat so much at these rehearsals, I usually went through a couple changes of clothes.

One thing I observed is that Vinnie’s style of play for our numerous solo jams was almost exclusively this blazing fast, mega-shred torrent of notes approach. It was impressive, fun to listen to, and exhilarating to jam along with… but also notably one-dimensional, given the depth of his talent. Remember, Vinnie Vincent could play anything: rock, blues, classical, jazz, Chet Atkins-style country, even funk. Hell, Vinnie could be so funky, Stevie Wonder would get a woody. In fact, I distinctly remember him just doodling around one time in the studio, doing some kind of double-handed muting thing (or something?) where his guitar sounded just like a clavinet (think Stevie’s “Superstition”). So I remember thinking that, perhaps, this was just how he was starting to hear things—as this sort of “continuous sonic landscape” vibe, where a fluid barrage of notes would endlessly bend and weave into infinity.

Turns out I might have been right, given how Vinnie’s approach to any and every solo opportunity would soon unfold on the road—much to the frustration of many. (But for the record, I never perceived Vinnie’s constant guitar pyrotechnics, live or in the studio, as some kind of insecurity thing—as has occasionally been suggested—where he felt he had to prove something by playing super fast all the time. I think it just became how the guy played.)

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that, for all the different kinds of shit I could play, my drumming at these VV jam-alongs was a bit one-dimensional, as well. Which brings me to an important point: in this particular context, with this particular band, how much of his other dimensions were really relevant? We were about to step into an arena circuit, on the Alice Cooper tour, playing for a bunch of rivet-heads every night. Was this really the time for Chet Atkins and Stevie Wonder riffs? In other words, just because the V-Man could play anything, didn’t mean he should play anything.

Still, Vinnie’s choice to take the fast road to shredsville with every solo opportunity—with the band or in an open solo situation—would be a source of contention in the months ahead. And it wouldn’t be until the All Systems Go album and tour that, in my opinion, he would find more of his sweet spot with the use of a bit more space, and his dabbling with other styles.

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The sad lack of actual band practice became VVI rehearsal culture. And a week or two later, as the gear was finally loaded into the truck and we all piled into our tour bus out there on Santa Monica Boulevard before driving that bitch all the way to our first gig in Lansing, Michigan, something incredible occurred to me: we had never managed to make it through the entire thirty-five to forty-minute set, start to finish, without stopping—not once! We even dropped into an empty Royal Oak theater near Detroit the night before the tour opening to set up all of our gear and take a dry run through the show. And still we weren’t able to make it all the way through the set without having to stop for some reason or another. Unbelievable.

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Original ad from the “The Nightmare Returns” tour

Showtime on the Alice Cooper Tour

Our first two shows on Alice’s The Nightmare Returns tour were a bit on the loose side, which was to be expected. But shows three and four had to be spot-on bangin’. We would be playing in Alice’s hometown, on October 30 and 31, at the infamous Joe Louis Arena. Yes, Halloween. In Detroit. With Alice! This was epic shit I will never forget. And it was especially kismet for me, given the fact that at twelve years old, on Halloween night, I took off my shirt, put on a black wig and face makeup, draped a six-foot rubber snake around my neck, then paraded around my neighborhood as Alice Cooper. That’s for real.

On the night of the show, as we were making that long walk down the chilly concrete corridor from the dressing room to the stage, the vibe in the arena was overwhelmingly electric. You could feel it—something wild, violent, and supernaturally thick in the air. And I remember actually being concerned for how Alice’s hardcore tribe of 20,000 hellraisers was going to take all of the pretty-boy shit we were about to hit the stage with: our dual pyramid walls of pink amps and cabinets; Vinnie’s pink guitar and girly accessories; and all of our sparkly glam clothing, drag queen makeup, and Aqua-Netted manes of hair. God help us.

But as we arrived at our holding place a few feet from the stage stairs and the house lights went out—boom!—the place erupted, and I could feel my pulse pounding out of my neck. And in the frozen moment or two that we had to take it all in before heading up the stairs to do our set, I distinctly remember a single image flashing through my mind: me, thirteen years prior, studying those rad photos on Alice’s Killer album, knowing on an absolute bone-marrow level that I was somehow destined to be a part of this madness called hard rock. Knowing it. And now, as we followed the glow of the flashlight beam up the stairs toward that massive, steel-framed stage, I would savor the stinging elation of the “impossible dream” actualized… if only for a moment.

Now it was time to deliver.

We walked onto that darkened stage and could hear the swell of yells and whistles ripple through the audience as they spotted our shadows getting into position. I took a seat behind my drums and surveyed the colossal, blue-black expanse of the venue, with pin-light specs of cigarette lighters, sprinkled about the floor and balconies, like stars. I drew in a final deep breath through my nose—filling my lungs with the classic arena stench of weed, stale beer, and hot dogs—and then, I four-counted Mr. Vincent into the opening guitar intro of “Boyz Are Gonna Rock,” which sliced through the air like a fighter jet engine. The stage exploded with light to an even more frantic eruption from the masses.

As I launched into my opening groove, I could feel the heat of those lights hit my skin, and I pounded my drums with violent intention: head banging on the downbeats, torso rocking back and forth, and arms in constant motion, like a boxer. I could feel my kick and snare locked in with Dana’s bass line, as Mark’s high-pitched wails cut into my eardrums from a stack of monitor cabinets that had more collective power than entire PA systems I used to play through. A quick glance of the first twenty rows revealed an almost choreographed assemblage of pumping fists and “devil horn” fingers, rising and falling in metronomic unison with the groove. All was well.

And the Boyz rocked it pretty good in Detroit.

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Pre-order madness for The Boy Is Gonna Rock continues until 5-15-18. We still have a bunch of killer bundles available and, as of today, there is still ONE of the infamous pink cymbals left (from the “Boyz Are Gonna Rock” video). Check it all out at: www.bobbyrockstore.com.

 

 

 

 

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Posted in The Artist Realm, The Boy is Gonna Rock (VVI memoir) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The Boy Is Gonna Rock” – Chapter Five Excerpt

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Excerpt from Chapter Five: Boyz Are Gonna Rock

Early in Chapter Five, everyone is gearing up for the Vinnie Vincent Invasion debut release. We talk about my dual life in Houston and La-La land, explore the cultivation of our “Wham Bam Mega Glam” look, and get into details of our tension-filled first photo shoot with famed fashion photographer, Moshe Brakha.

Now, let’s pick things up from the release of the album:

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On August 2nd, 1986, the Vinnie Vincent Invasion self-titled debut record would see its official release. Man, there was a palpable vibe surrounding this record, especially in my hometown of Houston. Friends, family, and newfound fans converged upon the local record stores and snapped up copies of this thing like gallon jugs of water before a hurricane. To help matters along, at least on a local level, I had scheduled a record-release party at a Cactus Records, and a drum clinic at an H&H Music, right next door, on the same day. Both were well attended, and the drum clinic in particular would foreshadow a whole other career path I would pursue in short order.

Beyond my little bubble in Houston, sales around the country were nice and steady, and magazine reviews on the record were consistently favorable. It seemed like every week I was jumping out to the newsstand and buying every single magazine that had any mention of the record. These were memorable times, for sure.

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The infamous pink vinyl promo 45

A Changing of the Guard

Several weeks later, the momentum was continuing to build. I was still in Houston, doing my usual hurry-up-and-wait routine, when Dana called one afternoon. That was never a good sign, since we would usually catch up late at night at the end of his workday on the West Coast. Afternoon calls from Strum almost always meant bad news.

“Aw, shit,” I began. “What happened?”

“Are you sitting down?” he asked.

“Aw, shit. What now?”

“Robert Fleischman is history.”

“Fuck.”

This was bad. Robert was the band’s front man… literally the “voice” of a record we had just released, and now he bailed. How did this happen? Why did this happen? How will we survive this?

Obviously, I knew there were some issues, and I was regularly hearing overtures about Robert being “difficult” with this or that. But I never would’ve expected that it might come to this.

Our initial photo session would ultimately provide a bit of a red-flag moment for me, concerning Robert’s long-term standing in the band. Throughout the making of the first record, I only saw Robert at the studio on an occasion or two. Beyond that, I could sense that there was always this undercurrent of uncertainty with regard to Robert’s long-term commitment to, or even interest in, being in the band. It was understated at first. In fact, I remember after my audition when I was supposed to meet Vinnie, Dana, and Robert at a restaurant before going over to Chrysalis for the first time, Dana instructed me not to show up early, since he and Vinnie would be “in a meeting” with Robert. I had no idea at the time what that meeting might have been about, although I got the feeling they had some issues to iron out.

And then, throughout the sessions for the record, I would occasionally overhear Vinnie on the phone with Robert, sounding as if he was trying to persuade him to be in the band, or go on tour with us, or something. This was in addition to conversations Vinnie and Dana would have about other “Robert issues.” Since I was the new guy, I was never fully brought into the fold about any of this and, of course, I never felt like it was my place to ask. But I got the sense that there was some kind of trepidation on Robert’s behalf with regard to fully jumping on board.

In retrospect, I suppose that made sense. Musically speaking, I always saw Robert as more of a Peter Gabriel or David Bowie kind of guy as opposed to, say, a Vince Neil or Bon Scott kind of guy. He was very creative and artistic, and liked to compose and sing a variety of different things. It seemed that his affinity for singing Vinnie’s songs—and his freakish ability to belt out these super intense vocal tracks—was more of a fluke than a specific career calling. And business-wise, remember, Robert was an industry veteran at this point: a known guy (having had a short stay in Journey just prior to Steve Perry), fairly established in the scene, earning his living from performing and writing music, and with a wife and kid. He wasn’t exactly prepared to jump out on the road with some newbie band, being away from home, and busting balls for newbie band chump change. At least that was my impression.

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From our one and only photo shoot with Robert

Yet another factor in Robert’s reluctance that I would find out much later was this: when he and Vinnie collaborated on that initial demo that got Vinnie his Chrysalis deal (“Boyz Are Gonna Rock,” “Shoot U Full of Love,” and “No Substitute”), Robert was under the impression that Vinnie would be shopping the trip as something of a partnership. Apparently, Vinnie didn’t get that memo, and a solo deal was signed where Vinnie was the sole artist on the contract. When Robert found out about the particulars of the deal and how he hadn’t been included as an equity partner, he pretty much lost interest in the project and pulled away. Eventually, of course, he would be persuaded to sing on the record, but I don’t think he ever fully warmed back up to the idea of VVI being his mainstay gig.

In the end, I would never really know exactly what went down. At the time, I surmised that the final straw had something to do with business and money, and perhaps a contract Robert wasn’t willing to sign. I heard different versions of the chain of events from Dana, Vinnie, and George Sewitt, but I would have a more firsthand experience a few months down the road of how and why Robert might have chosen not to sign a particular agreement. But I don’t recall speaking to Robert directly about it at the time, so I never really had an opinion about the fallout one way or the other… except that it was a regrettable situation for us to have to try and salvage.

So now, as the record was out there really starting to make some noise, we had to find a new singer and somehow not lose momentum or create confusion in the marketplace. It was a bitch. Plus, Robert’s chair was not exactly the easiest to fill. We couldn’t just jump out to the Strip and find some pretty boy to step in and save the day. This motherfucker would have to have an iron throat to be able to sing those vocal parts… and hopefully be a great front man, to boot. The search was on.

Once again, being in Houston kept me out of the loop. I would only hear bits and pieces of how their efforts were coming along. Don’t quote me on this, but it seemed like Lenny Wolf was one of the first names to pop up. I believe he might have been with Stone Fury at the time, but he was still relatively unknown then; he struck me as a strong candidate. Not sure where things may have stalled with him. Ironically, we would all indirectly cross paths in a fortuitous way a year-and-a-half later during the All Systems Go era.

My lone recommendation was a singer I had briefly worked with named J. Jaye Steele. J. Jaye was a bad motherfucker, and had recently graduated from the cover circuit I had been on, to touring with ’70s rockers Head East. He was the quintessential veteran hard rock front man, had strong pipes, and was super interested in checking out the gig when I called and asked him about it. I happened to have a decent demo of J. Jaye doing some originals, so I sent it out west, and both Dana and Vinnie seemed impressed with him. Unfortunately, though, J. Jaye would fall prey to a rather unfair audition protocol that Mr. Vincent seemed to favor. Vinnie would call prospective singers on the phone and, after a few moments of introductory chitchat, have them sing a few lines from one of the Invasion tunes, right there on the spot, a cappella! I had no idea Vinnie was doing this until J. Jaye called me after his “audition.”

Naturally, he was blindsided by the request, but he said he did the best he could with a verse and a chorus of, I believe, “Boyz Are Gonna Rock.” He said the call came to a quick conclusion afterward, and that would be the last he heard from anybody. I was bewildered that Vinnie would think this was even a remotely reasonable practice for selecting a vocalist, but what could I say? I really felt bad for J. Jaye, and I wondered how many other bad-ass singers might have been shortchanged from getting a real shot at the gig. But Vinnie would insist “he could just tell” how good a singer was from this over-the-phone methodology.

After a couple weeks of serious scouring, it would finally come down to two guys, both of whom were somehow afforded the luxury of dropping vocal tracks in the studio, to a few songs from the record, for their auditions: Goran Edman, a seasoned singer from Sweden, and a young kid from Las Vegas named Mark Slaughter. Goran sounded really polished and pro on the tracks, and I know he was Vinnie’s early fave. Mark sang the tracks effortlessly, nailing the shit out of all the high stuff, but with perhaps a bit more of a raw edge. Strum and Sewitt were pro-Slaughter from the onset.

It was a close call, but in the end, it was a twenty-one-year-old Mark Slaughter who won the gig. It seems logistics played at least a small role in things, considering what working with the Sweden-based Goran would’ve entailed: work visas, international red tape, expensive travel back and forth, etc. Plus, I think Mark’s youthfulness and malleability might have played a role in things, given all they just went through with Fleischman. This kid would happily show up, for virtually any amount of money, and endure virtually any kind of conditions, with nary a word said about it… just like me. We were set. Kind of.

The only drawback was Vinnie’s overriding reticence about Mark, which would resurface on occasion in the months ahead. I remember the exact analogy Vinnie gave me when we were initially discussing the prospects of hiring him. He said, “If you and I were to watch Mark sing an Invasion song in a cover band at some club, we would turn to each other and say, ‘Hey, the kid did a pretty good job pulling that off.’ ”

In other words, Vinnie thought Mark was a capable imitator of Fleischman, but didn’t initially see him as being seasoned enough to really hold his own. However, the train was barreling down the tracks by this point and a decision had to be made, so Vinnie jumped on board with Mark. And yes, there would be some tense moments in our future as a result.

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Once we both arrived in LA to get to work, Mark moved into the Amber digs with me. As the designated youngsters in the band (I was just one year older), Mark and I bonded like brothers—immediately. Mark always had that signature “light energy” of his: super easy to be around, perpetually up in spirits, and with a fun-loving, carefree kind of vibe. It was hard to be in a bad mood around the “Slaughterhouse kid,” as I somehow took to calling him. Plus, Mark had world-class voiceover skills. From Gene Simmons to Donald Duck to pretty much anything in between, Mark could reproduce a wide range of voices with jaw-dropping accuracy. He was always cracking me up with his various impressions.

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Hangin’ with the “Slaughterhouse Kid”

We hung out all the time and had tons of fun. Days later, we would find ourselves in the middle of the VVI vortex, with a video shoot, a Ken Marcus photo session, and rehearsals looming.

The Boyz Are Definitely Gonna Rock

As we were entering the golden age of MTV—back when they actually played music videos all the time—doing a video was paramount for any band with a new record. In fact, with little to no radio airplay, a band could make a lot of noise and sell a ton of records merely on the strength of a cool video that had any kind of rotation. Serious, widespread airplay was going to be tough for us, so we were putting a lot of stock in a kick-ass video.

To help us achieve that end, the label hired director Jeff Stein, who was probably best known at that point for doing Tom Petty’s Alice in Wonderland vid (“Don’t Come Around Here No More”). But he also had some deep connection to The Who’s The Kids Are Alright documentary, where they destroyed all of their gear on stage. Bingo! We were all about that, and all of the initial video concept meetings were focused on the idea of doing a modern version of The Who’s gear-smashing routine.

Here are some fun facts about the “Boyz Are Gonna Rock” video that I think are noteworthy:

1) That video shoot was not only the first time VVI ever performed together on stage, but it was the first time we had ever “played” together in the same room. We had never even rehearsed at that point.

2) Prior to the shoot, Mark Slaughter had always been a lead vocalist and guitarist, never just a front man. So that video was also the first time Mark had ever performed exclusively as a front man/lead vocalist.

3) The cymbals I used in the vid had been crudely painted with what was essentially pink house paint from someplace like Home Depot, and sounded like absolute dog shit in real life. I still have those very cymbals tucked away in a storage unit in Los Angeles.

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Yes, it’s true: I will be letting a few of these very cymbals go,
in special bundles, during our pre-order launch of the book (4-15-18)

4) The pyrotechnics specialist for the vid was a Vietnam vet who did not appear to be of completely sound mind. This was a source of anxiety for those of us performing closest to the various points of fire and explosions!

5) Mark is briefly seen with a mic stand in his opening shot only. This is because, in an adrenalized moment of spontaneity during his first take, he hurled the mic stand off the stage and against a concrete wall, where it toppled to the ground in three pieces.

6) I have two crash cymbals set up directly behind me that I would strike with a sort of reverse backhand motion. It was Dana’s idea to place them in such an unorthodox location.

7) The shoot went on for an exhausting thirty consecutive hours: from 8:00 a.m. on day one, to around 2:00 p.m. on day two. Everyone was baked.

