I used to be a teenage rock groupie.
I mean, I never *did* anything which I would end up regretting or being embarrassed about (I’m wondering what the former groupies for bands like Poison or Motley Crue or one hit wonders like Jack Wagner must be thinking these days. If you want to check out who is into what, then I suggest you stroll over to Groupie Central where the ladies there share notes with one and all ).
I did manage to get backstage and meet quite a few of my teen idols from the 80’s and 90’s. It was never about really hooking up with someone, I just wanted to see if I could actually succeed in meeting them, getting an autograph and maybe a photo. I was always a bit of an observer and people watcher. It was interesting going through the process of fantasizing and day-dreaming about whatever musician you were having a serious crush on or lusting after to only meet them and realize what a load of smoke and mirrors the entertainment industry really is. Most of them turned out to be real douches and spelled “instant turn-off”, guys who if they weren’t famous musicians or as good-looking as they were, you’d probably want to hand over to Ozzy Osbourne so he can bite off their head. Some were genuine surprises, really laid-back, super well-read and informed. Nice, warm guys who you could end up having a serious conversation with over music, film, books or politics. It was also interesting watching the effect fame had on normal people. It really brings out the worst in some people. I saw girls dump their long-term boyfriends on the spot just to get on the bus with so-and-so, only to be discarded a few minutes later. There was a very desperate, sordid quality about the whole thing. It was actually a bit comedic if it wasn’t so sad to begin with.
I was crazy about Depeche Mode.
I still am and count them among my favorites. In my opinion Martin L. Gore and Alan Wilder are musical geniuses. Aside from some of their songs about spiritual redemption, longing or angst, lyrics aside, even the music at times is able to evoke something spiritual and take you out of yourself completely. I’ll never forget the first time I heard “Enjoy The Silence”, headphones on, in the dark, lying down, I felt like I was tripping. Or sleeping out for tickets as a 17 year old for 3 days back in 1990 for tickets to sold-out-in-20-minutes shows on the World Violation tour. How I skipped my high-school graduation to go to the show instead with 8th row tickets and being chewed out by the school principal the next day for being a no-show. How during that show, I practically had a full-on out-of-body experience when the boys came back on stage to do “Route 66” as an encore and the entire arena erupted into pure jubilation and the energy level of the audience very nearly blew off the roof. I also ended up meeting Martin L. Gore and Fletch after the show in front of the hotel before they headed off to the clubs. Going to Depeche Mode shows is like entering into a sea of bliss. Even now, the symphonic break in “Home” (4:20 onwards) or being in the audience and watching 50 000 people at the same time wave their arms in co-ordinated unison during “Never Let Me Down Again” (49:00 onwards), makes me realize of the potential we all have deep inside of ourselves, the sense of grandeur the music evokes. To my mind and to my ear, Depeche Mode is channeling the music of the gods.
Dave Gahan, the lead singer, easily has the sexiest voice in musicdom (Listen to “World In my Eyes”), I think. I don’t know of any straight male who can swing and thrust his hips like he does. It’s quite remarkable. Dave always had a pop-idol kind of clean-cut image, short hair, white jeans, black leather jacket, white shirts until maybe 1990 and the World Violation tour.
That was the tour and the album which catapulted them from alternative and underground music heroes to mainstream headliners filling up soccer stadiums around the world. The cliche is true. Fame always comes with a high price-tag and DM and especially Dave were no exception.
Dave, during the 80’s was married to his teenage sweetheart Joanne and had a son too named Jack. It was the worst-kept secret that he cheated on his wife a lot with girls on the road. Sometime during the World Violation tour, he left his wife and kid in London and hooked up with Depeche Mode’s American publicist, Teresa Conroy, a prodigy of Rick Rubin’s. Dave married her at the Elvis chapel in Las Vegas and that was the beginning of nearly the end of Depeche Mode.
Teresa and LA’s influence got Dave into the whole early 1990’s grunge scene and music in the worst possible way. The sprawling mansion, a guru hanging around, hanger-ons and parasites around the pool, people talking in New Age-speak. The English alternative pop-idol was gone. Instead, some LA-type rock star emerged, tattoos everywhere, self-inflicted scars, a scrotum ring, shoulder length messy hair and of course a serious drug habit involving heroin and cocaine.
Dave admits, “I could no longer poke fun at it because I’d look in the mirror and that was me. Yeah, I did lose my sense of humour. Drugs will do that to do. They’re not very funny. You lose your sense of anything.” Dave described the following Devotional tour as “like taking a mental asylum on the road”. Given that it included heart-attacks, alcoholic seizures, overdoses, sinister vampire fantasies and rumoured backstage orgies, the Devotional tour has inevitably assumed legend status.
I had also heard the stories of superhuman sex sessions and insane drug binges. Of roadies who would “pick out the 15 or 20 most beautiful girls in the crowd, evidently for the Mode’s pleasure.” The description that “Dave Gahan thronged by “drug barons” and groupies in “fishnets and stockings, incapable of even putting their lipstick on straight”. Of “porn-themed” VIP areas awash with half-naked beauties” is apt because it was what everyone was talking about. I heard about it from record company reps at the radio station I worked at and Depeche Mode were due to come in for an interview. Dave was a mess.
At one show Dave took another near-fatal dive into the crowd. He plunged 12 feet, smashed his shoulder against a row of seats, and was stretchered off to hospital. A full-scale heroin addiction took Dave over in LA. He set up a closet in his Hollywood home, named the Blue Room, where he could shoot up alone. He became paranoid and started to carry guns. He would even shoot up water purely for the instant buzz, and once awoke in the front garden of a dealer who had literally robbed the shirt off his back.
