My life turned into shit on an aeroplane heading for the sunny Philippines at the end of 2004, a holiday my family would take every Christmas – we’d visit family members, hang out on beaches, eat great food and chill out further than we thought possible.
The trip began fairly smoothly.
On the plane I informed Angie that I would ask her to marry me while on this vacation, and she said she would happily accept. Not the most romantic of proposals, granted, but the reason I wanted to inform her in advance was that I was harbouring a secret. I always promised that I would never lie to Angie, and in marriage there would definitely be no exception.
I admitted that I had been taking heroin for a number of months – about four.
She told me that the marriage and the relationship was over.
That was it. Over.
Two children, five years and thousands of precious moments down the pan, with the only reason being the intention to be honourable in the face of weakness. Being honest had caused unrest once again.
I began cold turkey (drug withdrawal) while on the aeroplane, forcing the air stewards to either make an emergency landing, or give me a bunch of blue pills and sit me in first class to sleep, away from the discomfort of the other passengers.
Heroin is a sneaky motherfucker of a drug and if you invite it into your life it’ll get you by the balls, no matter who you are.
I’d been living on my own for a few months in 2004, in a tiny flat around the corner from my children and lover. Angie and I had decided that a trial separation would bring us closer together. I could be close by and dependable. And I still loved her.
I had not had sex in a long time, and heroin effectively kills the libido. It removes your penis. Girls simply become eye candy, as opposed to the threat to one’s relationship that I had seen so many times while in a band.
It worked as a lust removal serum, as well as a means of obtaining a seemingly eternal youth. People would constantly tell me that I was looking better than I ever had. Girls began to find me ‘hot’. The effect of heroin was not only a social boost unlike anything I had ever known but a medical wonder (I had suffered from severe depression for years and tried every medicine invented, none of which had any effect whatsoever, resulting in a spell in hospital where they attempted to have me sectioned due to the untreatable nature of my illness), and it typically crept up on me until I found that I needed it every day to avoid a sickness similar to a common cold.
The day before we left for the Philippines, 17 December, my birthday, I quit the drug – no more euphoric daily relief, no more people telling me how ‘good I was looking’, no more fitting into old, tight clothes, no more escape from the desire to die every day.
I was going to tough it out, throw away my phone book full of drug dealers’ numbers and get healthy again, albeit with equal feelings of ugliness and misery. And on turning 40, with a celebratory birthday show to play that evening, performing with my favourite musicians in the whole of Britain, I re-entered reality.
Withdrawal lasted about 10 days after arriving in Manila, where I spent the entire period locked in a room in the expansive mansion that is Angie’s family’s abode.
Once the spell was broken, it was time to take the traditional family vacation to paradise – Boracay, the most beautiful, white-sanded, turquoise-skied place on earth. And I would spend the vacation with a woman who had booked me into a different hotel from the one that she would stay with my children and my mother.
The Wildhearts’ soundman Matt had recently come out to the Philippines to be a friend in a time when friendship would have medicinal properties, and he came to the beach with us and happily soaked up the sun while I, on the other hand, lay in bed with a brand new sickness. I had dined on oysters on the first evening there and suffered the worst case of food poisoning I had ever known, rendering me bedridden for the entire time while the world outside enjoyed paradise.
After I refused to allow a drip to be inserted into my arm by the local doctor, she put me on a course of medication. I couldn’t understand the practicality of a drip as I was running to the bathroom with the regularity of a clock and the speed of thought. Dragging an intravenous insert on a heavy stand was never going be a practical attachment.
The illness worsened until it looked likely that I would have to extend my stay on the island and be admitted into hospital as the fever rose to heights that food poisoning would rarely reach. I made it safely back to the mainland, puking and shitting all the way home. When we arrived back I was told that one should never eat oysters before a storm. The tsunami had just hit this end of the world, presumably rendering these bottom-feeding molluscs extremely poisonous.
Great information is only great when you find it out before it’s needed.Afterwards, it is merely annoying.
The rest of the month was spent sad and alone in my room while Angie slept in another bedroom. Lonely, sick and with almost suicidal boredom, I sat with my guitar and wrote. And wrote and wrote.