Video shoots are inherently tedious and tiresome as hell: tedious because you have to shoot many, many takes from a variety of angles, and tiresome because there is often a significant amount of lag time between each take. And in my case, there really was no extended break. As the drummer, I had to be in virtually every shot because even on someone else’s close-ups, the camera might catch the drums in the background, so I had to be back there hittin’. Let’s just say it was a long-ass day.

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From the set

When it came time for the pyrotechnics to kick in and to set one of our “crew guys” on fire (part of the video concept), things got somber and serious. Some kind of fire marshal guy gathered everyone around the set and went over procedure and protocol. There was a special stuntman fire suit, with Los Angeles Fire Department personnel and plenty of fire extinguishers nearby. They were not even fucking around, and no one could afford to misstep, on any level. It was like, “Damn… shit’s about to get real around here.”

Fortunately, everyone stayed safe through all of those initial pyro scenes—even Vinnie and Dana as they did their gear-wrecking pick-up shots. Now it was time for more explosions to commence and then for me to trash the drum kit. Just before we began, a cheaper “replica” kit was brought in to replace the Pearl kit I had been shooting on, and then Jeff Stein, the director, stepped over to me.

“Okay, Bobby,” he began. “Once I say action, and as soon as you see the big explosion go off, I want you to go absolutely fucking ballistic and destroy this entire drum set.”

“Got it. But how should I do it?” I asked. “Should I start with the cymbal stands, and then…”

“Just destroy everything in sight,” he interrupted. “I don’t care how you do it, but just remember that we only get one shot at this, so make it a good one.”

And with that, he smiled, turned around, and walked away.

Then the Vietnam vet pyro guy walks up to me, looking all crazy-eyed. He directed an assistant to step over with a spray bottle to mist me down with water. I figured he was just trying to give me that “bodybuilder sheen” for the final take. But then she started spraying down my pants and hair. Sensing my utter confusion, he explained:

“So the initial explosion will be happening pretty close by. This moisture is just to protect you from any incidental debris that might happen to fly over… including any flames or sparks.”

Incidental fucking debris? I thought.

Before I could get a little clarification about that, he comes up around my right side, reaches down, and pulls the snare stand toward me so the snare is now painfully snug against my groin.

“Uh… I don’t usually play that drum so close,” I protested.

“That’s to protect the ol’ family jewels. Like I said, the explosion will be happening pretty close by,” he reiterated, stone serious. Then he walked away.

Aah, I got it: using my snare drum as protection from any of this incidental fucking debris. Good God Almighty!

And that was it. As I sat there waiting for a brief eternity, bathing in the hum of hot white stage lights, alone on an eerily quiet set, I could feel a strong surge of adrenalin building, and a pounding thump in my chest, like someone was kneeing me in my solar plexus from the inside out. I had no idea what I was about to do beyond:

Wait for explosion—Destroy fucking drum set

And, friends, that’s exactly what I did. In fact, I don’t even remember hearing the director call out “Action.” There was an excruciatingly loud bang, followed by a searing hot flash of fire… and then I just sprang forward and started assaulting drums and hurling hardware—just trashing everything in my path. All motorized instinct.

Seconds later, once all the gear was horizontal, I remember charging straight toward a camera, for dramatic effect, as if I was going to tackle it. But I side-stepped to the left at the last second, nearly giving the camera guy a heart attack. Jeff yelled, “Cut!” and everyone on the set applauded. It was early afternoon, the day after we started shooting, and now there wasn’t much left on that stage to shoot. They finished up with that closing shot of Vinnie, as he held his guitar over his head among the wreckage. Finally, it was a wrap!

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From our photo session with acclaimed Playboy photographer, Ken Marcus

The following week, we all met with Jeff and the production team to see a rough cut of the video. For Mark and I, it was fun to see ourselves in the middle of all that mayhem—especially since it was our first major video production—and exhilarating to watch the vid explode to life with all those breakneck cuts. And I think Vinnie and Dana were largely cool with it, a few misgivings aside.

Soon thereafter, either in spite of or because of its way-over-the-top nature, the video would air to largely favorable reviews.

It would also represent one of the biggest blunders in VVI history.

Most people would figure out that, while it was Mark Slaughter “singing” in the video, it was Robert Fleischman’s voice from the record that they were actually hearing. No big thing, right? What was a big thing, however, was the fact that no one within our organization, legal team or otherwise, thought to negotiate permission from Robert for Mark to lip-sync to Robert’s tracks. It was an almost laughable oversight… laughable, had it not been so costly. Robert would handily win a settlement in the near future, and that would set a precedent for our not being able to do any more vids from the first record with Mark.

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Next time, let’s pick things up from Chapter Six, where the infamous VVI “Hype Machine” really kicks in… and we hit the road with my boyhood idol: Alice Cooper!

And don’t forget to bookmark the Bobby Rock Store URL:

https://www.bobbyrockstore.com/

shopify

Our 30-day pre-order festivities will kick-off on Sunday 4-15-18, around noon PST.  I have some crazy-rare collectibles (like those pink cymbals from the “Boyz Are Gonna Rock” video) available in special bundles with the book, and I don’t imagine they will be around too long.

Official release of The Boy Is Gonna Rock: 5-15-18

Oh yeah… one more thing:

 

Posted in The Artist Realm, The Boy is Gonna Rock (VVI memoir) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

New Book Announcement: “The Boy is Gonna Rock!”

Friends, this is the one many of you have been waiting for me to write: a very detailed and personal 12-chapter memoir about the entire Vinnie Vincent Invasion saga.

BoyManuscript
Title page on my initial print-out copy for editing

I was originally going to release it in 2017, but then I heard about Vinnie’s impending appearance at the Atlanta Kiss Convention and decided to hold off. I didn’t want to muddy the waters in any way for Vinnie’s long-awaited return.

Here’s how I explain it in the last chapter of the book:

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A couple years back, I had posted a few memoirs of my early days with VVI on my blog. People seemed to freak over them, so I figured I should probably do an entire memoir on the VVI saga (which is what you’re now reading). So in early 2017, I started cranking up the hours and mowing through the manuscript. And then, just as I was getting close to completing a first draft, the highly improbable happened: it was announced that the V-Man himself would be coming out of hiding for an exclusive appearance at a Kiss Convention in Atlanta. Holy shit!

Honestly, I was as pleasantly stunned to hear about this as anyone else. However, I decided to rethink my initial release date for this book and, instead, wait until after Vinnie’s recently announced appearance. I didn’t want there to be any form of distraction relating to Vinnie’s return to the public. I thought it would be best for Vinnie to talk about what he wanted to talk about, and answer questions the way he wanted to, as opposed to having to potentially address assertions from my side of the elephant.

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Vinnie&Robert2018
So great to see Vinnie again! Here he is with Robert Fleischman
(from the debut VVI record)

We’re shooting for a May release of the new book, initially through PledgeMusic. We’ll have a lot of cool (and very rare!) VVI memorabilia, personal items, and additional BR merch available in special bundles throughout the campaign, which will kick off in March. Should be fun.

Editing and design are all under way right now. In the meantime, there will be regular sneak previews right here at the blog. I think you guys will dig it. My early beta-readers are reporting that, “Once you start reading it, you cannot stop!” This is what every writer loves to hear!

I’ll leave you with the book’s Preface as a preview this time:

Preface

* * * * * * * *

There are many behind-the-scenes details in the Vinnie Vincent Invasion saga that I wouldn’t normally discuss publicly.  I am of the mindset that “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas,” or, more specifically here: “What happens on the road or in the studio, stays on the road or in the studio.”  I’ve never felt the need to break the seal of confidentiality that every band should hold sacrosanct.

However, in the case of the infamous VVI, most of our broad-scale issues of strife and dysfunction have already been widely discussed through the years by a legion of fans, insiders, outsiders, and, perhaps to a lesser degree, all band members. Many of these accounts are not only factually inaccurate but, in my opinion, unfairly biased toward one side of the fence or the other. Therefore, my justification for going deep with the detail in places that I otherwise wouldn’t, is to hopefully bring more clarity and a broader perspective to what was truly a situation of unimaginable complexity.

Obviously, these are my own reflections and observations and I don’t proclaim any monopoly on the truth here.  I do, however, seem to have an unusual ability to recall events from my past, with crisp detail, and link them to times and places with an almost photographic accuracy.  And while this might give credence to the “just the facts” aspect of much of what’s accounted for here, the deeper meaning and motives behind it all remains subjective.  This is why I’ve occasionally sited an old parable as a way of describing how each of us in the VVI camp could potentially have such different recollections.  It goes like this:

Five blind men are standing around various sides of an elephant. They are each asked to reach out and touch the elephant, then describe what they think the elephant “looks” like, based on what they feel. The guy near the trunk says, “An elephant is long and curvy, like a big snake.” The guy near a leg says, “No, an elephant is tall and thick like a tree.” The guy near the tusk says, “No, you’re both wrong: an elephant is smooth and sharp, like a spear,” and so forth.  Of course, they are all correct to some degree, based on their limited perceptions.

Likewise, I say, each of us involved with the Vinnie Vincent Invasion odyssey probably has a perception of the experience that is equally one-dimensional, based on where we were standing, so to speak. The whole truth of the matter probably lies somewhere in the summation of all of our perspectives.  Nonetheless, I feel like the VVI story is such a compelling one, that if it is to be told, it should be told in its relative entirety, and in as fair-minded a way as possible.  And that is my intention here.

Enjoy the ride –

BR

VVI2pager

More Previews:

These original posts from this blog are all in the book… with slight revision and enhancement, as needed.

Chapter Two is based on this one:

“Go West, Young Man!” – Reflections on the Vinnie Vincent Invasion audition, 30 Years Later

Chapter Three is based on these:

Welcome To Hell: Recording Drums for the First Vinnie Vincent Invasion Album – Part 1

 

Welcome to More Hell: Recording Drums for the First Vinnie Vincent Invasion Album – Part 2

Thanks for reading…

Posted in The Artist Realm, The Boy is Gonna Rock (VVI memoir) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Barry Buddha, Bigger Than Life

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Christmas Eve – 2016

We buried one of my best buds today.

We returned his body to the earth… old school, but with a more biodegradable casket, just as he would’ve preferred. I know it’s much more common these days to cremate, but there was nothing common about Barry. He preferred fruit over fish, enjoyed large, noisy gatherings, and would simply meow at insects in wonderment, with no intention of harming them (unlike most of the other feline assassins he lived with). And when we meditated together, he would transform himself from an “adorable” ginger house cat, to a statuesque Shaolin Zen master. We often joked about how he must’ve been a monk in a previous life.

Barry was love – pure love – personified in a physical vessel many in our culture would find atypical of an enlightened being. Smiles broke out in his name, every day. Laughter followed him around the house. And to be in his presence was to be injected with the sweet crackle of life: the simple joy of being alive.

Barry loved the little things: Kibble and treats, drinking from his fountains and faucets, napping in the sunlight, hanging out wherever humans were conversing, stealing slices of banana or nectarine from his human mom’s breakfast plate, greeting guests at the door, and making biscuits on his favorite toy—a large turtle doll that was almost as big as he was. And when he spoke – which was often – it was with a distinctively warm baritone quack that poured over you like maple syrup. (His unique, low-pitched meow would earn him the name Barry in honor of soul singer, Barry White.) He was an unforgettable charactera colossal spirit, barely contained in a 10-pound shell. The fact that he is no longer with us in physical form is something I don’t believe I will ever fully get over.

Version 2

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Tails From the Hood

Barry and his three siblings were born in the gutter of a gang-ridden neighborhood, in an exceedingly dangerous part of LA. My BFF, Minoo – who would become Barry’s human mom – and her friend Gio, were looking after a colony of feral cats there, and had been desperately trying to trap Barry’s pregnant mother, Gabby, before she gave birth. But she would always elude them. Meanwhile, folks in this neighborhood did not take warmly to the ferals, and bad things were starting to happen to some of them. So the big clock was ticking loudly from the day Barry was born.

Mama Gabby took her kittens from the gutter to a storage area in an apartment complex carport. But after repeated warnings to Gio about removing the “nuisance cat” (Gabby) who had been leaving paw prints on tenants’ cars, the apartment manager began the process of nailing the unit shut, in an effort to basically entomb Gabby and her kittens to their death.

barryandgabby
A recent shot of Barry with Mama Gabby

But their demise was not to be, at least if my BFF and Gio had anything to say about it. With a little help from a neighborhood teen, Gio grabbed the four kittens – who were just five days old now – and my BFF drove the “getaway car” and took them all back to her place. And so began that exhausting cycle of every-two-hours bottle-feeding, sleeping (for them), and plenty of poo, pee, and playtime. It would take a full year for them to finally catch Barry’s street-smart and trap-savvy momma.

I first met Barry and the gang right around this time and became one of the part-time bottle-feeders. Within a few short weeks, Barry would emerge as the “all-star” of the litter: first, with his unmistakably loud and bassy meow; second, with his prominent Buddha belly (despite having been dewormed); and then soon after that, with his astonishing level of awareness and empathy. (It would be the combination of his big belly and astute mindfulness that would earn him his middle name of “Buddha.”)

barrykitten
That infamous Buddha belly

Living in the Animal Nirvana

My BFF kept Barry and his sister Lily, and found a great home for his brothers Bobby (hey, not my idea) and Timmy. For the rest of Barry’s life, that Northridge, CA house would always be the forever home for at least 10 other rescued animals, and a temporary refuge for many, many dozens more: some there only for a few days, others for more than a year. And we were consistently awestruck with how welcoming and intuitively supportive Barry was with all of the various cats and dogs who came through that door. He was somehow destined to play the MC role at the house, and he certainly had the personality, predisposition, and skill-set for it.

I’ll never forget the first time we noticed Barry’s heightened level of empathy:

My BFF had taken in a sick old chow named Bernie, probably 15-plus. Barry and his siblings loved Bernie and would constantly climb all over him, snag food from his “jaws of death” while he tried to eat, and cuddle up in his thick, black coat of fur. Likewise, Bernie loved them, which we always felt was a reason he continued to stick around.


A familiar sight back in the day:
Barry hanging out ON his Uncle Bernie

One day, Bernie’s health took a bad turn, and by that night, he was beginning to struggle. We got him situated in the middle of the floor, then put the kittens back in their cat condo for the night.  They all continued with their kitty antics, tumbling about and wrestling with each other… except for one.  It was Barry, anxiously awatch at the cage door, eyes fixed on Bernie, and “yelling” his meows at us with as much force as his little kitten lungs could generate.

“Hey, look at Barry,” I said to my BFF. “Do you think he knows something’s wrong with Bernie?”

“Of course he does!” she said. Then my BFF stepped over to the cage and opened the door. Barry ambled right over to Bernie and started grooming his face, then burrowed into his right cheek and would not leave his side all night. We were blown away. We also noticed Barry kept licking him around his right eye… the very same eye that would produce some blood the next day right before we had to put Bernie down. Clearly, Barry knew something was going on in that exact spot. This was our Barry Buddha… at only eight weeks old!

As recently as this past July, just prior to Barry’s cancer diagnosis, he demonstrated his acute empathy and welcoming skills with Pasha, a dog who had just been rescued from Iran. Pasha had suffered some unspeakable cruelty and abuse over there and, understandably, had this manic, PTSD kind of energy he was carrying around.  Sometimes he would just freeze with fear in the middle of the room, with no provocation. Of course, Barry picked up on this immediately.

On his first day there, Pasha – frazzled and exhausted – laid down on the family room floor to take a snooze. Barry laid down right next to him, even mirroring his exact body posture, as if to attempt to develop some level of rapport with Pasha. (Fortunately, my BFF snapped a pic of this.) Once again, Barry eased the acclimation process for another… just as he’s been doing since he was a kitten.

barryandpasha
Barry working his magic

It’s important to point out that Barry played Chief Welcoming Officer to all of the animals who came into the house, even as some weren’t exactly so friendly to Barry.  In fact, Barry would often exhibit what we called “death wish” behavior to all new dog fosters, even if a dog had shown signs of irritation toward a persistently friendly Barry. It was like he was incapable of retaining any unpleasant information about anyone.

However, to really know Barry is to know this: Barry’s gonna do, what Barry’s gonna do, the way Barry’s gonna do it. And this unusual naiveté – or perhaps unlimited capacity for forgiveness – would remain one of Barry’s most endearing qualities. We were always glad that he became a house cat early on, because this trait would not have served him well on the street!

barryandmooshkaBarry was always relentlessly affectionate
toward his “little” sister, Mooshka

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barryfamily
Barry’s most recent animal family members,
minus his outdoor feral family
(From Barry’s FB page)

Sensitive Soul

Barry was also very emotional. My BFF and I often recount the time that Toby and Olivia – two foster kittens who Barry absolutely adored – finally went to their forever home. Barry was visibly depressed for at least three days after that, moping around the house with this strange, mournful elasticity to his meows, and refusing to eat. He was inconsolable. But the first time I saw him distraught was just before his first birthday.

My BFF went to Guatemala to rescue some street dogs, so she had me housesit and look after the gang for a few days. Of course, she loved all of her babies, but even by this point, Barry was her “golden boy,” and I felt extra pressure to ensure his health and safety while she was gone. This was the first time Barry would be apart from his human mom.

Within 24 hours, he became so despondent over her being away that he basically lost his voice. His powerhouse meows became these faint, airy squeaks, like the soft turn of a hinge on an old wooden door. He also lost all interest in food (forever a tell-tale sign that there is trouble in Barry-World). I freaked out at the prospect that something might happen to Barry on my watch, so we took an immediate trip to the emergency room. Absolutely no chances would be taken! They, of course, couldn’t find anything at all wrong with him, so we just had to chalk it up to a simple case of depression; Barry missed his momma. A sensitive soul, indeed.