“It happened a lot more times than I actually thought,” says Dave of overdosing. “Sometimes I would come to and it was two days later, that kind of thing. People start dying, you know – but I never really thought that would happen to me. It was classic drug addict stuff.” One night, during a visit from his mother and son Jack, Gahan passed out from another overdose. On waking and discovering his works had been thrown away, the singer frantically scrambled through his bins. He then locked himself away and shot up. His mother and son burst into the bathroom and found Gahan on the floor. At first he lied, claiming he was injecting steroids for his voice. Eventually, he looked his mother in the eye and admitted, “Mum, I’m a junkie.” She replied, “I know, love.”
In 1995, Dave returned from an Arizona detox centre, where he met a new girlfriend Jennifer Sklias to find his house had been methodically burgled. The alarm code was reset, prompting suspicion that his drug buddies were teaching him a lesson. Dave put the house up for sale, rented a new place, then checked himself into the Sunset Marquis hotel. Strung out on smack and Valium, he phoned his mother in Britain. In the middle of the call he went to the bathroom, carved two-inch razor cuts into his wrists, and wrapped a towel around the gushing wounds. “I don’t think I was trying to kill myself,” says Gahan today. “I think again I was just crying out for some kind of attention and really going about it in an odd way. It was a mistake. It was feelings of wanting to disappear – still be here, but just floating around.”
By the time a friend dropped by, noticed Gahan’s seeping wounds and dialled 911, the singer was virtually comatose. With no time for anaesthetic, the paramedics stitched up his wrists in the ambulance. He came to next morning in a straitjacket in a psychiatric ward. “I thought I might be in heaven,” Dave later admitted. “This psychiatrist informed me I’d committed a crime under local law by trying to take my own life. Only in fucking LA, huh?”
Dave was in a bad way. His drug use was out of control. He overdosed on a cocaine and heroin “speedball” made with a particularly lethal strain of heroin nicknamed Red Rum. Gazing blankly into his dealer’s eyes, Dave suddenly “had a strong feeling that what I was doing was very wrong. I remember having a feeling of it was maybe too late – give me another chance. I remember looking right in the eyes of the guy who was with me at the time and I thought: ‘Oh fuck, I’ve really done it this time.’ And basically wanting to live. I really had a strong feeling I wanted to live.”
A girl who Gahan has just met in the hotel bar was also present. But the dealer, fearing arrest, prevented her from calling an ambulance while he cleared up and fled. By the time the medics arrived Dave had turned blue and gone into cardiac arrest. He was given “the full Pulp Fiction treatment” as his heart stopped on the way to the hospital.
Gahan said of the experience, “All I saw and all I felt at first was complete darkness. I’ve never been in a space that was blacker, and I remember feeling that whatever it was I was doing, it was really wrong.” He has also claimed he saw/heard his then-girlfriend, his current wife Jennifer, calling him back to life, from the other side.
Discharged the next morning, Gahan was immediately arrested outside, the singer gave a rambling public confession: “My cat’s lives are out…it’s not a cool thing to be a drug addict.” He also apologised to his mum.In the end, a few days after his overdose, Gahan was finally persuaded to check into rehab.
“I made a decision to give it a shot,” Gahan nods. “I took some advice from people for the first time, not just with the band but with my personal life. I actually started listening to people who were telling me I couldn’t do this any more. And thank God. There is a different way. I knew it was going to be a struggle. I knew it was going to be the hardest thing I ever did in my life.”
Nowadays, the Mode don’t party backstage anymore. I know Martin and Fletch go to clubs now and again while Dave is a devoted family man to his daughter Stella and to Jennifer. He even wrote about his ordeal in the Depeche Mode song “Suffer Well”, where Jennifer appears as the angel.
“Most of my friends that I hang out with in NY are people who are choosing to not drink or use drugs any more,” he nods. “And most of them are way more creative than the people who I thought were creative, who I was hanging around with. When you’re doing drugs, you sit around talking about being creative, but you don’t do fuck all.”
I saw Dave and the band in July 2009 when they passed through Montreal during the “Sounds of the Universe” tour. I don’t do the fan-thing anymore, I just go to the shows to appreciate the music, dance and rock out with friends. I did manage to get 6th row seats and watched Dave very closely. I thought about his metamorphosis from pop idol, to strung out rock star junkie to the guy I saw in front of me at that moment. I saw a guy who had finally made his peace with Life, who radiated nothing short of happiness, love and joy. A guy who had been given a second chance in life and was now savoring every second of it. I was happy just looking at him, knowing what he had gone through and had made it to the other side.
I think this interview with Dave says it and shows it all, from 4:10 onwards especially:
Dave, Martin, Fletch and Alan. I don’t know if you’ll ever read these words but if you do, I hope you live forever and keep making that glorious, beautiful and life affirming music for years to come. I love you all.
Post-script and addenda: Dave had a close call with bladder cancer during the “Sounds of the Universe” tour, forcing the band to cancel several dates on tour. With Jennifer beside him, he beat the cancer to the curb. You can also add “cancer survivor” to his already-long and impressive list of accomplishments. As for the thousands of groupies who are showing up on this page based on search engine results like ‘Dave Gahan’s wife”, “Teresa Conroy”, “Dave Gahan groupies”, seriously, grow up. He found his Twin Soul already. Go find yours.
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