D. RANDALL BLYTHE – Still Echoes
On May 24th, 2010, a 19-year-old fan named Daniel Nosek rushed the stage during a concert by Richmond, Virginia-based metal group Lamb Of God. The concert in question took place in Prague, Czech Republic, vocalist Randy Blythe pushing the fan away in order to protect himself. Unbeknownst to the ensemble, the young man hit his head on the floor when he fell, and later succumbed to his injuries.
Two years later on June 27th, 2012, Lamb In God arrived in Prague to perform once more. Randy was arrested at the airport, and incarcerated in Pankrác Prison on suspicion of manslaughter, charges which carried a prison term of five to ten years. He was released on bail 37 days later to await trial. The trial began on February 4th, 2013, concluding on March 5th following a five-day trial. Randy was ultimately acquitted, and has since opted to document the whole saga in book format. The resultant effort is Dark Days, which arrived in July 2015.
“The decision to document what went on in a book…,” Randy ponders. “While I was going through the whole process, even from the beginning – while I was still in Prague, in prison – I thought from time to time ‘Man, this is crazy. This’ll make a book, a hell of a story.’ I even had a fan write me a letter in prison, and he was like ‘Dude, this is gonna make an awesome book.’ When I got out and everything was done and I was exonerated though, the last thing I wanted to do was write a book about the whole thing.
“My booking agent Tim (Borror) was calling me and leaving me messages, like ‘Hey, dude. I’ve got this literary agent who wants to talk to you.’ I blew off the calls from my booking agent for as long as I could, until I started feeling guilty because he’s my friend. It was getting to the point of rudeness, because I wouldn’t call him back. I finally called him, and said ‘What is it, dude?’ He was like ‘Look, will you talk to this literary agent?,’ and I was like ‘Yes, but man… I don’t wanna write about Prague.’ That’s all a literary agent would want to talk to me about at the time.
“I called the agent – this guy named Marc Gerald – and I gave my whole spiel. I was like ‘Look, I think there’s some stuff that could be helpful to people. My experience might help some people, and I think I can tell it well. I’m a good enough writer, but I’m just not ready. I have this journal that I kept, and I have these really sharp, visceral memories of the whole situation, and I’ll write about it one day. One day I’ll write about it. I remember everything; I have these memories.’
“Mark spoke to me, and said ‘Yeah, but those memories are gonna fade.’ From going through a trial where so much of it was hearsay and so much of it was dependent upon conflicting testimonies, and where people had vastly different memories of what happened, I realised that the memory is a tricky thing. The human memory is a very fallible thing, so I was like ‘You know, you’re right. My memories are gonna fade, so I better get ’em down while I have ’em.’ So yeah. It was from there that I decided that if I was gonna write it, I was gonna write it now while it’s still fresh in my mind.”
Journal entries were invaluable as a reference source. “The journal was an immense, immense help in writing the book,” the frontman concurs. “I’m not a disciplined journal writer outside of prison (laughs), but I was pretty disciplined in prison because there was nothing else to do. I’m so glad I was disciplined in there though, because I’ve tried to keep a journal before. Usually at the beginning of a tour, I’ll start writing, and then I’ll get distracted by something and it’ll fall to the wayside. Luckily… There was nothing lucky about my situation, but luckily the prison conditions were conducive to writing in a journal.
“When I sat down and started looking at the structure of this book, which of course was provided to me by my experience, I didn’t have to think ‘What happens next?’ I knew what would happen next, because I lived it. When I’d sit down and think about the structure, I’d look through the journal. Even with it being fairly recent, I’d have to re-read things and think ‘Wait… What am I writing about here? I thought this happened in a different order.’ In fact, because I had written it that very day, it happened then. So, it was a huge help in keeping things clear, and clarifying the whole situation – especially the chronological order, the way things happened.”