That old saying about how “the eyes are the window to the soul” is especially relevant where Barry is concerned. Just by looking at his face, directly into his eyes, you could sense that he had a heightened level of empathy, lucidity, and awareness going on that you would typically only find in our most evolved beings. Oddly, though, Barry possessed a very uncatlike clumsiness (he would sometimes struggle to make simple floor-to-dresser leaps, or even randomly topple off the arm of a couch), and we would often speculate that it must be this holy man’s first time in a cat body.

barry1

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Barry loved his fruit:
yet another one of his many unique traits

Barry’s Journal

For all we might find to complain about social media, I am very thankful for Facebook right now… and, of course, my BFF.  A few years back, on a whim, she started a Facebook fan page for Barry (I Am Barry the Cat), and he quickly began to accumulate thousands of adoring fans and followers from all over the globe. The page would essentially cover various day-to-day trials and tribulations that Barry experienced at home, from his personal perspective, in his unique voice. I always marveled at how well my BFF was able to “channel” Barry for the numerous posts that have been logged there. Add to that the countless pictures and videos, and you have a very detailed encapsulation – a personal journal, really – of Barry’s life. What a gift it was while he was around, and what a blessing it is now that he’s no longer with us in physical form. I know I will be visiting his page often in the months ahead, just to try to ease the pain a bit.


Just one of many treasures from Barry’s FB fan page

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jacksonbarrycomp
Barry has also been “immortalized” on a
number of occasions with his human dad

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A Beautiful Life

Barry has been a huge part of my life for the past 10 1/2 years.  My BFF, her entire family, and the endless parade of cats and dogs who have fallen under her and her husband Jackson’s care through the years, have become my “LA family.” And through holidays, birthdays, or even just a little hang time, their place has been the true family hang (in contrast to the more solitary, cave-like ambience of my own place, where I’ve always lived alone).

I mention this to underscore the fact that Barry and I have shared a lot of heavy-duty ups and downs together over this past decade… exactly as you might with any close friend or family member. There is no difference in my mind.

maandbarry1

A while back, when Barry was only three or four, it seemed that the ebb and flow of life for me had favored an infinite ebb. I wound up in what felt like an indefinite limbo state of frustration and regret. Things were arduous, directionless, and I slipped into an unusually heavy depression, which felt like a rhino sitting on my chest.  Then late one night, it all seemed to catch up with me.

I was lying on the couch of my practice room with the lights off, feeling like the last shreds of hope had escaped me. I saw no way out in that moment. And while I would never be one to take the ending of life into my own hands – it’s just not in my nature – I must admit I was curious about it… perhaps a bit more so than ever before.  I remember thinking, What would be the easiest way to just drift away?

So – purely out of grim curiosity – I removed my belt, tightened it around my neck, then slowly began to apply pressure. I knew for a fact as I was doing this that I wasn’t serious about it, and that it was probably just an act of pitiful self-loathing that I needed to exorcise in the moment. Still, I was genuinely interested to know if this was a viable way to do the deed. If I applied enough pressure, would I slowly just pass out, then fade away for good? Would I start gagging or choking first?

Moments later, I began to feel that restriction of blood to my face, as my lips, tongue, and cheeks began to tingle and go numb. And then there was a high-pitched tone inside my head… gradually increasing in volume… like a burglar alarm going off in the distance. Suddenly, I realized the absurdity of what I was doing and quickly loosened up on the belt, then forced myself out of the room and outside the building for some fresh air. It was ‪4:00 AM.

The first thing I saw was three or four of my feral cats gathered around something in the middle of the parking lot. I walked over to find them surrounding an injured possum, who they were no doubt conspiring to help into the hereafter. But I shooed them away to take a closer look, and found that this little guy needed immediate medical attention, as he appeared to have fallen out of a tree.  The wildlife rescue nearby wouldn’t be open for a few hours, so I didn’t know what to do with him in the interim.

Enter, my BFF: an expert in all things animal rescue-related. I called her at home and woke her up, then explained the situation. She told me to put the possum in a box and drive him over to her place immediately. We would have to place him in a cat carrier with a heating pad and keep him comfortable in a dark, quiet room until the wildlife center opened. So I found a box, scooped up our boy, then headed out. It seemed that the Universe had provided me with a necessary distraction at a moment I really needed it.

But on the 22-minute drive to her house, I could not get the images of what I had just gone through in the practice room out of my head. Could I have been serious? Would I be more serious next time? Do I really have it in me, but just never thought I did? I was extremely disturbed and distressed over the whole thing.

I pulled up to her house, left the little guy in the car for a minute, and went to her door and rang the bell to wake her. When she opened the door and I stepped in, I saw Barry immediately to my left, sitting on the arm of the couch. I swear he was waiting for me. So I reached down, picked him up, and gave him a big squeeze… then promptly started sobbing like a little schoolboy.

My BFF, taken aback, asked me what was wrong. I told her what had just happened in the practice room an hour earlier. And then, in that very moment, something clicked in my head as I was holding Barry. It was as if he was reminding me of the preciousness, beauty, and joy of life, and the privilege it is for each of us to be here right now, at this time. Barry was usually quick to get fidgety if you tried to hold him for longer than ten or fifteen seconds. But on this night, he was willing to tolerate a much longer embrace. I think he knew I was experiencing, quite literally, a healing moment. And sure enough, I would never, ever go that dark again.

This was how deep the bond was between Barry and I, and this is why it’s so strange for those of us closest to him to hear him regarded as simply a “pet.” He is Barry, a being of extraordinary light. He is family. He is our one-and-only.

meandbarry2

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Transitions

On July 14, 2016 – the day after my birthday – they found a tumor in Barry’s belly during a routine check-up. We all came unglued. It turned out to be a very aggressive form of cancer that was uncommon in cats: usually only dogs got this kind. (Again, Barry can never do anything normal.) They were initially concerned that this tumor could have been attached to some major organs, and that would’ve been immediately disastrous. But as it turned out, they were able to do a pretty clean removal… except for the varying amounts that had already metastasized.

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Barry, held in the highest regard,
as he sports his post-surgery cone

Obviously, no expense was spared along the way to implement the best possible forms of treatment for Barry, pre and post-surgery. The top specialists in Los Angeles were consulted, and multiple vet visits – which, true to his social nature, he actually seemed to very much enjoy – became part of Barry’s new lifestyle, as documented with humor and wit on his fan page.

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Making friends wherever he goes

Holistically speaking, I figured a 30-day healing meditation cycle with Barry couldn’t hurt, so that’s exactly what we did together. Besides rehearsals, tour prep, and a couple local events, I would be in LA from early September to early October.  So I drove over to my BFF’s house every day for four weeks and spent 30 minutes each visit meditating with Barry. I will never forget those times with him.

And what an accomplished little meditator Barry was! Initially, I had no idea how this was going to work. I figured, at worst, I could meditate in the room with Barry and he could meander about, drink from his fountain, nap, be annoyed that the door was closed, and meow at me incessantly until I was done. But that was not at all how it played out.

From our first session together, once the Tibetan bell music kicked in on my portable speaker and I assumed a cross-legged position, it was like he “remembered” what meditation was all about. He usually sat in front of me, with his eyes closed and ears sharply attentive. His face was intense but relaxed, and whatever Siamese blood he had in him seemed to rush to his head and outline those subtle Asian feline features around his cheeks and eyes. I swear he would transform into monk mode; he actually looked a little different.


Going deep with Barry…

For the first couple weeks, he would typically maintain his initial position for roughly the first 15 minutes, then ease into a variation for the second 15. But then, he started staying put in his opening position for the entire 30 minutes. It was impressive. And at least once for most of our sessions, I would have to break concentration for a moment and snap a pic or record a short vid of him “riding the infinite wave.” It was something really special to share this time with Barry.

On days when he was extra tired from the chemo, he had no problem just laying down before me and taking a nap. Nor did I have a problem with it. I would continue on anyway.  But this only happened a handful of times in what wound up being about 45 total sessions together, once you factor in our more sporadic meditation schedule in November and December. This was a special little soul.


Just prior to one of our medi sessions, Barry appears to say
“Love you” to me in English! Check it out…

In my experience, the idea of healing meditation is not so much about “forcing” a result through sheer intention. It’s more about cultivating an optimal healing environment through such an intention, so that a recovery of health can more easily and harmoniously manifest. However, the focus should always remain on the practice, and never the outcome.

With Barry, I must admit that I was a bit preoccupied with the desired outcome right out of the gate.  I wanted those “pirate cells” to heal and the cancer out of his body.  That was my intention. So I would talk quietly to Barry, intermittently throughout the session, and describe how we – or at least I – was “directing” this healing white-light energy into him, often with my open hands hovering over his back, belly, or head. I would also describe what I visualized going down on a cellular level throughout his torso. I could generally feel a warm, vibrational life-force flow surging softly between my hands and his body, and he would remain continuously engaged with that beautiful, gravelly purr of his.

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Sacred times with Barry

Strangely, though, I wasn’t getting this corroborating energy back from Barry. Instead, his energy would remain stoically neutral throughout the session. He was just present, in the moment, seemingly unattached to any potential outcome… just as any master Buddhist would be. So it was me – the human – who had to adjust the game plan after our first few sessions. Yes, I would still “till the soil” so that a healing could most easily happen. But I would also intend both joy and comfort for Barry: two tenets that I knew he would find useful, no matter the outcome.

As it played out, I guess two out of three is what was meant to be. Barry remained comfortable until his last 72 hours with us, and exhibited few symptoms in the months that followed diagnosis, with the exception of some lethargy here and there. (This alone belied doctor’s expectations, given the aggressiveness of Barry’s cancer.) And he continued to partake in all of the joyous “Barry” stuff he always loved—and then some. Believe me, his human mom and dad made damn sure that whatever Barry desired, Barry received… times ten.  As it should’ve been.

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For as much as Barry was a blessing to all of us,
his human mom was quite a blessing to him… 
barryanddad
…as was his human dad!

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Into the Light

It all went down so quickly, so unexpectedly. About a week or so out, Barry began to show less interest in food. Five days out, he began skipping meals. Three days out, there was a notable change in demeanor and Barry was taken back to the vet as a precautionary measure. We were all starting to worry. Meanwhile, I was on the road doing a few shows, keeping up with things via texts and phone calls with the BFF.  It was a stunningly rapid decline.

When my BFF first told me that she felt like Barry could go “at any time,” I thought she was overreacting to what was surely a temporary set-back. But she had a few of Barry’s close LA peeps stop by to say goodbye, and I even did a quick FaceTime meditation session with Barry from a hotel room in Kentucky, on what turned out to be the day before he passed. He seemed really out of it and appeared to have trouble getting comfortable.

I had always envisioned that, when he was ready to make his transition, I would be there with him. So as things started winding down so quickly, I began making some radical alterations in my holiday travel plans and booked a flight back home to LA. I had a show the night of the 17th, but could be back to Barry as early as late ‪morning on the 18th. And that was after moving heaven and earth.

Accordingly, my BFF booked an at-home euthanasia appointment for Barry ‪at 1:00 PM: plenty of time for me to be there. She also warned me repeatedly that he could very well go before I got there. But surely Barry would wait for me, wouldn’t he?

Uhhh… no. (Perhaps he felt like it would be too hard on me to be there when he died.) Nor would he wait for the vet to come by the house with her needle. At 4:41 AM, December 18, as I was sitting on a tarmac in Charlotte about to head home, I received the following text: “He’s gone.” Barry had passed in his sleep with his human mom lying on the floor right next to him.

Barry’s gonna do, what Barry’s gonna do, the way Barry’s gonna do it.

And the 350 minutes I had to endure on that long flight home would be among the most agonizing I can recall.

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Once I hit LA, I Ubered over to my BFF and Jackson’s house, knowing that Barry’s body would still be around. I started to lose my composure as soon as we turned down their street.

As I was wheeling my big red suitcase up the driveway toward the front door, a flood of memories came over me involving the hundreds of times in the past that I approached this house, always looking forward to seeing Barry. I began to unravel a bit.

My BFF opened the door, then stepped forward to the front of the porch to greet me with a hug. I could not hold back the rush of tears.

We managed to drag my suitcase through the doorway, and there I saw Jackson and my BFF’s blood sister – my soul sister – Mitra, both visibly upset. I gave them each a hug, then turned to my left to see Barry’s body on the loveseat, mostly covered by a pillowcase, with flower petals and a few photos around him. I walked over, crouched down, then absolutely fell apart.

The harder you love, the harder you hurt.

********

Somewhere in the midst of the haze shortly after I got there, reality set in and logistics had to be dealt with. Before any of the standard options were considered, though, an idea hit my BFF in an inspired moment: Barry will have a traditional burial in a “pet” cemetery. Yes! It would be somewhere we eternally-grieving humans could engage the timeless ritual of going to a beautiful place, with trees, grass, and sunshine, and stand before a plot of California earth. And there, our beloved’s remains would be forever contained… even as his spirit could not be. It was decided in a moment, then we spent the remainder of the week finalizing all the particulars.

____________________

Epilogue

barrysite

We buried one of my best buds today.

We all met at the pet cemetery on a sunny and cool So Cal day, and convened in and around a “viewing” room before the service: a room that a few of us had completely redecorated to better reflect the spirit and essence of Barry. There, for the final time, I glimpsed my friend’s little body in his pinewood casket, as candles burned all around us and the Tibetan bell music we meditated to played softly in the background. He was covered with flower petals and a small, fluffy white blanket, with just his feet and his face exposed. It looked like he was sleeping peacefully. I had no chance of containing myself and cried openly for my friend.


The “viewing room,”
at once peaceful and painful

And then me and Barry’s human dad, Jackson – my “bro-in-law” – carried the casket out to the gravesite, as Barry’s human mom, my BFF, walked with us. There was a small gathering of close friends and family awaiting us there. Mitra led us through a moving service, which turned out to be much more uplifting than sad.

Afterward, we watched that little wooden casket be lowered into the ground, then we each walked over, one by one, to toss orange and yellow rose petals – along with Barry’s favorite fruit – on top of it. And then three guys with shovels stepped forward and began filling up the grave with muddy dirt, as it had rained pretty hard the day before. That part, necessary as it may have been, was especially brutal to witness. But I’m sure Barry understood.

Here’s a slide-show video comprised of images from the service.
I wanted to share it here but, personally, I still find it difficult to watch
(Pics and slide-show by Lori Fusaro)

There have been a lot of tears this week, and no doubt many more to come. This is what the deepest grief looks like; this is how we humans do trauma, process sorrow. This is the price one pays for loving so recklessly. It’s just how things work around here, if you happen to outlive that which you loved so hard.

Most comforting for me, though, is the fact that I believe this is all in alignment with what Barry wanted. He is his own being, and for reasons we are not currently privy to, he was ready to bail from this realm. And for as much as he might have prolonged his transition for the benefit of us sure-to-be-heartbroken humans, once again, the fact remains: Barry’s gonna do, what Barry’s gonna do, the way Barry’s gonna do it. And now, as sure as I am about his spirit living on, I’m sure he will be occupying himself with other matters of concern to him… which, I’m pretty sure, will include keeping an eye on us heartbroken humans.

Infinite love, Barry.  See you on the other side…

Barry Buddha Rahbar-Galaxy
May 10, 2006 – December 18, 2016

barrytree

________________________

Barry’s human parents, Minoo and Jackson, have started a fund in Barry’s honor to help folks who can’t afford life-saving veterinary treatment for their beloved companion animals. It’s called the Barry Fund (what else?), and if you’re able, a donation in any amount would be greatly appreciated:

http://jacksongalaxyfoundation.org/Get-Involved/The-Barry-Fund

Barry thanks you in advance…

Posted in Mind/Body, Uncategorized, Veganism/Animal Issues | Tagged , , | 51 Comments

Zero Dark Forty: Celebrating 40 Years of Sobriety

September 14, 1976.

We had just gotten through a very red, white, and blue summer, as we celebrated the country’s bicentennial. Jimmy Carter was in office, “Charlie’s Angels” ruled TV, and Boston’s debut album had just come out, so “More Than a Feeling” was all over the radio. There was no cable TV, cell phones, VCRs or, perhaps most shocking, light beer. Coors was the closest thing to that and it was just arriving on the scene.

For us – that is, me and my little juvenile delinquent friends – it was all about Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill wine, Schlitz Tall Boys, and bourbon and coke… along with weed that was only $10 to $20 per “lid,” rationed out in joints rolled in tasty strawberry rolling paper. (Aahhh… those endless days, in a constant haze.)

I was also smoking Marlboro reds (.60 per pack) and even those little Winchester “cigars” which looked more like cigarettes, except darker. They tasted like dogshit, but only cost .29 per pack! In more desperate times, I would steal my father’s Pall Mall Gold 100s, or one of my grandfather’s King Edward cigars… which I actually inhaled. Great idea for young lungs.

kingedward2
The “King Edward” Kid. (Good God…)

Half of my wardrobe consisted of Black Sabbath T-shirts; the other half were weed-inspired gems featuring captions like Smoke the Best, Smoke Columbian or Acapulco Gold Forever. I always wore these shirts with corduroy pants, Earth shoes, and a roach clip that had a small cross attached to it, permanently hanging from my belt. Meanwhile, my bedroom was wall-to-wall blacklight posters, as a red sparkle Rogers drum kit sat in the corner with a pot leaf sticker affixed to one of the toms. And on the record player was a constant rotation of bands like Deep Purple, Alice Cooper, Black Oak Arkansas, Kiss, Ted Nugent, Mahogany Rush, Santana, Robin Trower, UFO, Johnny Winter, Blue Oyster Cult, Jimi Hendrix, Zeppelin, early Rush, and most often, the aforementioned Black Sabbath.

columbian
Typical wardrobe marketing message…
although in reality, we could seldom afford the “good shit.”

My friends and I jammed together almost every day after school, smoking weed on the walk home. At night, we had a special affinity for sneaking out of our respective homes and vandalizing shit; paint on cars, eggs on houses, piss on door mats. Don’t ask me why. It was just our thing: being fucking punks.

