Randy Blythe’s Dark Days: A Memoir
What He Remembers of Deadly 2010 Czech ShowWe arrived back at the club just before our set. I recall walking quickly up the stairs and remembering there was one way in and out of the club. The only way to win in a single-entrance club situation is to go undetected, so on that night I was swift and stealthy, never even looking up from the floor as I wove my way uninterrupted through the crowd to the dressing room. The dressing room was a small room through a short hall crammed with equipment beside stage right (the left side of the stage from the audience's perspective). I put on my monkey suit (the stinking pair of shorts, dirty t-shirt, and smelly shoes I wear every night so my regular clothes won't get sweaty), did my vocal warm-up, and walked onto the stage from stage right. I had to walk carefully through the back line of amplifiers, guitar cabinets, and crawl over Chris's drum set until I reached stage left, where my guitarist Mark and I are stationed before a show and during our few short breaks. I remember it being a particularly difficult trip to stage left; there were piles of cables and guitars and pieces of drum hardware in my way. I could see why our crew had been so grouchy looking earlier in the day. The stage was tiny, and getting all that stuff up there and working had to have been quite a chore. It was extremely cramped, and as I heard our intro track begin to roll, Mark's guitar tech Drew told me, "Be careful – it's a small stage and it's really tight." I handed Drew my glasses for safekeeping, Chris counted in the first song, Mark walked on stage, and I followed shortly, just as I have on countless other nights.
What do I remember about the set we played that night? Not much. It was just a show like any of the hundreds of other shows my band has played in its career. It was loud. It was hot. I dumped a lot of water over my head to cool off. There were a lot of people dressed in black with long hair smashing into each other. We seemed to go over okay with the crowd. Nothing particularly spectacular or horrible occurred to my remembrance. Only a few things stood out when I searched my brain for any sort of clue.
I remember that right from the beginning of our set, there seemed to be a lot of people onstage. People who did not belong. People who were not in our band, crew or working as security. As a matter of fact, I don't remember there being security of any sort present in the area near the stage, because people kept on hopping up, bumping into me as they ran across the already crowded platform and leaping into the crowd. At every show my band plays, there is a signed contract with the promoter of the gig that states what lamb of god as an organization requires in order to put on a show. One of these requirements is trained security and a reliable barricade placed properly in front of the stage, both measures meant to ensure that audience members do not jump onstage and that both the band and audience are safe. Sometimes certain things are struck from a contract or rider depending on the promoter's budget for the show, but never, ever security or a barricade. Lamb of god draws a rowdy crowd, to put it mildly; if there was no security at our shows, then more than likely our equipment would get knocked over every night, we would get knocked off stage, and eventually someone (probably several someones) would get seriously hurt. On this night, not only was there seemingly no security present, but no real barricade. If there was one, it was flimsy and pushed up flush with the stage, because fans were leaning on the stage, and kept hitting my feet whenever I would prop one up on a monitor, irking me quite a bit and causing me to back away the two or three feet I had into Chris' drum kit. I began to wonder where in the hell security was, and couldn't wait for the gig to be over. This show was a disaster – the club sucked, my crew was pissed off, the stage was tiny and crowded with our equipment. A crowded stage is a dangerous stage for me, because I hop all over the place constantly when we play, despite not seeing well because of my lack of glasses and the stage lights that constantly glare into your eyes. The fans punching my feet and running around on stage made it even worse, and as the nonexistent security did absolutely nothing to stop them, I began to get very annoyed.
I was particularly annoyed with one young blond-haired fan who jumped onto the stage again and again, trying to put his arms around me as I tried to sing. I watched him fly into the audience at one point and hit the floor pretty hard, only to reappear on stage not too long after. He had already made two appearances prior to this instance, and despite my pointing at him, shaking my head to communicate my displeasure, here he was again. I decided at this point I had had about enough of his shenanigans, figured that he was drunk or crazy, and decided to teach him a lesson. As he came toward me, I reached out with my left arm around his neck, slipped my hip behind his, and took us both to the ground. Once we were on the ground, I wrapped one of his legs with my left leg in what my middle school wrestling coach would have called a half-grapevine, then straightened up a bit and grabbed him around his throat with my left hand. I didn't choke him, but applied enough pressure to let him know I meant business, and in between singing lyrics into the mic I had kept in my right hand the whole time, I began to yell something to effect of "No! No more, you asshole!" into his face. I suppose the best analogy of this whole physical confrontation would be that of a mother dog when she puts one of her pups on its back with her mouth and growls at it – Hey, knock it off kid. I'm serious.
This young man apparently didn't think I was serious, because he began to grin and raise his hands at me in the horns (the clenched thumb and raised index and pinky finger salute you see audience members doing at all rock concerts now), almost giggling beneath me. I must admit, this slightly pissed me off – I was trying to work, he seemed to think that it was his right to come up and drunkenly disrupt our performance, and now the little shit seemed to be smirking at me. I held my temper in check though, didn't throttle the grin off his lips, and just continued singing and yelling "No more!" in his face until he decided he had had about enough of being on his back and tried to get up.