I had written an entire album of new material by the time I had to prepare to leave for London. In the meantime, I had begun working out with weights. Matt had begun by pushing my skinny, emaciated mess of a body into shape. Twice a day I would pay penance in a gym. It seemed appropriate punishment.
Though I was unaware of any physical improvement, the exercise was at least making me feel much more positive. I’ve never been able to put on weight or ‘buff up’, due to an unnaturally speedy metabolism, but daily exercise does keep one thin. And thin is always in when in the rock ‘n’ roll business. By New Year’s Eve I was starting to look and feel human again, and as the New Year celebrations went on all around, I sat with my mother and friends drinking wine, listening to guns being fired into the spectacular Manila sunset, a panoramic firework display loudly drowning out the silence between me and Angie, the mother of my children and love of my life.
And I couldn’t have been more unhappy.
With sour relations between us reaching a chilly peak, we arrived back in Britain. I dropped off Angie and the kids at their London flat, collected my boxed possessions from storage and drove to my parents’ house in Newcastle. I then dropped off my belongings and boarded the first plane to LA.
London had too many bad memories for me, and besides, I was unable to get a job due to the sinister obsession the UK music business has with pretty young boys. It would seem that 40 years old is beyond employable age in music in my country, and I ain’t pretty. Experience and talent effectively render one redundant in the field of rock music in Britain. So, fully intending to remain a faithful father and provider, I went looking for work in America and landed a job in a band called the Brides Of Destruction, an outfit put together by one of my heroes, Nikki Sixx of Motley Crue. My good friend Scott Sorry (formerly of Amen) had replaced Nikki after Motley Crue reformed and the Brides found themselves without a bass player. Scott had already told me about joining the band and how happy he was in his current position. Needing friendship and a job, I persuaded the Brides’ guitar player Tracii Guns (formerly of LA Guns) to let me tentatively join and see how the relationship would work out.
Staying with Tracii on the coast of Malibu Beach, the situation looked positive and the creative process of writing songs for the new Brides album went into overdrive. The band seemed on fire; the humour was warm and contagious and the new songs were rapidly spat out of the tiny rehearsal room near Venice Beach. It was the most productive I had been since leaving The Wildhearts at the beginning of the year – a move that proved as difficult as it did worthwhile.
I had grown frustrated at The Wildhearts’ lack of commercial success and the band had become a personal Groundhog Day for me. Constant complaints about lack of money combined with a refusal to assist had worn me down and I had been forced into a reluctant position of sole personality in the band. Along with co-managing our affairs and supplying the band with songs (which I would ultimately end up producing), I was personally expected to write for the website, answer the fan mail, map out the band’s future with lawyers and record companies, invest time and money in artwork and videos, and still find time to conduct every phone, radio, TV, internet or personal interview alone, and in the process become the public fall guy for all ills in the history of the band, which were many and ugly. The Wildhearts had become me, and I hated it.
I was tired of seeing only my face in photographs but group shots were impractical as our guitar player had decided to get married and live in Japan. Meanwhile, the bass player had made progress impossible due to his extreme lifestyle and would eventually leave, and the drummer would often offer help but never acted upon the promise. This combination of elements ultimately destroyed whatever passion I had for The Wildhearts. In fact, the mere mention of the band’s name would in time induce feelings of nausea. Maybe if everyone had thrown themselves into the running of the group as willingly as the procuring of drugs we may have been an unstoppable force.
Drug problems had ran like the proverbial vein through the life of The Wildhearts. We didn’t have any acquaintances around the band that didn’t use drugs – hard, soft or prescribed – in the 15 years of our career. We didn’t take more or less than the average factory worker but the use was dramatically over-documented in the press, turning the band into a poster group for hedonism, and with the position of lone spokesperson I was constantly tarnished with the brush of the entire band and crew for over a decade.
The truth was that I had never had a problem with heroin in the past. It made me vomit and fall asleep and there was nothing about either effect that I liked. I was a fan of cocaine. It made me chatty and lively and was the most popular narcotic in the circles that I had moved in since being a teenager.