Dark Days chronicles Randy’s incarceration in Pankrác Prison and so forth of course, but that would arguably be too simple a description. “I appreciate you saying that, because I feel that that would be too simple a description,” he judges. “The story of me going to Prague – the plot of it all – that’s the mechanics that carried the book forward. That’s the vehicle I used to carry sort of… I suppose the point I want to get across, the sort of message I want to get across, which is one of personal accountability. Suppose you were to take the whole Prague thing out of the equation and just put it in a one-minute elevator pitch or something though, I guess I would describe the book as the story of someone trying to do the right thing in very scary circumstances and succeeding.”
The ‘very scary circumstances’ the singer encountered were comprised of a wide variety of difficult topics, although which was the most difficult is difficult to pinpoint. “I’m not sure,” he muses. “Dude, there were various parts of everything that was difficult to write about. Within certain chapters, there were things that were hard to write about, and within the same chapter, there was stuff that was really funny. I can’t really nail it down to one particular part.”
Chapter 16 documents the loss of Randy’s baby daughter, seven hours following birth, the event taking place when the man was roughly 30 years of age. Of Dark Days’ various chapters, the aforementioned chapter would rank high among a list of difficult topics. “That was hard to write, but as I wrote in the book, that’s something I don’t really care to discuss with anyone,” he stresses. “I put that in the book on purpose. So yeah, that was hard to write about. Even that though, I don’t know if that was the most difficult thing to write about. The whole situation was really messed up – the whole situation. It’s hard to write about seeing…
“I wrote about the court case, how the father of this young man who’s dead walked in there. I had to remember how that made me feel; seeing the father of a young man that I was accused of killing. That was hard to write, man. It was a dark place to go back to. That was one part, but there was a lot of difficult things. I can’t give you a pat answer, and say ‘This section was the most difficult.’”
Albeit incarcerated in a foreign prison for 37 days, the musician’s sobriety as a recovering alcoholic was never troubled. “No,” he states. “Never. When I got sober… And I know some people on the outside were worried about that. They were like ‘Oh, he’s gonna go do this’ and ‘He’s gonna start drinking again,’ but it was the last thing on my mind, dude. Just like being in a band and touring in a tour bus, and being on a tour around a bunch of drunk people all the time, people are like ‘Isn’t that hard? Isn’t that hard for you to be around all of that stuff?’ I’m like ‘No.’ It doesn’t tempt me. It makes me not want it even more, because I see what it is. It bums me out, but no, man. I could’ve got screwed up out in prison; if you can’t find drugs out in prison, you aren’t a very good prisoner (laughs). You aren’t gonna last long there if you don’t know what’s going on, so no. I had been sober for a couple of years by the time I went to prison. It didn’t want to make me drink, or do drugs, or anything.”
If there was a time a recovering alcoholic would want to drink and take drugs… “Let me ask you a question,” Randy responds, cutting the comment short. “Are you a recovering alcoholic?”
The answer to that question would be ‘No.’ “Then you have zero chance of understanding the mind of the alcoholic, and the reality of the alcoholic,” the lyricist argues. “The alcoholic who has stopped drinking will sound a different way. There’s no way you can put yourself in my shoes or in any other person’s shoes, because you don’t understand what it is to be completely insane (laughs)… For a long time, and then come to your senses. You’re looking at things as if – when you’re telling me this – there was ever a time when a recovering alcoholic might want to? That’s your perception.
“For me – and I’ll tell you this – I don’t worry about trouble, like me drinking again because I go through something tough. I don’t worry about that at all. What I worry about is me getting complacent, and me going out to dinner with my friends. That someone’s wife is drinking one beer, and it looks good, and I’m like ‘Oh, I’d just like to have one beer like a normal person?’ You know what I mean? That’s how sneakily it’ll get to me – stress isn’t gonna do it. I already know if there’s trouble, that my old coping mechanism was alcohol. That doesn’t exist with me any more, but that doesn’t mean my alcoholism isn’t sneaky. That doesn’t mean that it’s not gonna sneak around the back door, so I worry more about the good times than the bad times. I know that that doesn’t make any sense to someone who isn’t an alcoholic, because it can’t. Because you’re not one of us (laughs).”
For which yours truly is glad. “I’m glad you’re not, either,” Randy seconds. “I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. It’s not a cool thing. It’s not glamorous, it’s not something to aspire to. When they’re little, no-one says ‘I wanna grow up and be an alcoholic, and fuck my life all up (laughs).’ At least nobody I know.”
