This is the official blog for D. Randall Blythe's forthcoming book, Dark Days, a memoir to be published later this year (2014) by Perseus/DaCapo Books in North America, and Random House in the United Kingdom and associated territories.
As I wrote in my first post, I’m going to explain how I managed to conceptualize and finally sell to a publisher the idea for Dark Days. Today I’ll take you step by step with me on the road to glory, and show you how I finally sealed the deal by methodically employing a brilliant strategy; one I have been developing, refining, and tactically executing bit by bit for the last twenty years. I’m excited to see the culmination of this fool-proof plan: millions of copies sold of my universally acclaimed first book, undoubtably sending me skyrocketing straight upwards in a blazing trajectory terminating in the hallowed halls of the literary elite. Shakespeare. Tolstoy. Hemingway. Woolf. Iceberg Slim. D. Randall Blythe. It’s been hard work, but completely worth it. And now, for the first time ever, you can apply this this strategy to any of your creative endeavors, and I guarantee you’ll succeed or you’ll get your money back! For the full plan, just call the toll-free number at the bottom of this post, and for a measly 100 bucks you’ll get the complete four volume set of Randy’s Rapid Writing Rewards (tm) System! As a free bonus, if you call now, I’ll send you my latest e-manifesto, “How To Get Nominated For Four Grammys By Screaming Like A Giant Four Year Old, Lose Them All, But Still Make Some Pretty Good Scratch”. That’s more than double your money’s worth FOR FREE!
Actually, that’s not how I got my book deal at all. And by the way, anyone who guarantees you artistic “success” in any discipline if you will just buy the “method” they are selling should be bitch-slapped with a Webster’s Unabridged. It just doesn’t work that way- these people are shysters. Stay away from them. They are generally failed writers/artists who couldn’t get their own stuff published/in galleries, so they whip up a batch of artistic snake oil to sell you. If they are good enough salespeople, if they can distract you with enough bullshit promises and fast-talk (like redundancies similar to “free bonus”, but cloaked in twenty-five cent words that are not so made-for-tv sounding) to cover up what we all already know (which, of course, is that success in any field takes hard work), they will indeed be fiscally successful. You could look at what they’ve done, take a few notes, apply the same methods to your own shady grind, and make your own dirty money. But that’s just the art of hustling, not art. You can learn how to hustle on the street corner for free, if you’ve got the cojones.
The way I got my first book deal was a whole lot faster than following some twenty year plan I had cooked up; but much, much harder than that, and a great more painful. I can only wish that my first published book was going to be about something else, because although I’m glad my book will come out, and I hope it does well, I’m not at all happy to be writing about what I am. In fact, this book wasn’t even my idea- I had to be convinced to write it.
Before June 27, 2012, I sure as hell never kicked back and thought “Maybe one day I’ll write a true story about how screwed up and terrifying my life might get if I ever wind up going to prison in a foreign country after being charged with killing a fan of my band”. When the shit hit the fan and I found out a person was dead, I went through a very sad and very scary year. I was arrested, imprisoned, released, stood trial, and was exonerated. After it was all over, I wanted to do just about anything but talk to strangers about the whole ordeal. I refused to do any press (and I still won’t do much) because all anyone would want to talk about was prison and the trial, and I had already been through that. I knew that one day I would write the story, in fact I knew that from the second they cuffed me at the airport in Prague. But I sure as hell didn’t feel like writing about it anytime soon- maybe in a few years, after I had grown a few more gray hairs and looked a little more author-ish.
Just thinking about writing it made me uneasy, because I knew how painful it would be for me to dredge it all up again and tell this story, the whole story, for the first time- to sit with it daily and live in it again, filling the blank pages with some of the worst days of my life for hours at a time. To put it mildly, it’s not exactly the most pleasant topic for me to reminisce about. But I’ve come to realize during this process that that’s one of the biggest reasons I need to write it: it’s uncomfortable for me. Even if something goes haywire, I lose my deal, and the book never gets published- I am facing things that scare me yet again, staring down the enemy within that doesn’t want to really look deeply at painful situations, examining what I did right and what I did wrong, and how these things have have affected me in order to figure out how to honestly make the best of a really bad scene. I used to just get drunk if I got uncomfortable with life- I can’t do that anymore (not if I want to live), so I have to accept the totality of all the circumstances in my life and try to improve the aspects of it that can.