Oh, no. That wasn't about to happen. You wanted to be up here so badly, you little fucker, I thought, and now here you are. With ME. You'll leave when I decide it's time for you to leave. He began to look a bit panicked, and started to struggle some more to get up, so I took my hand off his throat, wrapped my left arm around his neck and pressed my whole body down on him. I gave up yelling "No" at him, and pressed the microphone into his face as I kept screaming the lyrics into it. This really seemed to freak him out – he couldn't move and I was screaming into his face from just inches away. I held him there until he looked truly shook up, then I let him go. I figured I had made my point and he would not be returning to the stage. I do not remember him leaving the stage, but I do remember my bassist John looking at me and saying, "That was fucking awesome."
That is the last truly clear memory I have from the stage that night. My next recollection is hazy, and doubtlessly colored by repeated viewings of video of the show that night, countless rereading of the specific wording of the charge laid against me, and examining in great detail the many conflicting testimonials witnesses gave concerning that evening's events. I remember someone I believed to be my friend whom I had just so sternly warned against coming onstage, a young male with blond hair, flying off the stage in front of me, disappearing into the crowd, then getting up holding their head like it hurt. I believe, but am in no way 100 percent certain, that I pushed this person from the stage, and that it would have been from about the middle of the stage. I remember this person getting up looking shaken and me looking into the audience to see if he was okay. I remember several audience members giving me the thumbs-up sign, as if to say, "He's fine, keep going." I remember this young man shaking his head briefly as if he was not okay, then proceeding to briefly headbang again as if nothing had happened before wandering back into the crowd. This gave me a moment's concern, but I supposed that he was fine, and we continued to play. No one told us otherwise.
I don't remember the end of the show, but I do remember very clearly what happened next. I walked offstage and into the dressing room, and my cell phone began to ring almost immediately. I looked and saw it was lamb of god's publicist, Maria Ferrero, ringing me. I didn't answer, because after paying a few mammoth phone bills as the result of Euro touring, I had learned my very costly lesson. I remember wondering what Maria was doing calling, as she never does when we are overseas – she knows better. The phone rang again – it was Maria once again. This time I answered, because I figured it was something important if she was repeatedly calling me in Europe.
"Hey Maria, what's up?" I asked.
"Randy, Paul's dead," she said.
"What?" I asked. "Paul who?"
"Paul Gray. Paul from Slipknot."
"Fuck. In De Moines?" I asked.
"That's what I'm hearing. I just didn't want you to have to find out by reading about it on the Internet."
"Thanks, Maria. I gotta make some calls. Bye."
Paul Gray was a friend of mine from Iowa who played bass in the multiple-platinum selling nine-member band of masked lunatics, Slipknot. Lamb of god had toured with Slipknot a few times, starting in 2004 on OZZfest, a roving multiple-band package ordeal that travels around the United States in the summertime spreading mayhem everywhere it touches down. Paul and I had met before at a club gig lamb of god did in Iowa, but we really bonded the summer of 2004, stealing golf carts from the venues we played, joking around, and talking about punk rock bands. We went on to have our fair share of good times in the years after that, from raging nightly backstage during a nine-week tour our bands did together, to bumping into each other at different festival gigs throughout the world. The last time I saw him alive, he had come to see us in Des Moines, despite the fact that he had a flight in a few hours to Europe to start a tour. He was a big-hearted man; once I stayed at his house in Des Moines with my other band at the time, Halo of Locusts, when we played a gig in his home city. Paul wasn't even in Des Moines at the time, he was on tour, but when I called to see if he was in town, he insisted that we stay at his house and called a friend with keys to his house and had her open it up for us. Paul and I had talked several times about a musical project we wanted to do, and had figured out a few people we would cherry pick from other bands to make something unique and entirely different from Slipknot and lamb of god. I still have the musical ideas in my head, but I haven't been able to think of anyone that could fill his shoes. Maybe I never will, because he was a special guy. I miss him dearly.
After I hung up with Maria, I told my bandmates and crew about Paul, and spent the rest of the evening mostly out by our bus texting with various friends back home about his death. I decided to take my first drink of the day and did a shot or two of Jagermeister in his honor (because what makes more sense to an already depressed alcoholic when someone dies than to ingest a depressant?), then went to bed. We left sometime around three or four a.m.
The next day was spent riding the bus to Poland. I got stinking drunk and cried, listening to Slipknot on my iPod and writing bad lyrics in a notebook. I was trying to hear Paul's voice one last time in his bass lines, but all that was left was his music. I was so sad that he was dead, that I would never get to speak to my friend again in this life; even as I sped toward my own doom in a shot glass full of black German cough syrup.
That is truly all I remember of May 24, 2010. I only remember that much because it was our first time in Prague, security was so bad I had to wrestle some kid to the ground onstage, and Paul Gray died. It was a bad day, but I wish I could remember more of it. I wish I could remember every second. Then maybe I would have had some real answers to all the impossible questions that were about to be asked of me.
From Dark Days: A Memoir by D. Randall Blythe. Reprinted courtesy of Da Capo Press.
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