It’s time I wrote this one down.
I kept diaries when growing up, attending boarding school in the bush, living for a year up a mountain in Japan, and for all the tours I did. When I moved to England in 2005 (a wrong move if ever there was one) I left all my wordly possessions for safekeeping in a location. While living away, that location got flooded and I lost thousands of hours of writing and anecdotes. My remaining items were handed back to me in a couple of plastic bags to ensure the mildewy moistness didn’t stink everything out.
The point being, I’m now going to recollect a savage story from nearly ten years ago without any notes. My memory was impaired by alcohol, depression, and the cumulative brain-damage you collect from headbanging at over 300bpm. I was triple-retarded by that point of the tour, and I’m sure that other people might remember it all differently, but here’s my attempt at recalling it and setting it down for posterity before more time passes.
Berzerkers’ drummer Gary broke his foot on tour in the US in 2003, one week from the end of tour. Or rather, he had his foot broken for him. We were on tour with Nile, Napalm Death, Strapping Young Lad, and Dark Tranquility. We were fast-rising at that point. Our gig was better than ever. Kerrang had flown out some people to do a feature on us a couple of weeks beforehand. We were off to Europe in two weeks to do a headline tour. All the doors were opening and the stars were aligning. We were starting to reap the rewards of five years of work.
Then Gary broke his foot, and the band hit an extended layoff period from which it never recovered. We lost our momentum and missed the window of industry interest and could never regain it again. There was always a modicum of interest there, but there was definitely a ceiling set in place that we couldn’t bust through. So it’s safe to say that this was the night that changed the future of the band.
The gig was in Poughkeepsie, NY. That town could be bought by a billionaire and everything recreated in gold and diamonds, but to my mind it is and forever shall be a shithole. Our motorhome was a little more crowded than usual. Our tour manager Akim had only recently broken up with his long-term girlfriend and he was finding solace in strippers. He’d bought two along, I think he was dating one of them. There was a good and bad side to this. It was good to have some caring, nuturing girls riding around with us, especially hot girls. It was bad to wake up and see a mystery blanket pumping rhythmically opposite me, then have someones panting flushed face pop out from underneath it mid-orgasm.
We arrived at the club and received the usual warning you get at so many venues in the US: “Don’t go down the street by yourself”. This was the first place where I didn’t feel particularly safe at the club either. The bouncers were huge skinheads with swastika tattoos. I made a mental note to steer clear of them and make extra-efforts not to piss off the staff, and got about the business of loading in gear and setting up the merchandise desk.
We played the gig and it was a good one. I met Will Rahmer from Mortician afterwards, head of the NYDM gang. I remember we were having trouble talking as the music was loud and he’s a soft-spoken guy. Everytime he said something, he’d lean in to say it and I’d lean in to hear it, except we’d both lean into the same side so to an onlooker it probably looked like we were trying to tentatively kiss.
I remember going to the toilets, always a good source post-gig for honest show feedback when you’re a mask-wearing band. You’d be having a leak and the guy next to you would be talking to his mate about how much you ruled/sucked and would have no idea who he was standing next to.
I remember working the merch table. We KILLED it in merch that night. We had the usual tricks up our sleeve – a TV playing at the table, backdrop on the wall, lights, two hot girls flashing their tits at everyone. There was a pretty good vibe except Akim got upset at Matt at some point. He’d brought some alien dolls along and Matt bit one in half. Apparently they were expensive.
It was at the merch table that things started to go wrong. I was talking with a Canadian friend called Ivan. It was good to catch up with him, he’d given me a copy a Massive Attack album the previous year. In mid-conversation, Gary walked up shaking a bottle of Budweiser. He said “Check this out”, and flipped the cap off. The cap and some beer foam hit my eyes. I consequently overreacted. Before I describe what I did, here’s a little background:
I had just got over a case of conjunctivitis. It had gone untreated for two days before I saw a doctor. I had caught it in Chicago, and woke up the next day with my pillow encrusted to my face. Nile took to calling me Pinky, and wanted me sealed in a bubble. Napalm Death claimed to be able to spot me easily in the pit due to my red glowing terminator eyes. My eyes looked like they were bleeding and really hurt. To this day when I get run-down or tired, one or both of the eyes will turn red.
Anyway Gary flicked that cap right into one of my recently-healed eyes then chuckled. Gary is a big slow Western Australian. Well he was back then, I haven’t heard from him in about eight years. I wiped the foam out of my eye, snorted up a big wad of phlegm, and spat it right down the front of his hoodie.
