It’s hot and the floor is crowded and nothing is going as planned. Sweat and spotlights blind your eyes and the air is charged with chaos. You soldier on and pray for the edges to hold. Some idiot climbs onstage. Then another from the side and you don’t know if they’re friendly, angry, drunk, high or about to open fire. There is no security so you shove and yell knowing that calm words and easy actions have no effect here. Pretty much anyone who works live shows has been in this situation. You just do the best you can in the moment. You don’t want anyone to get hurt.
At a 2010 Lamb of God show in the Czech Republic, a young man rushed the stage. Lead singer Randy Blythe, in an effort to protect self and fellow bandmates, pushed him back. The kid fell to the floor, hit his head and sometime later died. Blythe never knew until he was arrested for manslaughter in Prague.
For the first time, he discusses the harrowing details of his arrest, incarceration and trial in the new memoir, Dark Days.
We caught up with the Lamb of God frontman to talk prison, algebra and . . . Cinderella?
I just got the advance of your book a few days ago and didn’t think I’d have time to read much before we talked but I’m almost through. It’s an incredibly compelling story.
Thank you for that, brother. It does me good to hear.
I’ve been in American jails but never an American prison. Plenty of drunk tanks over the years. But I’ve talked to a lot of guys who’ve been to prison before and since my arrest. It’s not the most brutal prison in the world but Pankrac was not fit for human habitation.
What was the lowest point?
I was arrested and spent three nights in jail and then they sent me off to Pankrac prison. The judge had granted me bail and my band borrowed nearly a quarter million dollars from our record label. My lawyers were telling me that the money was paid and I should be let out soon. So I had it in my mind that I was going home, I’m going to see my wife and eat something other than soup . . . but the Czech legal system doesn’t work the same. The prosecuting attorney appealed bail and he waited until a Friday so I’d have to stay the weekend. So emotionally that was the lowest moment. After that I learned my lesson. We paid almost another quarter million in bail and it was all appealed again but I tried hard not to think about it. Building your hopes up and having them dashed is no good. It’s easier to accept the reality of your situation and stay in the moment. And that’s a philosophy I learned from being sober. When I was drinking I was always thinking about how I either screwed up in the past or how things would be better tomorrow. Tomorrow never comes, man. I have to live right now. The more I stay in the present, the better I do.
What was the most difficult part of writing this book?
Just sitting down and facing the blank page. The story was already there and you think the words are going to flow but that’s not what happens. I’ve never done so much housework in my life! I don’t enjoy washing windows or doing dishes but my man, sometimes it would take me three or four hours to sit down and actually write. But I wanted to tell it artfully, in an engrossing way that might even help some people. Not in a preachy way, but I think my experience has some value. It’s like the music we do, if someone says a song helped them, then perfect — I did my job.
(laughs) Why do you ask?
Because your book is so well-crafted. I think you allude to college in the writing? I wasn’t sure.
I did major in English. I didn’t graduate but I was actually in college for theater first because I went to a school for the arts. They accepted me in theater because I was kind of a clown. Once I got to college I figured out I wasn’t really into theater but I liked to read a lot so I changed my major to English. I read a lot when I was a kid.
Why didn’t you graduate?
I loved English lit and psychology but I hated math. I’m an idiot in math.
Math killed me too.
My dad’s a genius, an electrical engineer and he holds some patents from stuff he invented in the Air Force that’s still used in airplanes today. But I didn’t get the mathematical brain. I don’t care what z equals. I think I’m only about six credit hours away from an English degree.
You ever think about going back?
Well, it’s not like that degree is going to rocket me into the workplace. People are like, “Dude! You can teach!” I don’t have the patience to teach.
Were you working on a book before your arrest?
Oh, of course, I’ve wanted to write a book for years. I practiced being a writer my entire drinking career. Like every other stereotypical wannabe writer guy, I enjoyed Hemingway and Bukowski and Hunter S. Thompson because these were manly dudes, right? They drank and did drugs and womanized and fought, so I did everything all the great writers I liked did. I mastered the lifestyle. Except for writing.
I stopped drinking! (laughs) I mean, there’s no magic formula. I drank for twenty-two years and one day I woke up with a really bad hangover. I had been trying to quit drinking for about four years at that point and was really depressed about it. I would come home from tour and not drink around my wife because she’d had enough years before. Then I’d leave and not get through security at Richmond International Airport before I was at the bar. Finally one morning I woke up and thought, “I can’t take this anymore.” Nothing was really wrong in my life but I was miserable. I knew I had to try something else.
How long had you been sober before prison?
Almost two years.
You write about hitting your knees that first day in Pankrac and praying for God to give you strength. What was the role of spirituality in getting you through?
Immense. I use the term God loosely. I don’t adhere to any specific religion but I do believe in the Spirit of the Universe, so to speak. I call it God. I’m not preaching or beating anyone over the head with religion or even spirituality but it was a great source of comfort to me to believe that no matter what happens, things are going to be okay. I do believe in God and I believe he’s got my back, as long as I live correctly and don’t turn away from that. I prayed a lot in prison and not for any specific outcome. I prayed, “God, whatever you are, help me get through this with dignity.”
Loved the part about your gratitude list. What’s on it today?
Oh man, I’m grateful that I have a good mechanic who doesn’t rip me off and that I’m supporting a family-owned business. I’m thankful that I’ve got money in my pocket to go get a coffee soon as we get done. And after that, I’m walking to a bookstore owned by a friend of mine who just got in a box of my books. I’m going to sign my first box of books! I’m grateful to be talking to you and doing press. A lot of books get written that never get attention. I’ve got food to eat, a roof over my head and clothes to wear. Man, I’m thankful for that. I’ve been plenty of places where people don’t have those things. And I’m grateful that my wife cut the yard before I got home from tour three days ago! Because it’s hot outside today. But I’m grateful for that too, that it’s not raining.
And I’m grateful that I’m going to call my grandmother later tonight. She’s still with us in her nineties and I love her to death.
I’m not always grateful, man. I can be an irritable grump sometimes. But I find if I make a practice of listing the things I am grateful for everyday then I don’t walk around acting like someone peed in my Cheerios. Life ain’t that bad.
One last off-the-wall question.
I heard when you met your old manager, Larry Mazar, you guys played “Shake Me” by Cinderella and that you were into hair metal?
Um… I don’t remember that but I was probably drunk then. But yeah, Larry used to manage Cinderella and he told us some great stories. I even have an old Cinderella t-shirt. I wouldn’t say I was a hair metal fan but I did like Cinderella a lot. Tom Keifer’s voice had a rough edge that was really great. Like blues, you know?
I played on a ZZ Top tribute with Keifer. He’s a bluesy guy, no doubt.
Wow, yeah. Tell him I said hello. Love that record, what was it “Night Songs”?