But all good things must come to an end, as they say. And with only a few weeks into fall semester, things weren’t looking so good. I was already getting into constant trouble at school, and shit was really starting to come off the rails at home. I was also feeling sick to my stomach and depressed all the time and didn’t know why. So one of my best friends who I’ll call TC – no doubt one of the most notorious problem children in the history of the Houston Independent School District – actually suggested that I go to a rehab program. It was called the Palmer Drug Abuse Program, PDAP for short, and he said that if I went there with my parents, the counselors would chill them out, and we could still keep getting high on the side. That was the master plan. I was 13. And that brings us back to…

September 14, 1976.

My parents knew I had been “experimenting” with cigarettes and alcohol, even though all kinds of domestic warfare would break out on the rare occasion they caught me. They didn’t know to what extent I was indulging, and they had no idea I was smoking weed almost every day, as well. So one afternoon as I returned home from school with yet another special note from the principal, I bit the bullet and told my mom that I thought I “needed some help” (part of the scam), and then mentioned PDAP as a possible solution. My poor mother, shocked by this revelation, went to the White Pages right away and booked an appointment with some PDAP counselors for the very next day: September 14, 1976. Of course, I had already gotten fucked-up earlier that morning before school, but I figured I should refrain prior to the appointment on the 14th. Little did I know at the time that I would never have another drop of alcohol, or any kind of weed or drugs, from that moment forward. Ever.

Meet the Counselors

The particular branch, or “satellite,” of PDAP that was closest to us was called Memorial Drive. I got out of school (just like it was a doctor’s appointment!) and went with both my parents to meet the counselors. The woman’s name was Betty (although Sandy Zimmerman would turn out to be the longer-term co-counselor there). The man…. well, I will never forget this character: his name was Joe Peddie. Also, coincidentally, the founder of PDAP, Bob Meehan, just happened to be hanging at Memorial Drive that day, so we met him, too. (Another character I will never forget!)

memdrive
Where it all began: Memorial Drive Presbyterian.
Most PDAP satellites were based
out of churches, although
the program itself was without a specific
religious orientation.

They took my parents into a separate office so they could talk to me alone. They asked if I smoked, then offered me a cigarette. (Criminal these days, but no biggie back then.) They asked questions about my drug/alcohol usage. I told them what I had been up to. I also told them I had shot up some opium the week prior. This was an exaggeration. (I had actually smoked some, while an older kid from the hood shot it. I was terrified of needles.) I guess I felt like I needed to bolster my “stoner resume” a bit for some extra street cred, since I didn’t think what I was really doing was a problem.

At any rate, Joe, taking the lead, was organically persuasive and Serpico-cool. He told me where the path I was on would lead and offered me a new group of “running buddies” to hang with. Then he said something I will never forget:

“Give this program an honest shot for 30 days: go to the meetings, hang with the kids on the weekends, and stay clean. If at the end of the 30 days you decide this isn’t for you, come and see me and I’ll buy you a bag of dope.”

And that is pretty much a direct quote, because I clearly recall he said “bag of dope,” and I wondered how he defined dope: Weed? Pills? Powder? Nonetheless, the wheels were turning as he was making me an offer I couldn’t refuse.

And then, the cherry on top.

“I’ll tell ya what. I see you like to smoke,” he said.

“Sure,” I responded.

“Well how about this? You promise to give me an honest 30 days, and I’ll see to it that your parents allow you to smoke in front of them… no more hiding!”

Impossible, I thought. But if this motherfucker could pull off that hat trick, I’m in.

Sure enough, he left the room to go and talk to my parents. I was thinking, Man, this fool ain’t gonna convince them to let me smoke… especially my dad. But, he returned about 15 minutes later and nonchalantly said, “Okay, you’re in. You can now smoke in front of your parents. We have a deal, right?” he said, extending his hand for a shake.

“Yes,” I replied, and we shook hands; hippy-style, of course.

The third and final critical component to my decision was this: my drumming mentor, Cole Newbury – the kid who actually got me interested in playing drums, and who I always considered my “older brother from another mother” – had been attending PDAP meetings for several months at this point, as well. Of course, Cole had inadvertently gotten me interested in cigarettes, weed, and alcohol in addition to drumming. So to see that he, too, was giving this thing a shot, well… how could I say no at this point?

_______________________

Day One

The first meeting I attended was a couple days later on a ‪Saturday morning. Man, was it ever a trip; a charming assemblage of degenerates, in the 13 to 16-year old range, all openly affectionate with one another. Guys hugging guys, girls hugging girls, guys and girls kissing each other hello and goodbye… this was like nothing I had ever seen before. And none of this was done in any kind of creepy, cultish sort of way. It was way more family-like… almost like an extension of a 60’s flower children kind of vibe. We were clearly all in this together, and I could see how many of these kids regarded this group as their extended family.

When it came time for the actual meeting, we all sat in a large circle, with virtually everyone in the room smoking cigarettes. I distinctly remember a thick haze of white smoke quickly developing in the room, just hanging there like San Francisco fog. (For the few kids in the room who didn’t smoke, they might as well have.) I believe the topic of this first meeting was gratitude, and I was actually called on to “share.” It was pure agony, speaking in front of that many people. But the puke never made it past the back of my throat, thankfully. And in that moment, that’s what I was most “grateful” for!

That night, a kid named Frank Pietrowski had a party at his house. It was a 60’s themed gathering where everyone was supposed to dress up like we were going to Woodstock. What? A party where no one’s getting fucked-up? What will they do? This I have to see! So I went and had a great time. In many ways, it was just like any rowdy kegger you might imagine, minus the drugs and alcohol. It was a raucous, fun, and loud affair … until ‪10:30 rolled around and this new show called “‪Saturday Night Live” came on. Then everyone crowded around the home’s lone TV set and got quiet as John Belushi and co. did their thing. During the commercials, everyone would carry on and raise hell, then quiet back down when the show came back on. I remember thinking, Holy shit… this is like a giant family.

After the show, I was talking to a kid named Kevin McCarthy. I admitted that I was interested in the “30-Day challenge” that Joe had proposed, but I still had four joints in a plastic baggie back home and I wasn’t sure what I should do with them.

“Flush that shit down the toilet,” he said without hesitation.

“What the hell?” I responded.

“Flush that shit, brother. You don’t need it anymore, and you definitely don’t need it hanging over your head while you’re trying to get sober.”

I nodded and actually considered it. Then, later that night when I got home, I woke my sister Pam up and had her follow me into the bathroom. I opened up the baggie and watched those four joints tumble into the toilet water, then spiral down the can with a single flush. It felt like I was watching an old way of living go down the toilet. And I was. I guess I just needed a witness.

Tough Transition

So I diligently started catching every meeting – Wednesday nights and Saturday mornings. PDAP is a 12-step program, very similar to AA, but with a few variations. So I asked Kevin McCarthy to be my “sponsor” – kind of a mentor/advisor; another AA concept – and I really tried to work the steps. The second step had to do with associating exclusively with “winners,” aka kids who didn’t get high. But this would be in direct conflict with the original game plan. TC and I were close friends and in a band together. Certainly I could make an exception here… even as I tried in earnest to stay clean for 30 days. Certainly TC would understand that I really wanted to give this sobriety thing a shot, right?

Wrong.

Man, this motherfucker was relentless. For those last couple weeks in September, as we tried to carry on as we had been with our after school jams and weeknight hangs, he was just not having it. I dealt with a constant barrage of poking and prodding.

“What the fuck are you doing?” he would yell. “I didn’t mean for you to really go straight!”

Then he would blow superchargers at me (where you put the lit end of a doobie in your mouth and blow smoke in someone’s face). Great. Thanks for the support, bro. I would turn my head in protest and stumble away, arms flailing around to divert the smoke. Sure, it was kind of playful… but not really. He was not happy about this and, soon enough, we had to go our separate ways.

The good news was, I had a boatload of supportive new friends I was seeing every week, and I joined a new band within a month, made up of guys from PDAP, of course: Gary Pinkstaff on bass, and Bryan Hearn on guitar. We basically only played Black Sabbath songs, which was fine by me.

trioedit
My first real band, with Bryan Hearn (left) and
Gary Pinkstaff (center). Look at these little thugs!

A Life Anew

I went to at least two meetings a week and was an active member of the group for a solid four years. About 10 months in, somewhere around my 14th birthday, I was asked to be on the Steering Committee, which meant that I would actually be involved with leading some of the “breakaway” meetings on Wednesdays. It also involved a deeper dive into one’s internal psyche, as we would all meet twice a month for a more intense “purpose” meeting amongst ourselves and the counselors.

Around this time was also my first foray into public speaking. Occasionally, a few of us would accompany one of our counselors to an area junior high or high school and speak before an assembly. We would tell our personal story and make a case for the sober lifestyle. (I would go on to do a number of these kind of talks through the years.)

In retrospect, being that heavily involved in PDAP was a rare opportunity for accelerated personal growth, the likes of which is almost unexplainable… unless you were actually there. I mean, this was the 70s, the apex of the personal development movement, where we were evolving beyond the pseudo-hippy, Eastern-tinged philosophies of the 60s, and now into a more streamlined stew of spirituality, psychology, and self-help that was rocketing into the mainstream. And here we all were, at fucking 14, 15, and 16 years of age, really and truly entrenched in this material for real; challenging ourselves and each other to walk the talk, to live these philosophies; to journal, meditate, seek deeper spiritual understandings; to commune with the Divine in ways that defied some of the rigid religious precepts most of us had grown up with; and even to try and forgive – an especially tough challenge for some of the members who had really fucked-up home lives.

buddyronnie
Sober now, with Crazy Buddy and Big Ronnie, kickin’ it
in my room… still covered in blacklight posters.

Certainly, there were flaws, inconsistencies, and things that probably needed to be tweaked with the program. And I’m sure, at times, some of what we were all bantering around was homogenized, bumper-sticker soundbites that were more “recovery vernacular” than true wisdom. (But again, most of us didn’t even have driver’s licenses at this point.) Still… regardless of what any of us old-school PDAPers could say in the rear-view about what could have been different, what was probably a bit extreme and, perhaps, what never should have been, I personally wouldn’t trade it for the world. I always felt like the PDAP experience gave me a unique education on life and elevated living that, quite frankly, most adults would not have been privy to.

A New Kind of Party Culture

While the meeting and “content” part of the program was all based around positive, personal development stuff, let’s not forget: we were still a bunch of rowdy, misfit kids looking to have fun and raise holy hell. And that we did. It seemed like there was constantly something going on: parties at different kid’s houses, PDAP-sponsored dances, functions, and various shindigs, weekend beach retreats and occasional camping excursions, and the constant late-night cruising of coffee shops and pizza joints… particularly after weeknight meetings. And because we were all clean and sober, it seemed like many of us enjoyed an unusual leniency from our parents.

origtrio
My main band through the years, playing one of many PDAP parties:
(L to R) Dr. Watson Davis (guitar), Gary Pinkstaff (bass), Yours Truly

 

trioagain
Here we are some 30+ years later, playing at a PDAP reunion.
And yes, this is the same Dr. Watson who I do my annual writer’s retreat with…
(Pic by Andrea Guerin Stinson)

Hell, at 15, I remember very specifically that my school night curfew was ‪3:00 AM, and my weekend curfew was ‪5:00 AM. This gave us all plenty of time to get into trouble. Some nights, we would “street surf” around quiet neighborhoods. This is where you jump on the back of someone’s car – feet on the bumper and hands gripping the luggage rack on top – then have them speed through neighborhoods at 60 to 70 mph with the headlights off, so as not to draw attention to what we were doing. Of course, any kind of collision or even a sharp swerve would have likely ended things for us “surfers” pretty quickly. But hey, who’s sweating those kind of details? (If only GoPros would have been around back then!)

The ‪5:00 AM curfew also meant that me and my gang of young hoodlums would usually come storming into the crib around ‪4:55 AM on any given Friday or ‪Saturday night. My folks would wake up a few hours later and find motherfuckers crashed all over the house, on couches and floors, like it was a Salvation Army shelter. Then my mom would fix us all breakfast. (Aahhh… the joys of cool parents.)

Truthfully, there were times when we got a little carried away with the hell-raising. This was especially true of a small group of us who would routinely go over-the-top, led by me and my primary co-conspirator, Kevin Mathis. (Love ya, bro!) It was largely just a phase we went through, and I deeply regret some of the debauchery we wound up getting into, especially to the extent that we damaged other people’s property. However, the flipside was this: as we would take new kids with us on some of these adventures, they would usually become die-hard members of the program and the sober life, saying things like, “Wow! We weren’t doing this kind of crazy shit when we were getting fucked up! This is cool!” Eventually, though, police and parents got involved, so we all had to dial it back a bit, thankfully.

By the end of my sophomore year of high school, I was always out so late fucking around somewhere, that it became increasingly difficult to wake up in time for school. No problem. The vice principal knew I was sober, took a special liking to me, and would occasionally have me counsel certain students who were dealing with drug issues. In return, I could show up to school at virtually any time in the late morning or early afternoon, go directly to his office, and he would write me a pass, no questions asked. Life was sweet!

fist
In 10th grade, with a PDAP Absolutely Free T-shirt and my ever-present monkey’s fist
necklace; the iconic PDAP symbol of sobriety (awarded to members after 30-days clean).
We would also tie additional knots in them to denote each successive month of sobriety.

 

octoplus
Rockin’ a Peter Criss-inspired Pearl octoplus-vibe at one of the
infamous “Willie’s Jam” parties.

Of course, all of these absences, along with my general apathy towards school, would catch up with me. And since I figured I was going to be a rock star anyway and didn’t need school, I wound up dropping out of 10th grade about a month before the end of the spring semester. My folks said that if I didn’t want to go to school, then I had to get a real job… which I did: doing manual labor in a warehouse for an insulation company all summer. A hot-ass Houston, Texas summer, I might add.

Needless to say, by the time fall rolled around, I was ready to go back to school. I had to bust some extra ass and spend the following summer in summer school, but I was able to rejoin my original class and graduate on time.

The “Rise and Fall”

During my first three years in the program, PDAP – which was founded in Houston – was growing like mad and beginning to expand into different cities. And then it happened; in 1979, Carol Burnett’s daughter, Carrie Hamilton, traveled east from LA to Houston to join the program and get sober. And that she did.

Carrie was super cool and a great singer/keyboardist, and our band became her back-up band for a bit… which was big news for me, Gary, and at this time, Mike Wheeler on guitar. Her People magazine cover story – which she shot with her mom – broke things wide open on a national level for our small but mighty Texas-based drug abuse program.

peoplecover
The cover story that would bring
PDAP to the national spotlight

Next thing you knew, Carrie, Carol, and various “higher-ups” from the program were doing the national talk show circuit, and PDAP became a media phenomenon for a minute. Attendance exploded at the various satellites. Affiliate rehab hospitals were raging with new patients who would transition into meetings as part of their recovery. Guys and gals were flying and driving in from all around the country to various PDAP cities – particularly Houston – to crash on people’s couches and attend meetings. It was an exciting, intense time, and somewhat validating, for all of us die-hards.

But then, with all of this media attention came an uncommon level of scrutiny on the program. It all seemed to be spearheaded by some suspect admin shit that had been going on… some shady financial dealings between some of our big wigs and some of the rehab hospitals associated with PDAP. This cast quite a shadow on the program for a minute and caused quite a ruckus among the staff… especially after founder Meehan was let go. It was high drama stuff for awhile, but eventually, things returned to a relative normal in PDAP-land.

_______________________

Moving On

As a senior in high school, I started devoting even more time to practicing the drums, so I gradually faded away from the meetings. I didn’t really need to go anymore, frankly. And by the time I went off to the Berklee College of Music in Boston the following year, I had a rock-solid five years of sobriety.

Since first joining the program, I never really looked back. I’ve never seriously considered using again. I guess I “reinvented” myself so thoroughly, early on, that I’ve never personally identified with being someone who would EVER, under any circumstances, drink, smoke weed, or do drugs. I’m sure I’ll take this way of being to my grave… along with my veganism.

message2
Done a lot of this kind of stuff through the years…
Love it.

Even with more than 30 years in the music biz now – while I’ve certainly seen a lot of “using” going on – ironically, I’ve always managed to wind up in professional situations where alcohol and drug use was either minimal or virtually non-existent. Strange how it kind of worked out that way. It’s not like I “hand-picked” all the gigs I wound up in.

lifestyle
_______________________

smashesFound a number of these kind of articles in the “vault.”

Making a Case for the Lucid Life

I’ve never been one to proselytize about my sober way of living. It’s not my style. That said, I have done my fair share of speaking engagements through the years on the subject. I’ve also typically gone out of my way to mention my clean living approach at the hundreds of drumming workshops I’ve done through the years, given the radical misconceptions young musicians have about the partying lifestyle associated with the music business. Yes, it’s prevalent to some degree. But the deeper truth is, being heavily into dope or alcohol is a huge liability for anyone looking to “make it” in the biz. No one has time for that shit; fellow musicians, management, industry peeps, etc. And it doesn’t matter how great you play. I’ve seen it a hundred times; folks will typically pass on the “better player” who has issues with drinking or drugs, for the more reliable one who doesn’t.