I wasn’t expecting a happy reaction but Gary acted like I’d just shot him. He gave a kind of shocked “awwwwwww”, and stumbled around a bit, then started chesting me. He actually seemed to want to fight me. For anyone who hasn’t heard what chesting is, it’s usually done in Australian Rules Football when one person keeps bumping up into the other person with their chest, usually because they’re too pussy to throw the first fucking punch. So this neanderthal bandmate was chesting me and muttering all sorts of semi-coherent shit. The gist of it was he thought I’d overreacted. I realised I had, and tried to make the peace.
I tried to make the peace by popping out to the motorhome and fetching a couple of beers. I opened them both, gave one to Gary, said it was a peace-offering and that I was sorry. That didn’t seem to wash with him. He kept muttering unhappily, bumping into me regularly to make his point. I even tried ignoring him and carrying on my chat with Canadian Ivan but Gary would keep chesting and trying to start shit. Eventually I had enough and told him to fuck off. To my mild surprise, he did.
Fast forward to the Nile show. They were the last band on for the night. Towards the end of it, I became aware of something happening. All the tour managers, Luke, and some of the roadies were all talking with the promoter and some staff. They were all in a huddle and talking quickly. Luke didn’t look happy. There was definitely something going on. I went over and asked what was up. Luke said Gary had been shoved down some stairs by a bouncer, and had broken his foot. I wandered away trying not to laugh. Serves the fucker right, I thought. I was tempted to break both his legs myself by then.
From here on in, Gary wouldn’t tell me what happened. Every time I asked him about it, he’d say it was none of my business or he’d grunt and stay silent. Fair enough. A day or two later I got something of a story from Nile’s lighting technician and Luke. You got to keep in mind, this is all third-hand stuff but apparently it went something like this:
Gary and the lighting technician were up on the top floor of this club, smoking weed together while the technician did the lights for Nile. They had one of those nifty little hash-pipe jobbies and they’d been smoking buddies for a few shows now. Luke was present as well, not smoking. One of the big skinhead nazi bouncers came up and told Gary to stop smoking. Apparently, Gary’s response was to flash his tour pass and grunt that he was with a band. The bouncer said it didn’t matter, stop smoking or you’re out of the club. Gary repeated he was in a band. The bouncer said, right, you’re getting chucked out. He started pushing Gary, and when Gary failed to move sufficiently quickly the bouncer shoved him down a set of stairs. We all joked that was probably the fastest Gary had moved in his life. Matt later took to singing modified King Diamond lyrics to commemorate the event (“He pushed him down the stairs….to diiiiieeeee! No! Gary cried!!”)
The show was over and Matt and I loaded all the merch and equipment back into the motorhome by ourselves. We’d made a bucket on merch but it didn’t thrill us as much as it normally would. The tour was in uproar. Everyone was having quite a time Talking Very Importantly About What Had Happened. We told Gary we were taking him to the hospital. He kept belligerently replying “I’m fine” and refusing to go. We eventually got him and everyone back on the bus. Luke and I worked out where the nearest hospital was. It was late at night, cold, dark, and we were exhausted. Gary sat on one of the motorhome couches. One of the strippers was next to him, sympathising. Everyone else went to bed. We started driving, Luke at the wheel. The sympathy turned to hugs. Ten minutes later I turned around and Gary and the stripper were making out. I nudged Luke and nodded up at the rear-vision mirror. Luke looked, saw them, and focussed intently on the road trying not to grin. His eyes gleamed. A silent current of humour crackled between us. Akim had been boasting to us about how he had got both the strippers to blow him and swallow his load that afternoon.
And that’s the end of the story of how Gary broke his foot.
Except it isn’t. I won’t describe the hellish week of trying to do gigs for the Worlds Fastest Band, but without a drummer. I won’t describe the ten day deadline in Florida of searching for a new drummer to play a headline tour with us. They can be stories of their own.
What I will say is that Gary ended up with a sprained ankle, broken foot, and some back injury. We were in the hospital for hours. He organised a special flight back to Australia through his insurers and left from Florida. The flight cost around US$13,000. I heard he had a special seat for his broken foot, a nurse, and the best steak he’d ever eaten. I think I traded one or two emails with him since then. Luke spent a year post-tour trying to get him to respond to the simple questions: Will you still play? Do you want to do gigs? Gary would chat with him but wouldn’t answer those questions. He never played or rehearsed with us again.
We put pressure on Earache, the booking agent, everyone, to sue the bouncer for assault. No-one would help us. There was a lot of yeah-yeah-yeah, and then everyone happily forgot about it. People sue for a hot coffee in McDonalds. People sue for injury, loss of earnings, distress. Gary had a great case for all of these and no-one would help him. Everyone sort of waited for us to get out the country then washed their hands of us. This is one of the many reasons I feel the way I do about labels, promoters, and clubs.