More and more, I’m seeing that writing all this painful stuff down is actually good for me. I hate to use this phrase, because it’s even more trite than some of my more unimaginative lyrics, but getting all this stuff down on paper is, well, cathartic. I need to process some stuff, to engage in some heavy-duty self-examination, and order my thoughts. I need to be still for a moment, catch my breath, and ask myself: “What you’ve just been through- what does it mean in the overall context of your life? What have you learned? What lessons can you take away from this awful tragedy?” Because if I don’t learn anything from this ordeal, I’ve failed myself, and further more, I’ve failed as a human being. Writing is slowly helping me to learn how to think correctly about what I went through, because what happened isn’t like a movie, where there are characters introduced, then conflict, we move on to the climax, and finally the resolution. This isn’t some episode of Law & Order, this is my goddamned life, and everyday I think about what I went through, and I think about people I met in prison in the Czech Republic, and I think about a dead fan of my band, and it rips me apart. How could it not? I hadn’t even finished trial yet at this time last year. Unless I hide completely from society, even if I do manage to not think about the whole deal for a few hours, someone always brings it up. Total strangers will come up to me in the grocery store and tell me they are glad I am free. I am grateful for this, I truly am, but honestly it’s like I just got out of prison every single day a lot of the times. My head is a mess- I did the right thing, but now I have to figure out what’s the next correct action for me to take in order to grow as a person.
For me, being on tour is no place for such deep introspection. My head is busy maintaining the brutally myopic state of mind it takes for me to get up there and entertain people by going nuts night after night. Especially after this last year, on tour I had to stay focused on the job at hand, or I would fall apart at the seams on stage. On tour, I don’t have time for “feelings”. Lamb of god fans don’t care about “feelings” after they’ve paid good money to see us do our thing. They expect us to get up there and kick ass, and rightfully so. They dropped cash to see a metal show, not a bunch of grumpy bearded middle aged men who look like they don’t care about what they are doing and would rather be somewhere else. Everyone in every band has a bad gig from time to time (it’s unavoidable- we are only human), but if you call yourself a true professional (and you better believe I do), 99.99999% of the time you better just rub some dirt on it and do work, son. I have no patience for cry babies on tour. Go hard, or home.
After I was acquitted in March of last year, the very last thing I wanted to do was go back out on the road with lamb of god. There was still a forthcoming appeal hearing for the verdict of my case, requested by a very unhappy prosecuting attorney. I still wasn’t quite out of the woods, but the whole trial had been very costly, and the bills were continuing to pile up. My band needed to refill our coffers if we were going to remain fiscally solvent as a business entity, so we went back to work. This was good for me not only financially, but I believe it was beneficial (to a degree) for my psyche. I needed to work to keep the appeal out of my mind as much as possible (since I could do nothing to prepare for it- this was strictly a lawyer’s game). I had to get back on the horse sooner or later, and my band needed to finish the tour cycle we had begun so long ago. So we went back to work, and finished what we started, like real professionals do.
But towards the end, my deepest desire was to leave lamb of god behind for a bit, to not be the heavy metal singer dude 24/7. Because on tour, that’s the mold you are crammed into, no matter how hard you try to maintain a bit of personal space and identity outside of the band. Unless you are Prince or Led Zepplin or someone like that who can afford to live in their own little bubble of weirdness, there are just too many people around you at all times who will not let you exist as anything other than a band guy. On the road, no matter how may times you say “I’m just a regular dude”, you are not treated like one. To expect otherwise is foolish- you’re on tour for fuck’s sake, not at a spa. But after three years of writing, recording, and touring on the Resolution album (not to mention my legal troubles), it was high time to forget about “us” for a bit and think about “me”. Because “me” needs a little attention from me right now if there is going to continue to be an “us”.