Beyond that – and speaking from the perspective of my personal journey – being sober has been the single most critical game-changer for me. Why? Because without the distraction of partying through the years, I have naturally focused all of my turbo-charged addictive-personality energy into more positive pursuits: serious amounts of practice, weight-training and running, a healthy diet, lots of reading, and other activities that have played a key role in my personal evolution. I just don’t know how you can effectively engage in a lot of these kind of things while getting blitzed all the time… especially in the meditation/self-reflection realm.

blazing
“…an evening of positive messages and blazing drum solos!”
That’s what the fuck I’m talking about, people!   🙂

On that note, I guess I would have to mention this idea that, indeed, “the mind is a terrible thing to waste.” It is, quite literally, your most valuable asset. So why would we want to fry all of those brain cells and jumble up all of those precious neural connections? I mean, if we watched someone at a dojo or boxing gym regularly spar without headgear, and observed them taking blow after blow to the head, we would wonder what the fuck their problem was. Why are you taking all of those senseless shots to the head in training? Protect yourself, idiot! And yet, to some degree, this is what we are doing with long-term use of drugs and alcohol.

The same could be said for the body. Man, I’ve led a life of serious physical exertion. The training, the touring, the toils of road living… often on minimal sleep and whacked traveling conditions. Again, I don’t see how this happens when you’re ingesting a lot of toxins.

The Ecstasy of Agony; the Sweetness of “Super-Clarity”

I’ve also observed that many people tend to reach for weed, alcohol, or drugs when they’re nervous or uptight about something. But to me, that adrenaline surge, elevated heart rate, or even the sense that you are about to “shit yourself” from fear, is what makes us feel alive. I say, embrace it! Live it. Breathe deeply through it. Feel the heart pound, the mouth go dry, the sweat bead up on your forehead, the natural chemicals rush through your bloodstream. It’s okay. It’s part of life. Why try and cover that shit up with chemicals?

And finally, perhaps the main upside to the sober life that I would tell someone who asked me is this: I love being lucid at all times. I prefer to experience all aspects of life through a sharp, clear filter of perception. I like recalling events of the past through this same crystal-clear filter, and with a memory that has remained scary-sharp and ultra-detailed as a result of my clean living. It’s just my preference.

I understand that a case can be made for blurring that filter with drugs and alcohol and enjoying the party train of nightly indulgences, especially when touring with a rock band. I get it. And I’ve also noticed how the public loves to read about such exploits in so many of the various rock and roll memoirs out there. But to me, touring with a rock band is when you would NOT want to blur that filter. It has often been like a three-ring circus out there on tour: the things you see, the experiences you have, the people you meet… it’s like no other lifestyle imaginable. So to me, I want to remember all of those things, recall all of those people, and assimilate all of that life experience in as clear and accurate a way as I can. And I don’t believe you can do that when the ol’ filter is tainted with drugs and/or alcohol.

Just my take on things…

mohegandrumsblogOn a certain level, I guess not much has changed
in the past 40 years: still love to hit the drums!

 

litalivela
With Marty O’Brien, Lita Ford and Patrick Kennison.
Been hittin’ with Lita and the gang for nearly four years now:
Non-stop touring… just the way we like it!
(pic by Shovelhead Studios)

I know my journey might appear to be unusual, but really, I’ve just lived the “excessive musician’s” story arc in an unusual order. Most successful musicians manage to carve out a decent career for themselves, but then wind up going into rehab at some point. I went into rehab first, and then wound up carving out a decent career.

Wouldn’t have had things any other way…

_______________________

I will close now with a special shout out, first to my PDAP sponsors from way back in the day: Kevin McCarthy, Matt Feehery, and Brian Blessing. And second, to the majority of my closest, inner-circle peeps who, just like me, share the same unwavering credo – not one fucking drop; not one fucking hit. Ever.

 

 

Posted in Mind/Body, The Artist Realm, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

My “Richest” Possession, and the Eternal Discontent

In today’s entry, we return to the “Land of Enlightenment” in another excerpt from my book, Zentauria: My Season in the Warrior Utopia. As described in the first chapter, part of the conditions of my extended stay there involved integrating into their society and contributing something – which, in my case, centered largely around my drumming skills and knowledge. Cool… until you start questioning if what you have to offer will be deemed worthy in such a high-vibrational environment.

In addition to putting on a concert, I would be on the hook for a weekly “Observation Period” presentation, which is essentially an informal preview of your work, open to a respectful, curious, and highly-supportive public. So… what do I do? What do I play? What do I discuss? What do I really have to offer?

If it’s true that, subjectively speaking, we all have something special to contribute because our specific experience is unique unto ourselves… well… let’s hope it’s slammin’ so they don’t run my ass out of there!

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Into the Arena (My First Observation Period)

Day 20 – 11:53 PM (Krishna’s Pantry)

Just had my first observation period yesterday afternoon, and it was a blast. I’ll tell ya, I’ve done close to 900 drumming clinic/exhibitions in my life, under every possible condition imaginable, in front of every kind of crowd, big and small, and in a number of different venues around the world. Still, I had no idea what to expect today. At about fifteen minutes before start-time, they started showing up. By five after, we had an overflow crowd, and people were squeezing more chairs into the room. It’s always nice when that happens.

Corny as this might sound, I’ve always likened that pre-show, adrenalin-charged rush of walking down a corridor and into a darkened arena to that of an old Roman gladiator being led into the coliseum to face a challenger… or a lion. The metaphors are too obvious, I know, but here’s the thing: those pre-show flutters are basically the same, no matter what the venue. They might vary in intensity, but the essence of it is similar. About the only time I’ve managed to completely shake that feeling is well into a long tour, where everything starts running together, and every possible X-factor seems to be eliminated. But such was definitely not the case today. In fact, the X-factors ran abnormally high, and I had no idea how things would unfold.

It was supposed to be a loose format where I could basically do whatever I wanted, ranging from just practicing or improvising for an hour, to taking questions, to demonstrating things, to philosophizing about life, or whatever. It was simply an opportunity for the community to see what I do and how I do it. So with a respectful nod of acknowledgment to the full house, I sat down behind the drums and started tinkering around a bit. Surprisingly, I felt comfortable within minutes. There was such a feeling of support and camaraderie in the room.

As expected, pretty much every drummer in Zentauria was there, and they seemed to be especially fascinated with the twenty-six drums that comprised my kit and the ten different foot pedals that my feet dance about to create various grooves, fills, and solo ideas. So I tried to demonstrate a few things that utilized the multi-pedal setup, after I took a few minutes to explain some of the different ideas. And fortunately, this was the kind of crowd that applauded wildly after every demonstration, which is always welcome!

One of the first questions I got was about the creative impetus behind such an elaborate pedal set-up. I didn’t hesitate. “I stole the idea from Terry Bozzio.” All the musicians busted out laughing.

“No, I’m serious,” I continued. “But there’s a deeper subtext to the story. Something really heavy happened in my personal life some years back, and I wasn’t sure if I was even going to play again. At that time, I only knew Terry as an acquaintance. But having heard what happened, he really reached out and befriended me during this period, and it was right around the time when he started doing those solo drum performances on a massive, multi-pedal kit. Up to that point, some of us were experimenting with cowbell pedals and an extra hi-hat or two, but nothing like what Terry was doing. So seeing him do his thing, on that kind of kit, at that time in my life, was really pivotal for me. It made me want to jump back into it. Naturally, I’ve always tried to do my own thing with both my drum and pedal setup. But Terry was definitely the inspiration behind it all.”

A hand shot up.

“So you actually know Terry Bozzio?” this kid asked.

Then it hit me. When would any of these drummers have had the chance to meet any other well-known players? They wouldn’t. They all seemed very familiar with the names, playing styles, key riffs, band affiliations, and so forth, having diligently studied so many recordings and videos. But none of these guys had ever seen any of the greats play live, let alone interact with them. So now it seemed that I was their exclusive liaison to an entire generation of drumming greats.

“Yes, I know Terry. I even have his cell number on my auto-dial!” I joked. They all got a kick out of that. “Great guy and, of course, an artist beyond compare.”

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Mr. Bozzio: We drummers will always be chasing this guy…
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alphaMy latest solo set-up: The Alphabet Kit
Just a mere 38 drums…

From there, it was a free-for-all. Drummers, guitarists, and bassists were all excitedly blurting out names of their faves, hoping I knew them personally. Fortunately, I had some kind of cool anecdote for pretty much every name they called out. And when an older drummer asked about jazz legend Buddy Rich, I had several stories for them, mainly concerning all the times I went to see him play before he passed in 1987.

“You actually saw him in person?” the guy asked.

“Hell yes, at least a dozen times.”

“What was it like?”

“It was like going to church. He was a true freak of nature,” I assured them.

“Did you ever get to meet him?”

“Yes, several times.”

Everyone seemed impressed with this.

“What was that like?” the guy asked.

“I only met him briefly on a few occasions, but he was always cordial,” I said. “In fact, I had found this rare old album he did with Louie Bellson, at a used record shop in Boston in the early eighties, and I wound up having both Buddy and Louie sign it.”

I could tell by the raised eyebrows and smiles, these people knew the magnitude of what I just said: a record in existence with Buddy and Louie dueling it out, and I got each of them to sign it? Smokin’!

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One of my prized possessions…

At some point during the first half-hour, Samson dropped in with a couple of guys from the dojo. We’ve all been training together for this past week or so, and I’m clearly the low man on the totem pole there in terms of skill and experience. But here… behind the kit, I’m in my element. And when I heard Samson was a novice drummer, I had invited him to drop by my observation period and was glad to see he made it.

As it turned out, these guys came into the room just as I was working on a fairly intricate new multi-pedal, four-way independence soloing exercise. I nodded hello to them as I continued to play. Two of them grabbed seats in the back, but Samson, looking a little perplexed, squeezed through the crowd and took a chair directly to my left so he could have a better view of my feet and all those foot pedals. He seemed particularly interested in where some of these other sound sources were coming from.

A few minutes later, I paused for a moment and made a quick point about something I had just played, to one of the students. I then turned to Samson, held out my fist for a bump, and said, “What’s up, Holmes?”

He lightly bumped fists with me and said, in his best Pulp Fiction era Samuel Jackson, “Goddamn, my Negro!”

We all laughed.

“What in the hell were you just doing?” he asked.

I demonstrated the origins of this rudimental pattern with the double-pedal on the bass drum, and then showed how I brought in additional rhythms with other sound sources by placing each foot halfway between two different pedals.

Samson shot a look over to his friends and then, with his classic, wide-eyed Ali impersonation, he said, “You a baaad maaaan, Bobby Rock!” Again, the room fell out.

From there, we wound up stepping into something of a role reversal of what had just gone on at the dojo last week. So instead of him referencing the great fighters at the heavy bag, per my request, I was referencing the great drummers from behind the kit, per his request.

This included an Ian Paice-on-steroids demonstration of the verse sections of Deep Purple’s “Burn”; classic Tommy Aldridge double-bass work, sped up and expanded around my entire kit; signature Buddy Rich snare improv with tom-tom crossovers and hi-hat tricks at ultra-brisk tempos; and a barrage of Billy Cobham snare-tom excursions, rifled off between various multi-hi-hat funk grooves.

With each demonstration, Samson was over-the-top exuberant, laughing, whistling, standing up, raising his fists in the air, sitting back down, rocking back and forth in his chair. This was unbridled, unedited joy, expressed without restraint, like a hyperactive kid unwrapping birthday gifts. He really is a drummer at heart.

I continued on to more examples: Terry Bozzio-esque solo ostinatos, Vinnie Caliauta-style polyrhythmic modulations, and then a few of my own hybrid groove and solo concepts. It was a pretty thorough display of my skill-set as a drummer. But it wasn’t all just showing off, trying to impress Samson and the others (well… maybe a little bit!). It was a celebration of a life dedicated to the art form. And it was about feeling like I was earning my keep around here… like I have something of value artistically to bring to the table in this community.

So on that level, it was a great experience. With a towel around my neck and my T-shirt sticking to my back from all the sweat, I said goodbye to Samson and all the others who had gathered over the past hour. The audience seemed to be uplifted by what they had just seen. But after everyone split, I had to hold a more critical eye on what just went down. On the one hand, sure, I stepped into a flow; it felt good, and I thought I played well. On the other hand, much of what I played stemmed from a deep bag of tricks—a signature vocabulary—that I have amassed through the years, and I sometimes have mixed feelings about this… about relying so heavily on the old standby material, especially the “improvisational sequences.”

This led to a reoccurring contemplation I’ve had: at what point does one’s signature vocabulary transition from powerful to predictable? At what point do we go from recreating our authentic, heartfelt content anew, to regurgitating it in ways that simply parrot what we’ve already done? I’ve personally struggled with this through the years, and I’ve also observed the many subjective shades of this argument in the work of tons of other creative people, not just musicians. I know speakers, writers, comedians, filmmakers, even painters can all walk that razor-thin line between presenting the ever-expanding, inspired version of their original content and personal style, versus the same-old-shit, auto-pilot version of it that comes across more like shtick or even parody, God forbid.

Sure, many artists fall into that comfort zone of finding familiar, even predictable, ways to present their signature vocabulary. Even my main man, Buddy Rich, did a lot of that in many of his later-day solos, most notably when he was on The Tonight Show. Is this the end of the world? Probably not. I don’t think anyone is expected to come up with radically new content for every performance (unless total improvisation happens to be intrinsic to your particular medium). But I guess the overriding feeling for me… the main takeaway in the aftermath of today’s presentation, was this: being around these people makes me want to be better, to reach higher, to push myself to new heights. Period.

I thought for a moment about all the greatness I’d been exposed to since I got to Zentauria, and how readily everyone embraced “the next level” just because, without any obvious reward. I thought about the hours a day of training for Samson, the hours a day of writing for Rhone, and how even the simplest craftsperson around here takes his work seriously… like every day could be the last day to express it. I suddenly felt a surge of inspiration. I really want to reach for my next level and put together something extraordinary for my solo concert here. It’s time to expand, to advance, to reinvent. And at this stage of my development, it has to be done one step at a time… which seems to be the Zentaurian way.

There is a reverence for the minutia around here, to the small increments of improvement awarded to the finest attention to detail. We often look at the added extras someone might go through and feel like it’s not worth it… that it won’t matter that much in the end, so why bother? Well, let me tell you, people bother with the increments around here. As they should; as we all should. Because the difference between good and great doesn’t always come down to huge differences in preparation. Sometimes just working toward being a little better will do the trick. If a baseball player consistently gets two hits out of ten at-bats, he won’t make the big leagues. But if he can just squeeze out one more and consistently get three hits out of ten, he’ll be among the best of them. And if he can make it four out of ten, he will be immortalized.

I know this is all starting to sound a bit rah-rah motivational, but here’s another clichéd notion to think about: in the Olympics, the difference between gold and silver often gets down to a tenth of a point, or a one-hundredth of a second. At this level, it’s the minutia of effort, of preparation, and of training, that will determine whether you reflect back on your experience in elation or agony.

And I’ve had enough agony…

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Check out the Bobby Rock Store here to grab your autographed copy of Zentauria.

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30 Days in April: A Drummer’s Perspective on the Halestorm/Lita Ford/Dorothy Tour

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Gillioz Theater – Springfield, MO
(pic by Gary Brown for Shovelhead Studios)

In April of 2016, we were back in the bus and on arena and theater stages around the country with the Halestorm/Lita Ford/Dorothy tour. By all accounts, it was a hell of a show; three female-fronted bands, each with their own special vibe, and in their own unique place on their journey. Halestorm – currently on top of the hard rock heap – headlined, as they anchored a solid draw and delivered an enthralling, high-energy show nightly. We (Lita Ford) took the middle slot featuring L.F.F. as the iconic trailblazer, with her band of “veteran arena rockers,” I suppose. And ass-kicking newcomers, Dorothy, opened with a bang every night, featuring (as I heard someone say) an “Etta James fronting Black Sabbath” kind of flavor.

All in all, it was a great night of rock music, performed with a rare conviction by a cast of real-deal players. It was also an exceedingly harmonious endeavor, thanks mainly to the generous and professional tone set by the Halestorm camp. It didn’t take long for all three bands to merge as one nomadic pack of highway wanderers, with buses, trucks, and trailers rolling across the country like the Ringling Brothers on ritalin. We even got in a groove of doing a little “special guesting” during each others sets. (More on that shortly.)

Gotta love the road… especially when business is brisk, shit is selling out, and audiences are walking away happy. So let’s get behind the scenes, from this drummer’s perspective, and check out the highly-dense, uptempo slice of reality that is road life:

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My partners in crime, L to R: Patrick Kennison, Lita Fucking Ford, and Marty O’Brien
(pic by Gary Brown for Shovelhead Studios)
johnsoncitypic by Kevin R Hatfield
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pic by Gary Brown for Shovelhead Studios

 

The Cub-Man in the House!

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My long-time drum tech, Cubby Hubschmitt, has done virtually every major tour I’ve done over the past 28 years – including the majority of my 900-plus drum clinics. He tried a “semi-retirement” up in Oregon for the past few years, but decided he wanted a bit more punishment. It was a pleasure to have my “main motherfucker” back on board for this tour. He remains one of the best in the business… and a loyal, lifelong friend.

Home

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Our home away from home; The Bus
(pic from the Marty O’Brien Collection)

Buses are a strange thing to call home, but you get used to it. And you better get used to sleeping on them, as well. We would usually travel through the night to the next city, so getting some sleep was imperative… especially since my daily training regimen would usually kick in sometime in the late morning. (More on that in a sec…)

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Kickin’ it in the rear lounge… with black socks

Zenning

A time-honored tradition I’ve established with virtually every band I’ve played with over the past 25 years is a pre-show ritual we call “Zenning.” This is simply a matter of getting everyone together about 5 minutes before showtime and taking a few seconds to let go of all mental clutter and get centered into the present.  (Almost like a brief, group meditation.)  It also gives all the bandmembers a chance to energetically “align” with one another right before hitting the stage, since we don’t always see much of each other during the day, and everyone is usually engaged in their own independent pre-show ritual every night.

We almost always do this in the privacy of our dressing room.  However, we are sometimes forced to do a “quick zen” on the side of the stage, which the following photo captures. This is one of the only pics I’ve ever seen of “Zenning,” so I figured I would share it here:

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Inaction – in action.

