I found touring was not particularly good for my health. The blame, were it to be apportioned, lay equally with myself and the touring lifestyle. I know guys who managed to fit in jogs on tour, or go vego, or swear off alcohol. I was not one of them. I didn’t actually believe it was possible to do such things on the road until I saw others do it. You have to be quite driven, or be in a band who’s happy to tolerate your crazy ‘health’ thing.
A band has to accommodate someone if they want to tour healthy. It wasn’t like we could all go our separate ways and head out for jogs, or have multiple food stops so someone could pop into Wholefoods and get their essential organic whatever. In Berzerker’s case, everyone else ate burgers and drank. The masks made our already energetic shows fucking ridiculously draining to play and quite often we’d come off stage, squeeze our t-shirts out, and fall over. We’d also drive and manage ourselves on tour. If we were exceptionally luxurious, we’d get one extra guy on board to help out with the driving and merch table. A few guys came on tour as ‘tour managers’. The only time I remember one making a true difference was when ex-Akercocke bassist Pete Theobalds came onto a UK tour for fun, and found himself stepping into the breach when the tour manager went AWOL.
What am I getting at? We were in a constant state of exhaustion. The rare sleep we experienced would be fragmented, brief, and without any sort of rhythm whatsoever. Our bodies would be pushed to the limit each night. Instead of recharging on soups, water, salads, we’d be getting by on beer stolen from the venue and the Wendys $1 menu. Then we’d shake dozens of sweaty hands after gigs and catch whatever the hell was going around. If you’re in an international touring band? NO HANDSHAKES. Go for fist-bumps, Japanese bowing, or ceremonial head-butts, just no handshakes. We tried using disinfectant hand lotion when we’d get in the van. It doesn’t work, you’d still get some fierce flu that would batter your frail foreign body. When you caught the inevitable illness, there was no recovery time. You had to get on with driving, playing, loading in and out, and the merch desk.
I live pretty healthily these days, but I’m prone to illnesses. I can basically split my life into two periods, pre-2002 and post 2004. When I was younger, I was superhealthy and unstoppable. Then I did a big block of touring and….now I’m not quite so unstoppable.
There was a big touring block where I caught the flu. Then I got conjunctivitis, and we were too busy to go get it treated for three days or so. I remember feeling like I had some grit in my eye after a gig in Chicago. I managed to grab some sleep, and the pillow was glued to my face when I woke up. My face oozed crust. You know in the movie ‘Aliens’ when they find those people who are cocooned to the walls with that gluey alien spaff? It was 100% like that. The James Cameron connection continued when Napalm Death said I looked like the Terminator due to my red glowing eye, and Nile started calling me ‘Pinky’. When I finally had the eye treated I had to buy some sprays and disinfect the entire motorhome we were travelling in, from stern to bow. My chin was starting to react from getting bashed nightly into a germy microphone and was breaking out in weird pustules. Every gig when I grazed the mic for the first time it would send a bolt of lightning through my face, which would go hot, then numb. A week or so later was the unbelievable stress of our drummer breaking his foot – we had to keep touring in order to make it out of the country – and that was followed by me getting a horrible case of sunburn in Miami when I passed out in a park.
Then we popped over to Europe to tour for a month straight in a bus with dirty bunk beds, and an exhaust outlet leading into the lower lounge.
When I arrived back in Australia, I slept for a week straight. I found it hard to have conversations with people at first; I was used to holding court and strangers shutting up when I spoke. I had absolutely zero interest in hearing about how someone’s day at work was, and couldn’t relate to normal everyday things. I felt like I had done the most amazing thing ever, and planned to organize my tour diaries and notes and write a kickass book about being in a band. I felt no-one could possibly top some of the stories I had to tell. Anyway, once I’d had a few months of regular sleep and meals and started work again, my body came out of hiding and got really fucking weird on me.
My eye – the one that was affected by conjunctivitis – would swell right up and go red. Then just as I’d be prepping to get an ambulance, it’d suddenly go back down. Or I’d wake up and there’d be a chunky discharge all over my face from my coy and slightly pink eyeball. Then I started getting mystery lumps bulging out of my head which would vanish within 48 hours. I caught a series of colds. Crops of mystery zits would come and go. My dick started leaking. I went fuck this, and headed to the doctor for an explanation.
Although I headed to my usual health clinic, my doctor this time was an unsmiling woman I’d never spoken to before. I explained all my symptoms to her miserable face and she asked me if I’d had any “changes in lifestyle recently”. I went uh, I’ve been on the road travelling with a band overseas for a few months, and….
“Oh, it’s probably VD” she said. Then the evil bitch gave me the most comprehensive STD test I’ve ever had the misfortune to experience, and sent me on my way with “we’ll have your results in three or four days”. Australian healthcare can vacillate unpredictably from fabulous to hopeless, hey. I went to sleep that night packing shit, thinking of some uncomfortable conversations with previous partners I had ahead of me.
I woke up the next day and I wasn’t quite right. It felt like I had a mild fever. I went to work anyway, trooper that I am, and made it to the afternoon. I went to the loo sometime after lunch and when I had a pee it looked like milkshake. I kind of watched in disbelief as the sediment hit the water and slid to the bottom of the bowl. I left work for the day, headed home, had some panadol and went to bed early. I was starting to feel like shit.
I woke up just after midnight. My left ball was aching. I suspected I had somehow trapped it between my legs in my sleep and then done somersaults or something. I found with a bit more panadol and some maneuvering, I was able to get back to sleep.