Dark Days touches upon the writer’s faith in God, although the sentiment isn’t hammered home. “It was an immense, immense source of help, and I wrote a chapter,” he credits. “I was talking to my publicist earlier at lunch today, from the press company. I wrote a whole chapter, because I mention a belief in God, or a higher power, or a spirit of the universe, or something. I use the word ‘God’ as a matter of convenience, right? Just as something to describe something that I believe, but cannot perceive. It’s too big for me to really understand, but I wrote a whole chapter in which there’s a question-and-answer with God – in which God asks me the questions (laughs).
“It’s of course very irreverent and sort of facetious, but it was to explain my relationship with what I believe to be a higher being, higher power, the true spirit of the universe – whatever you wanna call it. Regrettably, there wasn’t enough room in the book, and it didn’t fit the flow. Yeah though, my relationship with what I call God was critical to me in remaining a positive person through the whole situation.”
Prosecuting attorney Vladimír Mužík fell asleep at one point during the manslaughter trial, something that can potentially challenge one’s positivity. Whether one becomes sadder or angrier in such circumstances is anyone’s guess. “A mixture of the two – it wasn’t an A or B,” Randy offers. “It was a lot of disbelief in how things were being handled, because also, I tried my best to just deal with each situation as it occurred and take it for what it is. Getting all mad and resentful and angry over the way another human being acts is futile, because people are never, ever gonna act the way you want them to act. That’s only gonna lead to disappointment. Yeah, it’s offensive to me that this dude was falling asleep (laughs)… In the trial, and he’s the prosecuting attorney, and he wants to put me in prison for ten fucking years. Yeah, it’s offensive to me and it irritated me, but I couldn’t let it get to me so much. I had to concentrate on the job at hand.”
Fighting a court case in a foreign land “was a huge problem,” the vocalist laughs. “You imagine going to do a trial, and someone speaks a different language. It was a huge problem, and the translation of everything that happened during the trial… I’m not sure of half of what was said at that trial because the translator would have to translate, and I’d have to ask her for clarification. While she was clarifying, whatever they were saying was still going on, so we were missing things. It was a big problem, but I think I got my point across and my lawyers did their job well enough. I don’t know how to quantify that; I can’t say that on a scale of one to ten, it was a seven problem or anything. It was a problem, though. It didn’t make it any easier, I can tell you that much.”
The language barrier caused Randy’s incarceration at Pankrác Prison to be an even lonelier experience, perhaps. “Yeah, yeah,” he agrees. “It wasn’t a lot of fun.”
To pass the time, the frontman read books like War And Peace (Leo Tolstoy, 1869), The Hobbit (J.R.R. Tolkien, 1937) and The Complete Short Stories Of Ernest Hemingway (1987), and Letters And Papers From Prison (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 1997). “I read constantly, as soon as I could get my hands on books, and I listed a bunch of them that I read,” he tells. “Books weren’t immediately available to me at all, though. It wasn’t until my lawyer brought me a few books that he had been given, and then eventually I got a box of books when my wife came to visit me briefly. I didn’t have any English books for a good while, though.”
Previous to Dark Days, Randy’s arrest on suspicion of manslaughter received extensive media coverage. “It was completely fucked all to hell,” he chuckles. “Metal websites and stuff were generally relying – through no fault of their own – on Google translations of Czech newspaper articles. So no, it wasn’t fucking accurate at all. That’s why I had to write a 500 page book about it. I don’t know what the Czech media said much, except for the tabloid stuff. Nobody in America, or England, or whatever… The English language press, they didn’t really understand what was going on, because nobody really had a man on the ground writing bespoke text.
“The one guy who provided really accurate English coverage was a guy named Jonathan Crane, who’s an English journalist living in Prague. He wrote for The Prague Post, which is an English language paper there. He wrote what he could; he was a wonderful person who did a really good job with the information that he had, but he was just one person. Other than that, it was just a bunch of not really much coverage at all. You call Google translations coverage (laughs)? It’s not much.”