Musicians and non-musicians alike would regularly be seen cramming themselves into toilets in every pub in London. For years I was unaware that the cistern of a toilet had another use than to snort lines of coke from. I couldn’t afford to put any more of the drug into my system than the average menial worker, such was our financial status, so contributing whatever money I had into a drug pool was the obvious method of getting high. And seeing as cocaine was the drug of choice for most of society, it was that or cannabis, which I have always hated. Pot makes you eat; coke makes you stop eating. And waking up with a mouth full of food is far less glamorous than imagining being the most intelligent and interesting person in a room full of overactive and extremely boring chatterboxes.
I had stumbled upon heroin long after it was cool to be a fucked-up teenaged rock star. I was 39 when it grabbed hold of me.
With drugs, for any touring band, goes alcohol, and The Wildhearts drank heroically, appearing afraid that each drink was the last. A bottle of Jack Daniel’s would last one round. Hangovers were daily excuses to get drunk again, and abuse of alcohol had made violence and aggression regular features. I hated any kind of fighting but would never fear it – therefore I gained a reputation as a psychopath, a charge that I can only partly confess to.
My childhood had been spoiled by domestic violence, as my mother had married a second husband who regularly beat her mercilessly, and I had spent enough of my youth in battered wives’ shelters shaking in fear as drunken men outside threatened to invade the only safe haven left to its inhabitants. I had been raised to believe that men were either drunken wife-beaters or policemen. I have hated men all my life, until recent years.
The sound of police radios squawking was a semi-permanent sound in our house, as neighbours would report the crying and shouting coming from next door. My mother would be regularly thrown out of the door into the street by our sadistic stepfather – often crying, always bloody – while this coward would take out the rest of his invective on the two small children indoors. I can’t remember a day where I wasn’t scared to be at home, but I can clearly recall Christmas Days without toys and not having enough food or money to buy clothes.
I was once thrown out of a school disco for being poorly dressed, and I was wearing clothes that had been bought that day (on an expired credit card) that I assumed were not only acceptable attire but quite dapper at that.
To say that my life as a child was an unhappy one would be a huge understatement. I experienced the kind of upbringing that would ultimately end in disaster, with my mother stabbing my father. I remember her running a huge kitchen knife through the fat stomach of the thug that had beaten her for years.
It was the night that Elvis Presley died.
My sister and I were in bed crying at the news on the radio, turned up to its maximum in a bid to drown out the sound of walkie-talkies in the passage. Suddenly our stepfather fell through the door, staggering against the wall with the blade of a knife protruding from his belly, blood spurting wildly in all directions. It was the biggest knife in the rack of knives that he would use in his job as a chef; it had been thrust into him all the way up to its hilt. There must have been 10 inches of steel inside his gut. And it still didn’t kill the cunt.
The night that Elvis died ended with my mother being taken away into custody, while my sister and I wondered at the amount of blood in our bedroom and chaos erupted in our street to the sound of police and ambulance sirens. But the ogre with the bad, drunken breath and the big, painful fists had been slain. And at last my sister and I had something to smile about.
Having experienced more violence than a child should ever endure, I had grown up immune and unimpressed by its constant presence in my life. What I thought was gentlemanly conduct would strike Angie as aggression. What I assumed to be the typical behaviour of a rock band would produce outrage and promote fear. I feel comfortable in situations that would terrify most men, and as a result alienate people with accuracy and regularity.
My intended wife would leave me, and my band would eventually turn into antisocial outcasts whose reputation I would wear like a contagion. And the responsibility lies in the mistreatment and ruination of a child at the hands of a violent alcoholic.
I despise violence with such a passion that I would gladly kill someone who used violence on a woman. Some paradox, huh?
On the plane to LA I sat cramped next to two large Geordies who had obviously never flown before. Everything was exciting for them on the flight. Even the free nuts promoted bellowing, joyous laughter and another attempt to engage me in conversation. After leaving a band I had loved for almost 15 years, a woman I had loved for five, children I had loved for four and two years and a drug I had loved for a few months, I had no love left. I was cold and indifferent to these gleeful northerners and asked to be relocated to another seat on the premise that I needed more leg room, which isn’t a lie as I have legs far longer than the average ‘cattle class’ passenger.