I Love Arenas

There are certain attributes about every kind of venue – from various sized clubs, to old school theaters, to pristine casino showrooms, to performing arts centers, to outdoor festivals, to cavernous hockey or basketball arenas – that make each one a unique playing experience. I love ’em all, actually… but I really love playing arenas. These are the venues where I probably feel most in my “natural environment,” as our bassist, Marty O’Brien, often jokes. Whenever I walk across one of those spacious stages before soundcheck, Marty says (with the tone and cadence of a narrator on one of those National Geographic specials): “Here we see Bobby Rock in his natural environment – the arena – getting ready to play his ass off tonight.” Pretty funny shit… but true. The vibe, the energy, the space, the sonics… and my long history with these venues, both as a young concert goer and longtime performer, all make them a sentimental fave. Fortunately, we had occasion to hit some cool arenas on this run. Always a blast.

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Freedom Hall Civic Center – Johnson City, TN

No matter the venue, though, I’ve gotten in a habit of documenting many of the places we play with a “drummer’s perspective” pic, shot from behind the drums, usually during soundcheck, but sometimes during the show.  Here are a few “perspectives” for you:

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Santander Arena – Reading, PA
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Later that night during “Close My Eyes Forever,” with smartphones ablaze
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Taft Theater – Cincinnati, OH
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Exchange Park Fairgrounds – Ladson, SC
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Hard Rock Live – Biloxi, MS
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Club Brady – Tulsa, OK
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Mark C. Smith Concert Hall – Huntsville, AL
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Fargo Civic Center – Fargo, ND
(Soundcheck and show perspectives)

Sometimes, just to be “cute,” I would take a showtime perspective shot during the drum solo, while playing some sort of double-bass/double hi-hat pattern with my feet. This prompted some folks to ask if I’m actually taking a photo, or just raising my iPhone for dramatic effect.  Say what?  Of course I’m taking a photo!

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Snapping a shot during the drum solo
(The Egyptian Room – Indianapolis, IN)
Here’s a solo I played in Cincinnati that includes an example of such a photo opp, plus the special benefits of having a custom rack, held together by chains:
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Heavy chains = rough handling of rack!

 

Drum Solos R Us!

Speaking of drumming and drum solos, this was a great tour for drummers. Dorothy’s drummer, Zac Morris, would give his kit a sound thrashing every night to get things going, as he laid down a heavy pocket with their set. Then I would do my thing with Lita, which would always include a solo spot.  Then Arejay Hale would play his ass off during the Halestorm set, while keeping “the art of the drum solo” alive for a new generation of drummers with a show-stopping, super-entertaining solo every night.

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With Arejay Hale, my “little brother from another mother”

One gratifying, reoccurring theme of this tour was running into various drummers who had been affected by some of my earlier educational work (books, vids, drum clinics), namely my first book/vid, “Metalmorphosis.” I did that project untold years ago, but it’s really nice to see that the residual effects of the work have reverberated through a generation (or two!) of drummers since. To my surprise, it turns out that a young Arejay Hale was influenced by “Metalmorphosis” way back in the early days of his development, and he always made a big fuss about it to everyone – audiences included! – which I thought was extremely gracious of him.

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Arejay and me with Stuart Whitten, who showed up in Johnson City with an original edition of
“The Metalmorphosis Workbook,” which was released with the video way back in the day

Around show #3, Arejay asked if I wanted to join him for a “duet” during his solo. Well, of course I did! So we got together at soundcheck and Arejay suggested a basic solo structure that we would work from every night, starting with him on the marching tenors and me on his kit, then him joining me on the kit to “double-drum” it. So we just ran it down a couple times that afternoon, then never really discussed it again; I would just show up during his solo every night for the rest of the tour and we would let that shit unfold.  We had a blast playing together, and the audiences seemed to really dig it, as well.

Here’s a clip of our duet from the Fargo, ND show:

Honorable mention must go to Zac Morris, drummer for Dorothy.  This guy can really fucking play, and it was always cool to catch some of the Dorothy set. In fact, Arejay even invited Zac to join us in our drum solo segment for the last week-and-a-half of the tour. He slayed it.

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Dorothy’s Zac Morris had a tendency to bust open a knuckle or two
some nights, which turned his kit into a scene out of
“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” That’s rock, people!

All in the Family

I spoke earlier about the indelible bond between all the bands that took place during this tour. So in addition to Zac and I joining Arejay during his solo, and Dorothy Martin joining Halestorm for a version of the classic “I Just Wanna Make Love To You,” Lita brought both Dorothy Martin and Lzzy Hale to the stage with us during several shows to jam. We would usually do The Runaways’ classic, “Cherry Bomb,” with both of the girls. And then Lzzy would throw on her double-neck and do “Close My Eyes Forever” with us, handling Ozzy’s vocal part. Epic shit!

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Lzzy and Lita: The double, double-neck effect!
(pic courtesy of Livewire)
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Lzzy Hale, Lita Ford, and Dorothy Martin, throwin’ that shit down
(pic courtesy of Livewire)

Here’s a clip from Webster Hall in New York of all of us jamming on “Cherry Bomb.”

Halestorm always delivered the goods with their set. I also liked how they changed their setlist around nightly. This is one smokin’-ass band…

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Joe Hottinger (gtr), Lzzy, Arejay, and Josh Smith (bass)

Killer Crew

We had a world-class crew with us on this run, that’s for damn sure. In addition to the Cub – as mentioned at the top of this post – we had Tom Winch taking care of both tour manager and soundman duties, and the incomparable Takumi Suetsugu handling guitars and bass. A killer crew, indeed…

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Lita with our fearless ringleader, Tom Winch
(pic by Gary Brown for Shovelhead Studios)
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Takumi, with Lita’s babies, Churrito (left) and Rascal (right)
(pic from the Marty O’Brien Collection)
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Churrito, filling in for our regular driver, Big James Cooper…

A Bit More About the Drums

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Most of the touring I’ve done with Lita Ford over the past few years has been what we call “fly dates.” This means we fly into a given city for a show and rely on gear provided for us by the promoter, based on a meticulously detailed rider. It’s part of the new economics of touring these days and, generally, it works out okay.

However, when you’re back on a bus, that means you get to drag all of your own shit around the country and play on your own gear every night. This is preferred! And this also warranted a new kit from my longtime friends and colleagues at DW. Basic black and chrome badness, with a custom rack reinforced with cold, steel chains.

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My custom “chain-drive” rack system enabled me to knock over various sections of the kit at will…
without my precious drums actually having to face injury from high-velocity stage contact!

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This tour also warranted a new touring set of Sabian cymbals, as this year marks my 30th anniversary as an endorser for the world’s greatest cymbal manufacturer. We topped things off with fresh rounds of heads from the gang at Aquarian, and plenty of Bobby Rock model sticks from my friends at Pro Mark. I proudly have well over 25 years with both of those companies, as well. (More details about the drums and cymbals in a future “gear-head” post.)

Training on the Road

My workout regimen changes very little when I’m touring. I basically train every day, grabbing the occasional day off when unfavorable logistics win out, or if I feel like my body can use a rest day…

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Hittin’ the weights with Arejay by day, so we can pound some drums at night…

Contrary to the way it was back in the old days, many musicians actually try to stay in shape on the road these days. This was certainly the case for some of my Halestorm/Dorothy tour-mates. Candice Rukes (Dorothy’s tour manager) would scout out – and get us passes to – a good place to train near the venue, then she would text us the details. Then, depending on everyone’s schedule that day, we might train together, or separately.  Either way, a good workout was generally “right around the corner.”

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Post workout with the gang
L to R: Candice Rukes (Dorothy TM); DJ Black (Dorothy gtr.); Arejay; me;
Gregg Cash (Dorothy bassist); and club host, Big Jay Eaton

I also love to run, especially on tour. We so often get in a rut of airport-hotel-venue-hotel-airport, or in the case of a bus tour, this venue-to that venue. Going on a local run gives you a chance to experience other aspects of a city, and I almost always “run across” cool shit wherever we go.  Trails, public parks, riverfront paths, or even interesting residential or downtown areas… there’s a lot of beauty out there. And the double-whammy of cardio conditioning and fresh-air head-clearing that running offers is essential in keeping both your mind and body together while touring. (Each run is usually between five and seven miles… which is plenty long to scope out a bunch of cool shit.)

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Two sides of Tulsa, near the gig:
Riverfront trails and old school streets…

Eating on the Road

I’ve been vegan since the early-90s, so people are always wondering how I fare on the road with such a “limited” eating regimen.  As usual, I say, “no problemo.”  While avoiding all animal products (yes, this also means no fish, dairy or eggs) can be a bit of a challenge at times, with a little advanced planning, it’s never an issue.

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Stocking up before an extended tour

When you’re away from home for a solid month, you’ve gotta stock up on the killer vegan food and supplement rations. Of special note here are the four canisters of “custom blend” nutritional powder, which I tap into twice daily: 2 scoops in the AM with my morning fruit smoothie; then 1 scoop with various fruits and vegetables after the show…. all blended together with my trusty NutriBullet. (My Vita-Mix at home is still the preferred tool for this kind of thing, but these NutriBullets do the trick very well on the road.)

Supps include digestive enzymes, multi-antioxidant tabs, and a big bag of spirulina pills. (Can’t get too much of that super-green power.) The rice and soup are for throw-together meals, and the vegan jerky is for a little extra protein when there’s not much else around but vegetables and rice or pasta.

The variety of Cliff bars, whole-grain cereal, and trail mix round things out for snacks throughout the day. Fresh fruits and veggies, of course, are provided at the gig every day. And in most cases, a very generous and talented chef will prepare a special vegan meal for me at the gig. This is always appreciated! Otherwise, there is usually some kind of pasta, rice, or bean-based dish in catering that I can have for dinner.

And because people ask me all the time, let me say this: you cannot only maintain muscle mass and enjoy peak performance capability with this regimen, but you can make gains, as well. Been doing things this way since 1993. The only catch? Make sure you get enough calories to support the desired bodyweight. No need for protein from animal sources. Your body will absolutely thrive from a plant-based diet, if you do it right…

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A welcomed site on tour! Time to stock up…

In Closing

Wow… this has been one long-ass post! Just imagine what it was like out there – in it – every day. Life on the road offers an unparalleled density, as so much happens in such a compressed period of time. Can’t wait for the next bus tour. Until then, it’s time to fly…

For the record, here was our itinerary for the month:

Halestorm /Lita Ford/Dorothy Tour

Apr 1 – Reading, PA – Santander Arena

Apr 2 – Hampton Beach, NH – Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom

Apr 3 – Hampton Beach, NH – Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom (*2nd show added)

Apr 5 – Huntington, WV – Big Sandy Superstore Arena

Apr 6 – Lexington, KY – Singletary Center for the Arts

Apr 7 – Raleigh, NC – Ritz Raleigh

Apr 9 – Biloxi, MS – Hard Rock Live Biloxi

Apr 11 – Springfield, MO – Gillioz Theatre

Apr 12 – Tulsa, OK – Club Brady

Apr 13 – Wichita, KS – Cotillion Ballroom

Apr 15 – Fargo, ND – Fargo Civic Center

Apr 16 – Sioux City, IA – Hard Rock Live ‘Sioux City’

Apr 17 – Dubuque, IA – Diamond Jo Casino

Apr 19 – Huntsville, AL – Mark C. Smith Concert Hall

Apr 20 – Spartanburg, SC -Spartanburg Memorial Auditorium

Apr 21 – Johnson City, TN – Freedom Hall Civic Center Freedom Hall Civic Center

Apr 23 – St Petersburg, FL at State Theatre

Apr 24 – Ladson, SC at Exchange Park Fairgrounds (WYBB RockFest – Breaking Benjamin, Halestorm and many others…)

Apr 25 – Norfolk, VA at NorVa Theatre

Apr 27 – New York, NY at Webster Hall

Apr 29 – Cincinnati, OH at Taft Theatre

Apr 30 – Indianapolis, IN at The Egyptian Room

A Few More Shots…

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Hittin’
busandsunset
Sunset in Tennessee, behind the arena
(pic from the Marty O’Brien Collection)
litaspringfield
Full house in Springfield
fullband3
pic by Gary Brown for Shovelhead Studios
13062050_10153658123982992_2829272212471686056_nSaying good night…
Posted in Beautiful Drum Music, Exercise, The Artist Realm, Veganism/Animal Issues | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

In Pursuit of Virtuosity

I have nothing against DJs, turntables, programmed music, or hip-hop culture. I recognize these are legitimate modes of creative expression, and there are many men and women out there doing great things within each of these modalities. That said, I do hope that the sacred reverence for truly mastering traditional instruments in various genres remains a priority for our future generations, as well. True, there are many young musicians out there right now, carrying a torch for this very notion. The challenge – as I see it – is that there is an increasingly smaller “market” out there for audiences who will appreciate and support this kind of musicianship, and also that the music industry itself is in the middle of a crucial reinvention in terms of how musicians can actually earn any kind of a living.

Me? I come from a different era. And for all I love about modern technology and the way things are now… I would not – under any circumstances – trade my experiences “back in the good ol’ days” for what we have now. Again, no offense to the present.  I love so much about how things are these days.  It’s just that… man! The 70s and 80s were such a primo time to be a music lover and a young musician.There was a profound simplicity to our process of experiencing music. Driving to the record store; filing through all those albums before finally selecting one or two; heading back home; tearing off the plastic; sliding that shiny vinyl out of the jacket before placing it on the turntable; easing the stylus onto the record and listening as the crackle of the needle to wax merges into the opening song; then reading every word and devouring every photo on the album cover and inner sleeve. Damn! It was always an experience.

And for that matter, so was closing the door to the inner-universe of the practice room and practicing all those hours. Headphones nearby, perhaps a drum book or two, the ever-present metronome, a gallon of water and a towel… and all of those uninterrupted hours of monotonous woodshedding.  No one calling or texting (no cell phones back then!). No 800 channels on the tele or world-wide web beckoning. Just endless hours of time to devote to your craft. Ahhh, the good ol’ days, indeed.

To this very day, I still love the idea that a great player of any instrument can spontaneously create a performance that actually raises the vibration of all who experience it. This is the essence of great art… that we are, in at least some small way, forever affected, inspired, and uplifted by something created by another… as a direct result of the crazy amount of hours, life experience, and due diligence they have invested in their craft. To me, it is a noble, altruistic, and worthwhile notion… this idea of dedicating a big part of your life to such a thing.

My latest book, Zentauria: My Season in the Warrior Utopia, explores this notion in many of the journal entries that comprise the book. Zentauria is essentially a detailed journey into the mind, body, and soul of an enlightened society, where music, art, and all forms of such creative expression hold as high a place in their world as anything else. Today’s excerpt features an extensive interaction with one of the world’s most gifted musicians… as many of my influences and inspirations are revealed in the process.

All hail the virtuoso!

ZentauriaKindle

Virtuoso

Day 30 – 3:13 AM (Guest Quarters)

Entry Preface: It was the early eighties at a crowded nightclub in Houston, and I was slouched down in my chair in stunned silence. As my father paid the tab and the rest of the crowd slowly shuffled out of the smoky joint, I was attempting to digest what I had just witnessed. From an aerial view in the balcony, we had just been treated to the great Buddy Rich and his orchestra, and I had watched every move he made on that modest set of white pearl Ludwigs. The hummingbird left hand, fluttering about the snare; the liquid right hand, a blur on the ride cymbal; the jackhammer bass drum pedal, the dancing hi-hat foot, the exploding crashes… the thundering toms, the swinging grooves, the Zen-like effortlessness… all reverberating in my mind’s eye with crystal clarity. I had just been to the mountaintop.

BuddyBW
The main man… Buddy Rich

It was a quiet ride home because, after all, what can you say in the aftermath of an experience that would have such a profound, long-lasting effect? I was trying to process that unique combination of furious inspiration and hopeless discouragement. Depending on what side of the fence you’re on, you either want to practice eight hours a day or pick up another instrument. I chose the former.

There was no doubt that the Alice Cooper, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple triumvirate got me into the practice room and behind the drums. But it would be an elite cast of virtuosos who would keep me there for hours at a time. This love affair with the practice room led me to this observation:

There is an old cliché that is centered around having something about your life that
makes you want to get out of bed in the morning. I say, there should be
something about your life that keeps you from getting to bed at night…

* * * * * * * *

This afternoon, I witnessed one of the single most impressive musicians I have ever seen. Her name is Bella Musashi, and she is just ridiculous. Here’s the quick rundown.

My first week here, I was walking by a small café off of 7th Avenue one evening, when some of the craziest contemporary solo classical piano imaginable came spilling out onto the street. I stepped in and asked the first person I saw, “Who in the hell is this?”

Some guy explained that it was Bella Musashi, one of Zentauria’s most celebrated artists, and that they were listening to her latest release. He then told me where and when her observation periods were and encouraged me to go and check her out. “To see her play this stuff live, my friend,” this guy said, “…it’s unreal.” I didn’t doubt it.

So finally, after running into her around the Drexel several times now, I navigated my way through a maze of hallways, practice rooms, and offices to eventually find Bella Musashi seated on a small stage behind a massive black grand piano, holding court in her studio with three dozen music students seated around her.

With classic Japanese features and a petite build, her shimmering black hair spilled down to her waist. She was dressed casually in jeans and a plain orange T-shirt, already in the middle of a piece when I grabbed a chair in the back of the room. Her spidery hands were pummeling the keys with such blunt force, blinding speed, and emotional fire that it was almost shocking to hear such a wall of fury coming out of such a fragile physical presence. The stuff she was playing was so advanced, both harmonically and rhythmically, it was difficult to discern at times what key or time signature she was in. Both hands seemed fully independent from the other, creating the illusion that, quite literally, two people were wailing away at that piano simultaneously, each playing a different song.