Many within the metal community were worried for the singer at the time. “Of course there was a lot of support, but as far as accuracy or anything, there was no hope of that,” he laughs. “It’s hard to accurately cover things when you don’t have an accurate source – it’s really hard. A couple of websites tried their best to sort of figure things out, and I’ve talked to some of these guys who did the websites. I was talking to Metal Injection last night, and they were talking about how difficult it was to figure out what the fuck was going on. That’s the overall consensus from people I knew who write for these things. They’re like ‘We didn’t know what was going on,’ and I’m like ‘Welcome to the club.’ I didn’t know what was going on (laughs). My family didn’t know what was going on; nobody knew what was going on. It was all happening in Czech. It was just a very difficult situation.”
Many observers might speculate that the whole ordeal has changed the musician, although this isn’t the case. “It hasn’t changed me a bit,” he reckons. “It’s put a little more sadness in my life. That’s about it, but as far as a human being? No, it hasn’t changed me. I changed when I got sober, and all I did was just try to do the right thing.”
Although naturally scared at the time, Randy seems pretty level-headed in his account of what occurred. “I learnt that, dude,” he shares. “It’s not like I had lived this luxurious life of comfort and stuff, and then all of a sudden, bam, I was slapped into prison. I’ve had kind of a crazy life in a lot of different ways. I just barely touched on little bits of that in the book. I was kind of prepared for uncomfortable circumstances (laughs). Like I said, I had experienced a change before. There was a big change in my life, and I wrote about this in the book at the very end. A big change occurred in me long before I ever went to prison. Everything else is just following the correct operating procedure to me.”
‘The correct operating procedure’ is equally applied towards onstage performances, for which the wordsmith’s mindset hasn’t been affected. “Everything is the same, dude,” he underlines. “We have contractual obligations that state the need for security, and a properly placed barricade, and trained security placed in the correct positions. The tour manager had to talk to the owner of this club, and say ‘Do you have the security?’ ‘Yes.’ The promoter: ‘Yes, yes…’ When we got onstage, there was nothing there. This was a particularly bad show, where for the first time in years they didn’t follow their contractual obligations. We already had preventative measures in place to stop this. It’s not like before it was like this free-for-all, so everybody could run onstage.
“No. We don’t want you on our stage, so we have preventative measures to stop that. Regrettably, the people whose job it was to provide that didn’t do their fucking job. Since then, it’s been a matter of we’re really double-checking these people to make sure that they’re gonna say what they’re gonna do, but we’d never had that problem before. It was just an unfortunate situation, but no, nothing has changed. We do everything the same way, because we didn’t do anything wrong in the first fucking place.”
Nevertheless, the incident has strengthened Randy’s resolve. “I don’t know,” he ruminates. “I definitely look in front of the stage more now, whereas before, I took for granted what would be there would be there because everybody in the past had fulfilled their contractual obligations. Now, I definitely will look a little bit more just to double-check these people have done what they said they would do, but it hasn’t really changed anything dude. We do what we do (laughs). We follow the correct operating procedures. This was just a fuck up.”
The vocalist intends to expand his bibliography. “I’m gonna write more books, but it definitely won’t be non-fiction, and it definitely won’t involve anything bad happening to me or anyone else I know, because I’m over it,” he reveals. “I would like to write some fiction, and if something bad happened to someone, it’d be to a fictional character. I could laugh at it, and not sit there and relive it as I write it for a year. I’ve had about enough of that (laughs).”
In the musical sphere, seventh Lamb Of God studio affair VII: Sturm Und Drang arrives later in July. “It’s cool,” Randy recommends. “It has nothing to do with that whole Prague situation except for two songs that I wrote while I was in prison (‘512’ and ‘Still Echoes’), so it’s not a prison record. I’m not a gangster rapper (laughs). Other than that, it’s a good record. I think it’s the most well-balanced one we’ve done in a while. I hope you all enjoy it.”
Dark Days was released on July 10th, 2015 in the United Kingdom and subsequently on the 15th in North America, all via Da Capo Press.
Interview published in July 2015.
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