I was escorted to a seat next to the door that means you are expected to be a hero in the event of emergency, and which is therefore usually empty, next to a lovely Philippino lady called Hennie. She was reluctant to enter into conversation at first, but the ice was broken when I spilled a glass of red wine on her beige trousers. Most Philippinos are incredible at coping with difficult situations (I had previously vomited over the legs of my favourite Philippino lady, who exuded the sheer class of a mother of five that still looked 21) and as a result are cool as fuck. I love Philippinos – they take no shit yet are incredibly affectionate. I had managed to have two children with the least Philippino person I ever met from their country and now I was sitting next to a classic example of tolerance. Strange coincidence? It would get stranger.
LA had spat me out the last time I tried to live there, and this time I was determined it was going to be different. After feeling like a real member of the Brides Of Destruction, I set about getting a place to live and came across a ranch built upon an Indian reservation, complete with an energy vortex and swimming pool. The place was unlike any I had ever seen outside of a Charles Manson movie. In fact, the Manson family had actually lived on the property prior to the Sharon Tate murders. Axl Rose lived down the road. The place had been a country studio in the late ’50s, when the Reverend Fred’s family had taken over residency and seemed perfect for our rehearsal and recording needs.
After gaining the trust and respect of this huge, generous reverend, I moved the band’s gear into the large hunting lodge situated at the front of the property. Tracii had fallen out badly with the owner of the rehearsal studio that they currently occupied, and I was shocked at the reaction of the quite obviously ‘bad ass’ proprietor of the establishment when Tracii announced that we were relocating. I have always moved along in life and thought everyone understood the concept of inevitable change, but the studio owner’s violent accusation that Tracii had a reputation for burning bridges was almost as much of a surprise as the band’s gear being thrown into the street by a bunch of heavies.
It was late, I was tired and jetlagged, and it was about to rain. I phoned the Reverend Fred (when phoning Fred I would always announce “Hey, Fred, it’s Ginger”, courting good humour with the reference to Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers) and he allowed us to store our equipment at the ranch while we figured out a means of payment for the property. Tracii and I would split the cost in half; I would pay for the apartment section of the place while the band would fund the lodge.
It wasn’t long before things turned dark. The singer of the group, a hairdresser named London, was staying over one night. He and his girlfriend, another Philippino (Jesus, this was getting to be a theme), had been given my bed to sleep in. Out of the blue, London began complaining about the pressures of his life and how no one understood him or assisted him in his struggle. Considering that his woman was upstairs in my bed waiting for him while mine was thousands of miles away with my children, I took this petty whining with the grace of a rhino. I demanded that he vacate my room and property, otherwise I would personally, physically throw him out.
I was missing my life back home and was in no mood for musicians complaining about their lot. I had just left a band because of their childlike refusal to accept group responsibility, and here I was, on a ranch that I had found for the new group at a crucial time, listening to the bleatings of the singer about his problems. I was ready to kill someone. I furiously threw his bag out of the room, which connected with the doorframe and rebounded, breaking a finger on the ‘important’ hand of anyone that plays guitar. With a show looming, a broken finger and whining singer and homesickness from Hell, I reluctantly played the most awkward and uncomfortable gig of my life. I was starting to drink heavily again too.
While the band enjoyed the aftershow delights of Vinnie Paul’s strip bar (Vinnie is the brother of Dimebag Darrell, who was sadly killed by an insane Marine at a show recently, and is a fine man), I contemplated the fact that I was a violent drunk capable of serious damage. My life was fucked. Everything I had loved had been taken from me, I was in a band that was beginning to mirror the one I had just left and I had just lost control of my bowels and shit in my pants. This wasn’t good.
I asked to leave the band.
I would never start something I didn’t intend to finish, hence the cancellation of the proposed Wildhearts album, the termination of involvement in the Brides and the commitment and loyalty I had shown to Angie with the admission of my sins.
The depression I had always been a prisoner of came back to my life like a mallet to the head. How could things get worse? Oh, easily. The next event in my life was to be either a final straw or a reason to begin anew.