And yet, it was far from atonal or free-form. There was a searing musicality to all that she played, and several repeated motifs throughout the piece ensured it was a composition with a fairly standard form. But the trippy thing was, she looked mildly possessed as she played, with her eyes either crinkled shut or transfixed on something against the back wall the whole time, not even watching her hands.

Afterward, everyone politely applauded, but I stood up in the back, shaking my head, clapping loudly.

She looked over at me and said, “Oh, Bobby Rock! So nice of you to drop by.” The students all turned around with smiles and nods.

“Wow… what you just played was crazy!” I said, taking my seat.

“Thank you,” she said with a clasp of her hands in front of her chest and a subtle bow. “Make yourself comfortable here.”

She proceeded to answer questions from the audience and, when appropriate, demonstrated things at the big daddy Bösendorfer. Her voice was calm and clear as she spoke textbook English with perfect enunciation.

Boesendorfer_crop
photo by Rüdiger Wölk

Then, when a student asked about how her early jazz influences affected her approach today, she talked a bit about legendary jazz pianists Art Tatum and Oscar Peterson, and then launched into a blistering version of the Charlie Parker classic, “Scrapple From the Apple.” She played most of the head in octaves before kicking into a few choruses of left-handed walking bass and right-handed soloing. It was killer! I was immediately transported thirty years prior to my own time as a college student, watching a young virtuoso Japanese pianist burn down the house at the Berklee Performance Center a few times per semester. I just had to know something.

I raised my hand. “Bella, I’m sure this is a long shot, but did you ever know of a Japanese pianist named Makoto Ozone?”

Her eyes widened. “You know about Makoto?”

“Yes! We both went to the same conservatory for a time, but he was a few years older. You know him?”

“Oh, my God!” she said, spinning around on her stool to face me. “Makoto was a legend! One of my early teachers used to visit the east coast of America every year, and he would return with cassette tapes of Makoto playing at Berklee!”

“No way! I was probably at some of those shows!”

I then asked her about a particular concert he did in a duo format with an upright bassist, and made reference to their scorching version of the classic Dizzy Gillespie tune, “Salt Peanuts.”

Again, her eyes widened, “Wow, Bobby, I can’t believe you know that!” Then she spun back around on her stool, stormed through the head, then began playing the piano solo—as best as I could recall from my worn-out old cassette copy—note-for-fucking-note as Makoto played it, pausing intermittently if she needed a moment to remember some part of a passage. Astounding!

After she finished, we all clapped our heads off; then I asked her how she possibly still remembered it.

“Well, I have kind of a photographic memory when it comes to music.”

I guess the fuck so.

makoto
Some of the most jaw-dropping performances I have ever seen
were complements of this guy right here; Makoto Ozone

For the next fifteen minutes, Bella talked at length about Makoto’s influence on her playing. She demonstrated key examples of his technique and improvisational style, then tied it all back to more Tatum and Peterson references. It was a hell of a segment. And again, it was time warp central around here as my common bonds with these people continued to surface… even in the most unlikely and unusual ways. Makoto and those old Performance Center tapes were a huge source of inspiration for me. What are the odds that both Bella and I, living on opposite ends of the globe, could’ve been so moved by such utterly obscure recordings?

After class was over, I joined her onstage to give her a hug and tell her how blown away I was with her playing. As we stood and talked for a moment, I couldn’t help but notice how large her hands were, relative to the rest of her body. I casually reached for one of her hands and placed it palm-to-palm against one of mine. Her fingers were actually longer. Incredible, given that I outweigh her by 100 pounds! She laughed it off and said that she’s tried to make the best of her “deformity” through the years.

She invited me back to her spacious private study for a cup of green tea. It was adjoined to the presentation room, much like mine was, and wall-to-wall with old vinyl records, tapes, CDs, scores, and method books. We’re talking thousands of titles here. There was another grand piano in this room, along with a small bank of keyboards, a couple desktop computers, and a small monitor system. I could tell she spent a lot of hours in here every day, so I asked questions about her process.

She said that she meditates from 4:00 to 5:00 AM every morning, eats a light breakfast, then practices piano from 5:15 to 11:45, taking a fifteen-minute break every two hours. After lunch, she spends the afternoon teaching, doing kung fu or yoga, going out for a jog, or taking care of other “normal life stuff.” Then she has 5:00 to 8:00 PM earmarked for composition, violin practice, or doing sessions, followed by her final two hours of piano practice, starting at 9:00 PM. That’s eight hours a day of piano, six days a week, plus all of her other musical activities. Her efforts bore the sweetest fruit. Saturdays, by the way, were completely “free form,” as she called it.

I asked her more specifically about what she’s been working on with those keyboards, and she sprang up to give me a demo. She hit a single power button and everything lit up, including the two separate computer monitors. She told me she’s been composing music for a documentary about Joseph Campbell and was having “a blast” blending a variety of musical styles with samples of authentic instruments from the respective mythological eras the film covered. Just then, an interview of Campbell popped up on the screen, and a richly textured orchestral piece with a decidedly Asian undertone kicked in. She then began improvising on a keyboard with a remarkable Chinese flute patch; it sounded both breathy and hollow, as if someone was actually blowing into it.

This led to a discussion about some of the advanced technologies they had created here in Zentauria to replicate key sounds. “For example,” she said, “we’ve actually had pretty good luck with guitar tones. Here’s a decent replication.” Then she dove right into the middle of Van Halen’s “Eruption,” manipulating a small bar on the side of the keyboard to mimic Eddie’s vibrato and wammy bar moves. She played about half of the original solo note-for-note perfect, then stepped off into the stratosphere with another thirty-two bars of Van Halen-style improvisation that, technically speaking, was a whole other level. But this wasn’t just some keyboardist’s skilled attempt at emulating a historic guitar tone and performer. This was spot-on, next-level re-creation! It was astonishing.

From there, she clicked buttons, accessed patches, and played perfect excerpts of Jimi Hendrix with his crackling Marshalls, Jeff Beck with his screaming solo sound from “Led Boots,” and a healthy slice of Eric Johnson’s “Cliffs of Dover,” majestic tone intact. She nailed each of their distinctive lead sounds to the wall and held true to their individual phrasing, vocabularies, and subtleties. I thought her flawless representation of these guitar icons was alarming, given her roots as a virtuoso classical and jazz pianist.

ericB&W
Watching this bad motherfucker (Eric Johnson)
with his trio back in the early days, would inspire me
to pursue my own trio-based solo direction later

Next up was a blazing Paganini caprice, played with a patch that was created from an early 18th century Stradivarius. You could hear the rosin of the bow, the timbre of the wood. And Bella would gently manipulate that bar to emulate the delicate vibrato of a master violinist.

“Bravo,” I said as I clapped. “Damn… sounds like the real deal.”

“Well, I’ve been playing a bunch of Paganini on my violin lately, so I guess I have a decent insight into what it’s really supposed to sound like.”

A pianist playing Paganini? On a violin? As their second instrument? This woman was killing me.

As a flagship example of both this technology and her freakish musicianship, she pulled up a John Coltrane tenor patch that was so uncanny it gave me chills. And again, most impressive was her performance… her deep knowledge of the nuances of Coltrane’s playing and her ability to manipulate the keyboard to make it sound like the main man himself was present in the room with us. She clicked a few switches on another keyboard and pulled up that smoky Jimmy Garrison upright bass sound, then launched into a brisk walking progression of “Impressions” with her left hand while playing the melody, followed by two choruses of Trane’s exact solo from the original Impulse recording, with her right hand. I swear my eyes got watery, it was so fucking good.

On the third chorus, she veered away from Coltrane’s original solo and continued with a more frenzied version of his signature improvisation. I presumed she had merely swapped out a few choruses from some later recording of “Impressions” when he really started taking things outside. But when I asked her afterward, she said she was just “doodling” for those last few choruses. (Shit!) Then, when I asked her what the transcription process was like in copping Trane’s original solo, she looked confused.

“Transcription? I just remember what he played.”

This woman was reproducing John Coltrane, in meticulous detail, on a plastic fucking keyboard, from memory! Unreal.

I told her that if I were forced to live out my days on a deserted island and could only listen to one artist for the rest of my life, I would choose Coltrane. She smiled and said, “Good choice.”

tranesoprano
Coltrane: mastery of one’s instrument
to the point of absolute transcension.
A worthy goal for any musician…

She clicked another button and started playing the piano intro to “My Favorite Things,” with that huge McCoy Tyner sound. Then, while somehow maintaining the vamp with her left hand, she clicked another button on the other board and simultaneously launched into some opening improv with that angelic Coltrane soprano tone before settling into the melody. It literally sounded like Tyner and Trane were standing before me, doing an impromptu duet. Now my eyes really began to water over. This was crazy. And not just because of the dexterity, the recall, the knowledge of the genre, the tones, and all the obvious mechanics required to pull this off. It was because of the absolute stone-accurate authenticity with which she executed their parts. It was like being at a séance.

This whole experience brought to mind how I am oftentimes envious of those who have the luxury of a single-minded focus. Sure, Bella is a true Renaissance person with multiple interests and talents, just like everyone else around here. But her primary mission every day is to set her ass on that piano stool and play. I miss the simplicity of those times in my life. Perhaps the full “harem of muses” I always talk about will leave me the fuck alone at some point so I can enjoy a monogamous run with just one… the one who would have me play drums all day, every day.

_______________________

Check out the Bobby Rock Store here to grab your autographed copy of Zentauria.

Paperback and Kindle versions are also available direct from Amazon. Just click the link below:

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Welcome to More Hell: Recording Drums for the First Vinnie Vincent Invasion Album – Part 2

VVIbackcover

In Part 1 of Welcome to Hell, we talked in great detail about the behind-the-scenes particulars of the Vinnie Vincent Invasion debut recording.  We also talked about the excruciating process of having my drum tracks endure a beat-by-beat analysis against a drum machine reference track, under the watchful eyes and ears of one very meticulous Mr. Vincent.  But, we managed to end on a high note, as we (seemingly) finished up drum tracks right before Christmas break ’85, and I headed back home to Texas for the holidays.

In Part 2, we pick up where we left off and return to the fire for more punishment…

***********

Tracking Madness – Round 2

After the holiday break, things were quiet out west.  I was to hang out in Houston until the record was in the can, then we would talk about me coming back out to LA for the album cover photos and all the pre-release promo stuff.  Things were cool and casual…  until that fateful phone call from Dana Strum just a couple weeks into the new year.

“Uh…. Bobby. Uh… there have been some new developments regarding the drum tracks.”

My heart jumped up into my throat.

“Shit. Like what?”

He then proceeded to tell me about the manic number of hours that he, Mikey and Vinnie had been putting into this “new” drum track direction since I split. He had not wanted to call me any sooner than he had to.

Apparently, after I went home and they began tracking guitar solos, Vinnie started hearing things again… namely kick drums and snares, “out of sync” with the drum machine. How this was possible, given the amount of effort we all had just put into making things “perfect,” I’ll never know. But there these guys were, spending untold more days and nights in the studio, massacring these perfectly good tracks with a new protocol. This involved sampling my kick and snare sounds, then selectively allowing the drum machine to “override” my drum tracks in those select places where Vinnie felt like the drums were off. From there, as I recall, they ended up deferring to the machine kick and snare for most of the groove sections, but they kept all of my original fills from round one! This became problematic for a number of reasons, not the least of which was how my original hi-hat, ride and crash parts were lining up with the “new” kick and snare parts.

Bottom line? Dana said it was time for me to jump on a flight and head back out to LA so I could redo all of my hi-hat, ride and crash parts.  We would use mainly drum machine kick and snare in the groove sections, but keep all the original fills.  What the fuck?

When I asked about the airline ticket situation, Dana very diplomatically said something about, “Ya know.. it’s been difficult getting through this… everyone’s pretty fried… I think we all need to pull together and just do what we gotta do…” etc. Translation? Pay for your own motherfuckin’ plane ticket and get out here asap, and let’s make this thing right before Vinnie fires your ass! 

I would never know exactly how close Vinnie may or may not have been to this, but I wasn’t about to find out.  So I had to go back to Keith Karnaky at The Drum Shop to borrow all of those cymbals again, and make up some lame excuse about how we needed to “tweak some more parts” or something. Then I got my ass back to LA within a day or two.

I’ll never forget the dread I felt on that brisk LA morning when Dana and Mikey picked me up curbside near where I was staying to go back to the studio. “Didn’t we already go through this once?” they joked, as I got in the car. Then on the way back to Baby-O, they told me all about the lunacy they had been up to the past few weeks.  Sounded like an even bigger nightmare than before. But I still couldn’t get an accurate read on how Vinnie was feeling about me… especially since Dana was trying to downplay things, saying something about how Vinnie realized this drum machine approach was what we should’ve done all along.

But when we got settled in at the studio and Vinnie showed up shortly thereafter, it was a much more tense vibe than I could have anticipated.

“Do you have any idea how much money you’ve cost me,” was the first thing he said to me, eyes glaring through glittery blue eye shadow

Fuck.

I didn’t even know how to respond. I think I said something stupid like, “But the fills were okay, right?”

“Yeah, but you can’t make a record on fills alone!” he replied.

And so, we began again. This time, I was sitting in a standard tracking room with hi-hat and cymbals only, playing along with some whacked-out hybrid tracks comprised of both real and drum machine grooves, plus my original live fills. Super bizarre. And yes, my hi-hat and ride cymbal accompaniments would fall under the same laser scrutiny that we went through last time, except in a much more strained and toxic atmosphere.

At one point during this round two process, things got so overbearingly analytical, it was becoming hard to discern what we were even hearing anymore.  “Wait… is that fourth snare a bit off? Was that an original snare, or a drum machine replacement snare? Didn’t we already replace it?  Wait, play it back again. No, that snare’s okay… but the one before it is a little rushed, isn’t it? Shit… Mikey, play it one more time.” We were all starting to lose it.

I remember one time we were trying to replace a snare that Vinnie insisted was off. But when Dana went to punch, the machine didn’t go into record for some reason, so nothing had actually been “fixed.” Kevin, our second, noticed this and was just about to blurt out that the punch didn’t happen.  But Dana shot him a shut-the-fuck-up glare that would’ve had Mike Tyson cowering under the console, and he remained quiet. Then Dana calmly rolled the tape back for Vinnie, knowing nothing had changed, and hit play. Sure enough, Vinnie said, “That’s better. Let’s move on.”  Everyone quietly shook their heads, knowing that we had officially stepped off into a backwards-ass abyss of Twilight Zone insanity. Anything could happen at that point.

These were dark days in the studio… especially since I felt like my drumming “incompetence” had driven us to this unorthodox way of trying to piece together acceptable drum tracks. Once again, though, my studio allies (Dana and Mikey at this point), helped me keep a perspective as we just put our heads down and got it done.

After a week or so, we finally completed this second round of tracking to little fanfare. There wasn’t really any sort of celebratory tone in finishing; we were all burnt to a crisp. And while Vinnie seemed cool with things, the rest of us were quietly regretful that the original, bad-ass theater recordings were just a memory, and instead, we now had these fucking patchwork, mishmash tracks that were a shadow of what they should’ve been. But, we were all living in a sort of technological haze of denial, justifying the outcome as “contemporary” Def Leppard-esque tracks… which was quite a stretch. (A poor man’s Def Leppard, maybe, but not nearly as cool.)

VVIarticle
Early Faces mag article

So I flew back to Houston, returned my big ol’ heavy bag of cymbals to Keith Karnaky at The Drum Shop, then settled into a light depression, post this extremely disillusioning experience.  Again, I was supposed to just hang out and wait for them to finish lead vocals, guitar solos, backgrounds, and mixing, and then at some point in the spring, head on back for all of the promo activity. But it was a rough couple weeks for me mentally. Everyone tried to pass it off as “the modern approach to recording that we should have taken all along,” but I wasn’t buying it. The shit we did the first time around was fucking epic.  I was sure Dana and Mikey agreed, as well.

And as it turned out, so would our manager, George Sewitt.

Tracking Madness – Round 3

Some time in early February ’86, George came out west from NY to meet with the LA label folks and check up on our progress. Remember, this was pre-Internet and pre-digital files, so, short of coming down to the studio, the only way to let someone hear something was to mail them a cassette tape. At this point, George hadn’t heard any music beyond some of our initial tracks from round one… although he had heard plenty of crazy studio stories from Strum in the form of nightly updates via telephone, after Vinnie went home each evening.

Once George hit LA, they sat him down in the control room and started playing him some of our latest roughs.

“What the fuck happened to the drums?” he asked. “This sounds like dogshit!”

And after a spirited but brief debate, that was it: I was about to get the phone call I could’ve only dreamed of receiving.

“Uh…. Bobby. Uh… there have been some new developments regarding the drum tracks,” Dana said, but in a much more relaxed tone than last time.

“What the hell? What now?” I asked.

“Well, my man,” Dana continued, “it appears that everyone else hates this new drum track direction.  Sewitt flipped, and now Mr. Vincent has had a change of heart about things.  We’ll need for you to head back out and do these tracks the right way… all over again.”

“You’re shittin’ me!”

“Nope. And Chrysalis will be picking up your flight this time, that’s for damn sure!” Dana said.

“Holy Mother of Christ! Are you serious?”

“Yes! Go round up your cymbals, pack your shit, and get your ass back out here!” he said.

I got off the phone in a daze. I simply didn’t know how to process this double injection of vindication and dread. The upside? I get to redo drums!  The downside? I get to redo drums! Ultimately, I saw it as a way to right the wrong of what went down with this round two bullshit.  I was a man possessed.

I was also a man who had to, once again, go back to Keith Karnaky at The Drum Shop and ask to borrow all those cymbals yet again.  This time, I leveled with him and told him about the “back-alley abortion” we had been through up to this point in the recording process, and how I had the chance to make things right this time.  As usual, K.K. was the coolest, and he let me walk with all of those cymbals one last time.