I woke up in the morning completely fucked. My crotch throbbed like someone was tapping my left ‘nad with a hammer. I was feverish. I stumbled to the toilet and pissed out a gallon of thick milkshake. The pain was quite something. I called the doctor’s clinic and asked if they had my results yet. They said no. I described my symptoms to them and there was a pause. Could I come in immediately? I said yes, and phoned a friend of mine called Steve who was flexible enough to give me a lift.
I limped into the surgery. I told them what was happening again, and they performed a quick examination. There was a brief wait and then they came straight back: Could I pop into a clinic around the corner and get an ultrasound scan of my bits done? There’d be someone waiting for me. I said yes, and hobbled back out to where Steve was waiting. The pain seemed to have actually increased in the space of twenty minutes. He gave me a lift to the ultrasound clinic. Every time the car went over a speed bump or pothole, I whimpered.
To any women reading this, testicle pain requires description: It’s like the nerve ganglion for your balls is connected to one’s kidneys, or liver. So when pain is experienced in your jewels, it gets a x2 multiplier effect that is shared between a few other vital organs. The usual reaction to such pain is immediate and uncontrollable vomiting. On this day, the only thing stopping me from puking everywhere in crotch-agony was the steady slow incremental increase in throbbing.
Steve dropped me off at the ultrasound place, laughing his head off at me gingerly limping along. I crab-walked in a wide stance, like a cowboy or a disgraced US senator. I was immediately received by the clinic, who lubed my nuts up and ran a scan over them. The swelling was profound. I was half expecting the nurse to cry out “Congratulations, it’s a boy!” Instead, she informed me that I had scrotal epididymitis, and that a hospital bed and doctor was waiting for me at another location, and was some available to drive me there immediately or could they call me an ambulance? I passed on the ambulance, got the details, eased myself slowwwwwwwly back into the car with Steve, and we headed to the hospital.
The hospital didn’t fuck around. I was straight into a hospital gown, had a bag full of antibiotics rammed into my arm via drip, and wheeled into a room shared with one other person, an old fella who didn’t say much. A doctor explained that if left untreated for another day or two, I could have lost my balls. To this day, if I’m run-down and tired or the weather is changing, I get that dull throb in my left kidney. The nurse told me that I’d be here for three days or so then departed. All I had on me was my mobile phone. I had left home in a bit of a rush. Steve had already returned to work. I felt like shit, and wondered how I was going to pass the next few days.
I received a phone call. It was from my health clinic. They were happy to inform me that my test results for STDs had all come back negative. I was like, you sure? I’m banged up in hospital right now with a stiff case of scrotal epididymitis, a case so nasty you’d swear I caught it screwing trash-cans. They went, guess it’s bacterial then. Toodaloo! As I say, the post-touring body does some weird shit when getting back to the normal world.
Anyway, that chat lifted my spirits. I was no longer going to have call people and give the better-go-get-checked speech, thank god. I started calling around my friends, seeing if I could get any visitors. I may have received a few people but one stands out: my good mate David Cohen who, understanding my needs, brought me a book to read, Motley Crue’s ‘The Dirt’ by Neil Strauss. And as my body recovered its health, it was my dream of writing a book about my touring stories that died instead of my balls. The whole basis of writing my stories was how ridiculous and full-on and dramatic they were, or so I thought. But when I read about Vince Neil eating a martini glass, or killing people in a drunken car crash, or Nikki Sixx overdosing on smack then coming back from the dead to shoot some more junk like an opiate-fuelled zombie, I gave up. I was an amateur. There was no way I could compete with this. How can you? Anything I’d done, they’d done a million times bigger and crazier, to the horizon of death and beyond.
I kind of wish I could go back to my younger self, and explain that stories aren’t just about how big and fucked-up you can be. They can also be about connection, explaining things in a way that people can relate to. In fact, that may be the secret to most art. There will always be a place for the Titians and Rembrandts, the Dahls and Strausses, the Beethovens with the big notes and a shock-and-awe impact, but sometimes people merely want something that makes them feel less alone. McDonalds may one day release the book on making hamburgers and it’d be some wild burger shit in there, but I’d be more interested in the small book done by the Burger Theory food-truck that I see around the corner from me occasionally. People want connection and as much as they may crave escape, they also crave the occasional reassurance of reality.
Two more anecdotes, then I’ll let you go.
When I broke up with a long term relationship in England and was prepping to dive back into dating, my first step was to go do an STD test and get my licence to thrill. The doctor I ended up with was a Romanian woman who handed me a questionnaire to fill out. It was pretty comprehensive, not only about sexual history but also about any trauma your bits may have suffered in the past. When she saw that I had experienced a case of scrotal epididymitis, her face lit up like she had discovered a unicorn. Apparently she had heard about it before but never met anyone who had it, and she peppered me with a million questions. She genuinely looked so happy. I think I made her day.
And now, the second anecdote:
When I was released from hospital after my three days of antibiotics, I was still slightly achy-breaky but well on the mend. I arrived home around midday, and turned on the computer to catch up with whatever had been happening in the world. Heads-up, what I’m about to tell you is rather gnarly. If you’re eating breakfast, or have a mild constitution, are a family member, or merely think of me as a good pure lovely person, then perhaps finish this article here. If you’re the kind of dude who read my story about lacquering Devin Townsend’s hair and loved it, then proceed.
So here I was, at home by myself and at that point it had been about a week since I had any ‘relief’, so with a live computer and internet connection I took care of that shit. However….the end result was, shall we say, unpredictable. You know when you catch a nasty chest-cold, and the infection passes and you start coughing up thick chunks of green and brown crap? That, my friends, is exactly what I ejaculated. It was like a Predator had bled into a bowl of flour and chicken eggs, and whisked that to satisfaction.