I was to be evicted from the ranch in which I was living.
Tracii had decided that he wanted me out of the house, and was withholding the rent that the Reverend Fred was in serious need of until my removal from the property was effected. While throwing me out onto the street seemed a strange reaction to my irrational behaviour, I couldn’t argue that I was becoming a liability and that all my past experiences had finally manifested themselves into a raging volcano of anger that threatened to erupt and destroy at any point. I was ready to kill Tracii, quite literally. It was obvious to everyone around me that I was going slowly insane with grief.
After emailing around to find record companies to fund a solo album, my life took a dramatic transition. I had reached the bottom of life. I was homeless, jobless, lonely and hungover, with a fucked-up finger and without a reason to carry on living.
This is the point in one’s life where there are two roads and one is a dead end. You can choose life or choose death; there is no third option. Something really huge was going to have to intervene in this comically awful situation.
Suddenly Hennie, the woman I had spilled a drink upon during my flight to LA, got in touch and accepted the offer of acting as my manager and making available to me her great social skills, knowledge of high finance and experience in organising the business of very important men.
On the very same day as Hennie contacted me, Ralph Jezzard, producer of The Wildhearts’ finest and most controversial album, Endless, Nameless, replied to my request to produce my new album. He prepared to make himself available and start recording immediately. He had a spare room in the house that he shared with his son George. And he lived in Texas, home of Willie Nelson, the oldest living hero of country and a huge inspiration in my life.
Ironically, the studio that The Wildhearts would have made our next album in was Willie Nelson’s own studio in Texas. I had regretted not meeting the great man himself far more than leaving the band behind.
Suddenly Willie Nelson’s studio got in contact with Ralph to inform him that they had received a cancellation and would be available immediately. I would have to immediately leave LA for Texas.
I would have a home with an English friend, an appointment with destiny in the shape of the great Willie Nelson and finally a chance to record the songs I had been writing that graphically documented my turbulent year.
The Reverend Fred drove me to the airport, where I would fly to Texas and begin work on the songs with Ralph. After finding the musicians needed to complete the work, the songs started to develop a life of their own. The music I had wrote was as honest as it was melodic and we both found ourselves falling in love with this brutally open-hearted collection of songs. The songs that had been written as depicting my terrible year fit together unlike any album I have ever been involved in. They are genuine stories of love, loss, struggle and desperation, and they shine in complete opposition to their themes.
There are country songs, gospel songs, rock ‘n’ roll songs, boogie songs, riff-laden songs and pop/punk/metal songs, and they span the gamut of musical history. It is without doubt my most personal collection and, I’m reliably informed, my best work to date. I am so proud of these tracks and can’t wait for you to hear them.
I am now sitting in Ralph’s house in San Antonio writing this, and tomorrow we begin recording the album, which will be tentatively titled Valor Del Corazon (‘Strength Of Heart’). The musicians are fantastic, the songs are wonderful and Ralph is a technical genius and a wonderful man. My life has been thrown around and reassembled.
I have found my home, and it is in travelling the world, experiencing every emotion and situation that a man can endure and then writing about my experiences in songs. I have been blessed with a talent that has proven more reliable than most people I have met, and it has guided me to safety in the middle of a tornado.
The people that have stayed with me are angels, the most incredible people any man could hope to meet. They inspire and comfort me, and always give me reason to carry on, even on the blackest days. The people I have left behind will be judged by God and not me. I have harnessed my aggression and channelled it into creativity. I live with the constant love of my two children and have therefore a heart filled to the brim – perfectly opposite to my own childhood, in fact.
In the end, all faith or religious beliefs are in direct reference to a person’s parents and childhood. I have seen all the bad that a man can see and I have not given in to the demons that have threatened to destroy me as a result.
I refuse to use physical violence unless someone hurts my loved ones, I will never leave my children, I will not judge nor condemn and I will face the future with a fearless heart and open mind.
Life is not knowing what will greet you each day but having the courage to tackle it regardless.
There is an old Chinese proverb that goes: “The glory is not in never failing, but in rising every time you fail.”
Take it on the chin and wear the scars with pride.