Three days later, I’m back in LA, walking into Baby-O Studios. I saw Mikey and Dana in the control room and we all just laughed. It was one of those rare times in life where the overall absurdity level of a situation negated anything you could possibly express about it. Fortunately, though, there would be a noticeably lighter vibe in the air this time.

Vinnie-VincentDana-Strum
Vinnie and Dana from our first tour…

When Vinnie showed up a bit later, there was absolutely no attempt at any sort of explanation or apology for this whole thing. Nor did I expect any, really. I believe he said something philosophical about how we probably should’ve stayed with our “first instinct” or something to that effect, and that was it. Nothing more was ever said between us about the crazy twists and turns we encountered recording drums on the first VVI record.

Later that afternoon, I found myself behind the drums, back in that drafty old theater downstairs.  Mark Edwards was there.  The Yamaha drums were there.  Most of those mics were there. The PA feed up in Studio B, however, was not there, because that studio had since been locked out by George Clinton. Nonetheless, we were going to do our best to replicate the way things were the first time around.

And we did… our best, that is. I remember we were all happy just to get all live drums back on this thing. But, at this point, we were way over-budget on the drums, and also, we had a ticking clock with regard to how long we could be in the theater. Things were a bit more rushed.  Also, it seems like there was some weirdness regarding keeping some of the initial fills or something, I don’t exactly recall.  So, while we did go back to live grooves, it was never going to be quite as cool and spontaneous as it was the first time through.

And yes, Vinnie was still on board with plenty of drum machine obsessing, and this dragged shit out.  In fact, I remember running out of time in the theater before we could get to “Boyz Are Gonna Rock.” Or maybe, it was that Vinnie decided he was unhappy with our round three version of it. In any case, the final version of “Boyz” happened with the drums set up in the main studio tracking room upstairs, with a whacked combo of grooves from this final round three session and some of the original fills left intact (since they still sounded so monstrous). Tragic… but indeed, we had finally crossed the Rubicon.

Moving On (and Initial Impressions)

At this point, we were back in celebration mode. Drums truly were done!  Along the way, the guys had been making more headway with solos and lead vocals, both of which were turning out incredible. I’ll never forget hearing some of Robert Fleischman’s vocal tracks, soloed in that control room; just his pipes and a mic, blasting through the monitors. Good God, that motherfucker could sing! (Still can, by the way.)  It sounded like every syllable he sang was wrenched from the deepest part of his guts.  And yet, there was an effortlessness, an ease, and a bone-rattling soulfulness about it all.  The hair on my arms stood up as I listened, and his tracks on that record are still among my favorite from any title in that genre.

robert
Mr. Fleischman

Meanwhile, Vinnie and Dana were putting together these crazy, off-the-hook solos that would cut through your skull like a chainsaw. When I first heard them, it was almost shocking… this sonic barrage of notes. There was notably more urgency and adventurousness in this round of solos, as opposed to the way Vinnie played on the original demos. It took a little getting used to, but yet, it was so in-your-face, we would just laugh when the playbacks were going down. Thirty years later – love him or hate him – no one, and I mean no one, can play like Vinnie Vincent. So you can imagine how we were feeling about these solos back then.  It was unprecedented. There was no one around to even compare him to.

Still, if I’m being candid, I think even then I preferred the direction of his original demo solos. They seemed to breathe a bit more.  They still had a lot of his frantic, signature shred elements, but those passages were interwoven with more bluesy, soulful licks which, to my ears, made for more musical solos. But, as I alluded to earlier, the Dana Strum Punching Extravaganza capability gave Vinnie a wide-open canvas to string together these crazy clusters of notes to his heart’s desire, and he went apeshit with it.

Don’t get me wrong; I still love his playing on the album. The first VVI remains my go-to record if I want to strap on the headphones and annihilate some brain cells with unmercifully over-the-top guitars and first-rate arena rock anthems. It’s just that he was such a multi-dimensional player – so seasoned and accomplished in so many ways – that I think it would’ve been more true to his whole trip had he visited all of those dimensions in his soloing.  (This “less is more” commentary is brought to you by a guy who would go on to release a 20-minute drum solo on a double-live CD, so… what the hell do I know?)

Tragic Punchline

Once I settled back into the slower pace of life back home in Houston, it was hurry up and wait… times ten. Man, things took forever:  The rest of the tracking.  The mixes. The mastering. On and on it went. I would touch base with the guys by phone from time to time, and everyone’s spirits were up, but I simply could not get any of these motherfuckers to send me some mixes. It was killing me.  I would’ve severed my left testicle with a butter knife just to hear a rough mix of something complete. I would hound Strum about this, and he would assure me that something would be “in the mail” shortly. But after days of waiting for the mailman to turn up with a cassette, I would call Dana back only to get more excuses about how he hadn’t had time to drop me something… but he would soon. It was almost as if he didn’t want me to hear the final mixes.

Finally, our day of reckoning arrived late spring/early summer.  Dana was flying out to Houston to catch up with Sweet Savage, a band he had produced, who were playing a show at a local club.  I had arranged to pick his ass up at the airport and, naturally, he would have to play something for me now.  Hell, the record was already mixed and mastered; there was no way out of it. So… he gets in the van, cues up the tape to “Twisted” (which would turn out to have one of the heavier drum mixes on the record), and blasts the shit out of it until the speakers were distorting.  Truth is, he was, shall we say, reluctant to have me hear these mixes.  Why? Because the guitars had been mixed so unbearably hot, and the drums so comparatively low, that he figured I would flip out.  But actually, playing “Twisted” first was a wise move, even though I found it odd at the time. The featured tom parts sounded present and punchy, and that tune had some of the most intense drum work from all the sessions.  Everything else on the track was bangin’, as well, and this put me in a favorable mindset to hear the whole record. I was thrilled. (A clever guy, that Mr. Strum!)

At some point thereafter, though, I would play my cassette copy of the album on various systems, for various people, at various volumes, and it became evident in a hurry that there were issues with the final mix. Among other things, the guitars were crazy loud, and many key drum parts, particularly some of the more intricate fills, were way down in the mix. In fact, I could barely discern some of what I played, and I was the one who actually played the shit!

Plus, something was lost in translation with regard to the drum “performance” aspect of the tracks. I was beating the shit out of those drums in a huge room, delivering good performances, and even our initial playback in the control room revealed that. The grooves were thumpin’ and the takes were sounding massive – right on the two-inch tape, raw as hell. I just knew that once they did their post-production magic to everything, we would have some world-class sounding tracks on our hands.  But such was not the case.  Even to this day, the drum mix is actually my least favorite part of the debut record.

And this leads us to the most tragic punchline of all: Given all we went through to record those drum tracks, the fact that they wound up being such an inconsequential aspect of the mix is truly a devastating irony.

This is still, to this day, a tough pill for me to choke down.

VVIdebut
Still have a great deal of sentiment around this record…

The Big Why?

It’s no secret that Vinnie has been regarded through the years as somewhat of a “problem child” in the industry, both in his dealings with Kiss, and also with the Invasion. I can’t speak to the Kiss situation, for obvious reasons. I’ve heard a lot about those dealings from Vinnie, and a little from Gene and, well, who knows what the real truth is there.

As for this debut album studio nightmare, the story has been recounted numerous times through the years, and for those who already have an impression that Vinnie is some kind of incorrigible asshole, this story provides excellent kindling. Accordingly, I’ve had countless fans and friends through the years ask me, in all earnestness, “Is Vinnie Vincent really a dick?”

And my answer remains:  No. I would not characterize him that way at all.

So then how does one explain the certifiable studio insanity we all endured?  Surely, that was the work of a narcissistic madman, looking to impose his evil will on a young musician, perhaps as some sort of subconscious response to the “evil will” that was undoubtedly imposed upon him by Gene and Paul, right?

Truthfully… I never saw it that way, although I’m sure one could attempt to make some kind of case around this. I mean, he did seem pretty adamant that I change my name, in the same way that the Kiss guys were supposedly adamant that he change his. And apparently, the Kiss guys wielded a lot of control over him in the studio in terms of what and how he played, and this was what he appeared to be doing with me.

Still… I never felt like that was the case; even to this day.

How about some kind of OCD type vibe as an explanation? Nowadays, we think nothing of diagnosing folks with some form of this. But back then, it wasn’t largely talked about, and we were all far less familiar with it.  One could make a case that his behavior had all the classic symptoms.  It’s like the guy who can’t leave his house until he knows that all the soup cans are facing label-out in the pantry… and then he has trouble leaving the house without going back and checking on the soup cans multiple times before he actually leaves. Here, Vinnie appeared to have an obsession with the tracks being perfect against the machine, and I know there are maybe a few “behind the scenes” things that a few of us there were privy to that might support this case.

Still… while it might be a behavioral match, I’m less inclined to write it off as a “clinical” syndrome.

To me, it was an issue of greater complexity than any of us will ever know – including Vinnie himself, in my opinion – but here’s my best explanation:

The man was simply a perfectionist who was trying to create an oil painting with watercolors. He was wanting to hear these triggered, programmed-sounding Mutt Lange-style drums du jour, when we were set up to deliver more of a classic, raw, acoustic-drums-in-a-big-room-with-a-live-drummer-bashing kind of thing.  But… none of us really knew this at the time.

Consider the context.  Up until the early 80s, virtually everything had live drums on it.  Pop, rock, soul, even disco. But Vinnie was someone who liked all kinds of music, and I knew he listened to a lot of the standard pop stuff from the mid-80s, as well. (Forever a student of good songwriting, no matter the genre.) At the same time, Vinnie was a serious player, and he appreciated serious musicianship.  So I think Vinnie was having trouble finding a balance between these two opposing concepts: he loved the modern, rock-solid, big drum approach of either programmed or programmed-sounding drums; but he also loved a drummer who could play a bunch of crazy shit, as well.  So these sessions were largely about Vinnie trying to reconcile these two concepts… without really knowing he was trying to reconcile them.

To what extent we were all equipped to fully be able to reconcile these counter concepts – technology-wise or otherwise – will forever be unknown.  We certainly did the best we could with what we had.

As for me, if I’ve come across at any point in these writings as a whiny little bitch who felt victimized by a mean Mr. Vincent… hey, “don’t cry for me, Argentina.” I’m the better musician for having endured the rigors of those sessions, especially for my maiden voyage into major label recording.  I’ve had plenty of tough days of studio recording since, but nothing – and I mean nothing – compared to the first VVI record. And I regret nothing… well, except maybe that there was never any documentation of that original, untouched version of “I Wanna Be Your Victim.” But seriously, it’s all good.

BRandPatrick
A full-circle moment with Lita Ford band-mate, Patrick Kennison,

on Kiss Kruise V, Halloween night, 2015

A final question I get from time to time: Would I ever work with Vinnie Vincent again?  My answer? A few prerequisite inquiries aside… hell yes. Vinnie Vincent is a bad motherfucker, and truly bad motherfuckers are almost as extinct these days as the main man himself.

***********

Beyond this agonizing first album recording odyssey, the only other time I felt like things were really coming off the rails was when Vinnie thought Dana Strum, Mark Slaughter and I were pulling a band mutiny on him, and he had a shyster of a manager standing nearby, whispering in his ear, looking to run off with a big pot of money. This was all going down during our final tour; an apocalyptic summer of the most dysfunctional shenanigans I have ever heard of in the biz.

But that, my friends, is, of course… another story.

 

 ______________________

 In case you missed part one, here it is:

Welcome To Hell: Recording Drums for the First Vinnie Vincent Invasion Album – Part 1

*   *   *   *   *

And here’s the first memoir of this VVI series about my audition experience:

“Go West, Young Man!” – Reflections on the Vinnie Vincent Invasion audition, 30 Years Later

 

Thanks for reading…

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Stranger in a Strange Land

Here’s an excerpt from my book, Zentauria: My Season in the Warrior Utopia.  The book is essentially an 11-week documentation of life with a secretive utopian community, on a small island off the east coast of Africa.  I wrote it journal-style, with a conversational narrative, but I believe the themes, experiences and insights covered throughout might be useful – even inspiring – to others.

ZentauriaKindleThis entry is from the end of the first week, just as I’m getting settled into life “in the land of the enlightened.”

Alien

Day 7 – 3:33 AM (Guest Quarters)

I am seated at a massive mahogany desk in front of my laptop, surrounded by candles, African art, and the chatter of nearby monkeys. I’ve been staying here in these guest quarters for seven days now, and it already feels like home. It is situated at the end of a row of four other similar structures just outside the Mecca, amongst four acres of exquisite jungle terrain. Mine is called the Giza Hut for its Egyptian décor and various pyramid references, the most blatant of which is the Chamber: a windowless, airtight bedroom, located down a long flight of stairs near the kitchen, twenty-five feet underground. And when I turn off the lights down there and sink into that big, beautiful bed, I am back in the womb, suspended in complete darkness and silence. This is rapidly becoming the second place on the planet where I feel 100% comfortable… the other place that is truly me.

The rest of the Giza Hut is like a spacious and elegant Manhattan loft, with dark, hand-carved furnishings, plum carpet, and lush, textured walls, canvassed in deeply hued fabrics and paint. Windows are ample around here, with each one offering a unique “portrait” of the neighboring Zentauria terrain.

eastafricasunsetSometimes I’ll crack a few open either during the day or evening and enjoy the refreshing jasmine breezes. (For full immersion into fresh air and a meditative outdoor ambience, there’s a black spiral staircase in the media room that leads to a Zen garden-themed rooftop terrace.) At the same time, gorgeous Egyptian and Asian draperies are also plentiful, so if you’re in more of a reclusive mood, this place can “go dark” in a hurry.

There is an artful and unusual coexistence of technology and aesthetics here. Flat screen monitors share wall space with oil paintings; various electronics reside comfortably next to antiques and sculptures; kitchen appliances dissolve into colorful hand-woven baskets of fruit. It is the yin and the yang, the old and the new. You feel connected to the ancient, museum-like ambience here without being disconnected from all that is leading-edge and modern.

Speaking of ambience, I’ve heard rumblings about the rich history of this structure, which dates back to the early 18th century. I take them all to heart. There is a deeply-rooted energy in this place. The walls feel as if they’ve retained the vibrations of a million prayers by a thousand monks, soaked up over 300 years. It feels good just to be in here. And I have enjoyed my daily ritual of coming back “home,” lighting up the candles and incense, fixing some peppermint tea, putting on some Coltrane, and opening up a vein here at this desk. I remain easily amused… even 10,000 miles from home.

header_COLTRANE-CHURCHTrane!!!

As for how the other aspects of life in Zentauria are shaping up so far… damn! This place is quite literally like dying and going to heaven. I got all set up in my work space at the conservatory yesterday. It’s a striking two-room studio in a back hall near the percussion department. The drum room is spacious, comfortable, and decked out with everything I need to practice or demonstrate things, including a multimedia projection rig. They have several rows of chairs on hand near the back wall for master classes and what they call “public observation.”

Then my office/private quarters is set up in a space behind this room, and it is over the top: killer art, nice lamps and furniture, lots of interesting books and music, and rugs and draperies I could only describe as old-world royal. This place is like walking into the study of a medieval European castle. (They told me the desk in there was hand-carved ash from 16th century Italy.) There’s even a private “servant quarters” in the very back that’s set up like a studio apartment with basic furnishings, a full bathroom, and a kitchenette. I could feasibly stay there for days at a time, which I might be inclined to do if I didn’t love the Giza Hut so much. We’ll see.

These people are so generous, it’s mind-blowing. I have two main apprentices and one personal assistant. They are basically around to help out with anything I need, anytime, large or small. Incredibly, the two main guys, Logus and Tong (both percussion students), gathered a bunch of drums, cymbals, hardware, and Latin percussion instruments from a holding area at the conservatory and reconstructed my exact drum set-up, based on pictures and video from my website. I could not believe how accurate it was, right down to my intricate 10-foot pedal setup. At the same time, my assistant, Jarna Tszyu (last name pronounced “Zoo”), has been all over it. She’s a university student who takes this gig very seriously and has been invaluable in getting me all set up with day-to-day logistics like food, supplies, how commerce works (which is a whole other trippy story), and anything else I’ve needed to know.

Everything here in Zentauria seems to be some combination of practice and service. My service schedule, as discussed, will consist of a couple presentations during the week (in the form of an observation period, class, or lecture—my choice), and at least one solo concert appearance, where I can choose whatever kind of ensemble or format I want. Otherwise, I’m like a researcher, or an investigative reporter… free to cruise about the island, check things out, talk to whoever I want, then document all of my findings and observations.

Needless to say, things move very fast around here once conclusions are reached. Jin took me on Zentauria’s own PTV (public television) yesterday and introduced me to the community via an informal interview setting. He asked me a lot of questions about my background, my past lives and my meeting with Q, and what I found so compelling about Zentauria. He would often interject things to the camera in different languages (Chinese? Zentaurian?), but then quickly return back to English with a childlike smile, realizing that the dumb-ass American before him spoke only one language. They also rolled a few video clips of me playing drums and had me read a few excerpts of my writing from various manuscripts. It was basically an on-camera welcoming to the island. At times, I felt compelled to subtly bolster my résumé, so as to appear more worthy of being there. But they didn’t seem to give a shit about my social status or (minuscule) level of fame in the rest of the world. That’s clearly not why I’m here.

Jin also told everyone I had carte blanche to observe the community and document my experiences here. If I didn’t know any better, I would think the Council and the citizens of Zentauria were looking for me to document the particulars of this place through the filter of a westerner.

So… looks like it’s official: I am now an honorary Zentaurian.

_______________________

Check out our official Zentauria page here for ordering info and more excerpts.

Paperback and Kindle versions available direct from Amazon. Just click the link below:

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