The last two or so years of my life I have felt a lot like this picture I took the other day at sunset:
Sea foam. Blown through life by the seemingly random winds of chance, born atop violent waves of events terrifying in their nature and possible consequence. I was really scared, and I had no real control over the direction I was heading. I suppose some would say that is nonsense, that I could have refused to return to Prague. I wouldn’t have been extradited, of that I’m certain. I could have made the choice to stay in America, and tried to forget about what I had left behind in Europe like an illegitimate child I had just discovered but still irresponsibly chose to abandon. But just as the sea foam sits momentarily apart from the ocean on the beach, only to be eventually reclaimed by the roaring tide that birthed it, such would have been my fate had I run from this unfortunate situation- this unattended aspect of my life would have come back for me in one way or the other, and I would have been born out to that dark sea of of my lesser self, to drown in fear and shame. It would have been the death of me.
There is a law of cause and effect in this universe. If you do not do the right thing, it will always, always, always eventually catch up to you. My experience has shown me that this is an infallible truth. Whether or not you see it in effect or believe in it makes no difference. This immutable law of cause and effect is absolute; and while you can run for bit, you can never hide. In plain ol’ English, what comes around, goes around. Or more appropriately: you get what you give. Remember that.
Although I had done my best to do the right thing, and my course of action had worked out for me for the moment, I didn’t feel much inner peace as we hit the road to finish up our tour cycle. I just wanted to hurry up and get off the road and away from the job I live (because if you’re the real deal, it’s not something you do, it’s something you live), a job that daily reminded me of the last two years. I just wanted to not deal with this thing that hurt so badly inside just for a little bit, to hide away in distraction, family, and friends. I needed a vacation from my life. This is, of course, impossible, but I was ready to give it a try.
A month or so after my exoneration, but still before the appeals trial, lamb of god’s booking agent, Tim Borror, started hitting me up via email and a voice message or two, telling me he knew a literary agent who wanted to talk to me. I had already had a few initial talks with a wonderful and not-to-small independent press about a concept for a photo essay book I had in mind (and still plan on doing, with the same press if possible), and Tim’s messages could only mean something I wasn’t thrilled at all about: any literary agent wanting to talk to me right then would want me to write one thing and one thing only: the story of what happened in Prague. This actually started to make me feel panicky (which is something I almost never feel- I’m not a panicky kind of dude. Panicking gets you dead); the thought of going back through all this stuff, reliving and even recreating the whole experience literally made my heart beat faster. I blew Tim off, and didn’t return his calls. After a while of getting no answer from me, lamb of god’s manager, Larry Mazer, started emailing me “Hey, Randy, Tim is trying to get ahold of you about a literary agent”. Christ. I was getting it from two guys I work with now; two guys I like personally and consider friends. But writing a book about going to prison was the last thing I wanted to do, so (not without a good amount of guilt) I blew Larry off too, until he pulled a classic manager move and actually got me on the phone about something else, then said
“So are you gonna call Tim Borror back or what? He’s been trying to get a hold of you for a while now”.
Crap! Trapped. Managers of rock bands are devious creatures who will trick you into do all sorts of things you have no desire to do if you don’t watch them like a hawk.
“Fine. I’ll call him back. But I don’t want to write a book about Prague. Fuck that. I need to forget about that stuff for a while.” I sighed, then rang Tim up.
Tim confirmed what I already knew: this agent wanted to talk to me about writing a book about Prague. Tim vouched for him, saying he was the real deal and one of the smartest guys he knew. He seemed to think the agent, Marc Gerald, and I would get along just fine and asked me to just give him a call. Fine, I thought, I’ll call this motherfucker, but he’s going to be wasting his time. I’m not writing a book about Prague, no way, no how. That day, March 25, 2013, Tim wrote an email introducing Marc and I, and Marc replied almost immediately, saying how he would like to talk to me. Then I blew Marc off for three days, until finally the guilt got to me (I had agreed to talk to him, after all), and we set up a call for the next day.
To those of you who don’t know how the book world runs, an agent, a real, reputable, literary agent, is pretty much a necessity. Yes, you can self-publish on a vanity press; and every year a few of these books eventually get picked up by outside publishers if they are good enough and the author hustles enough to build up a strong grass roots following. But if you want someone to hit the trenches running with your proposal or manuscript, find you a suitable publisher, secure you a half-decent advance, and help you navigate the murky waters of the publishing biz as you attempt to build a sustainable career as an author, you want a literary agent. A real agent with connections in the business- not some bozo you pay a fee to before you see a publishing contract and who works out of their basement when they aren’t flipping burgers. You want an agent that the overloaded editors at publishing houses trust enough to at least glance at the submissions they throw their way, because editors have stacks and stacks of manuscripts and proposals to look at and make decisions on. They tend to look at the ones from agents who have delivered a best selling author or two into the publishing world first. This is the type of agent you are gunning for.
“But how do you get one of these agents?” you might be asking yourself.
I dunno. There are whole books written on how to obtain a reputable agent in the writing sections of bookstores across the land, but I’ve never read one. I guess that in my grandiose literary daydreams, I always just figured one would just appear like magic for me one day when I was ready. I had thought plenty about having an agent before, romanticizing the writing life and all its trappings to a ridiculous degree. I would be the hard-drinking, hard-writing, no-bullshit-taking-punk-rock Hemingway of my generation, and somehow an agent would find out about me, beg to represent me, and then go on to sell my nonexistent manuscript for millions. I guess I thought he would come find me at the bar. It was a lot like the bands that sit around pissing and moaning in their home town bars, hoping to get “discovered”. That never happens, and it didn’t for me; but just like those bands, I managed to get plenty drunk.
But now, amazingly enough, a real deal agent had just appeared like magic… and I didn’t even want to talk to him, especially not about a book I didn’t want to write (be careful what you wish for, because it might just come true). There are thousands and thousands of unpublished authors out there who would give their pinky fingers to just get their foot in the door of an established agent’s office, and I had been blowing this guy off for weeks. I was truly dreading our talk. The twenty-three year old me would have kicked my teeth in if he could have heard me bitching to my wife about not wanting to call this dude. Then again, the twenty-three year old me hadn’t just been through what I had.
I called Marc, who was an exceedingly pleasant and obviously very intelligent man. I let him know right from the beginning that I had a photography book in the works and I didn’t need any help with getting that published. He seemed fine with that, and began to tell me about how he thought the story of what had happened in Prague was fascinating, and how it had the potential to make a great book. He also told me he thought it was an important story, one that needed to be told. I agreed, because I do think it’s an important story, and I do think it needs to be told. I don’t think it’s important because it’s my story, I think it’s important because if I tell it correctly, I might just be able to help some people. I have fans tell me all the time that the lyrics I have written mean something to them, that my band’s music has really helped them through some very tough times.
I have a dear friend who got very, very sick and lost both of her breasts to cancer. I met her because she came up to me in a bar in Ohio years ago and told me that when she was going through chemo, lamb of god’s music helped her keep her chin up, helped her keep fighting when she was sick as a dog and felt like death itself. She is still alive, and she is a tough lady. She is a survivor.
This woman had beaten death itself, and she wanted to thank me just for singing a few songs? This was an immensely humbling experience, but from that day on, I slowly began to realize that (just like all the bands that I love so much have done for me), my band’s music can actually help people. It’s honest. It’s real. I have to honor that, and show these peoples’ experiences some respect.When I was in prison, I knew I would write about it eventually. Maybe if I didn’t screw it up too badly, my story could help a few people one day- who knew? But this was really recent, and it still hurt me. The memories were still really fresh, and I wanted to distance myself from them. I told Marc this, that I didn’t think I was ready yet, but that maybe I would be one day.
“Yes, I understand. But, Randy… your memories will start to fade.” he said quietly.
And that was basically it. That’s how a literary agent I tried my best to avoid talking to convinced me to at least be willing to think about writing this book. He was right- they would fade. I kept an extensive, very detailed journal in prison; but even reading old entries now, I can’t remember some of the things happening that I wrote about, or I have to sit and really think hard to conjure up the images that go with some the writing I did in Pankrac Prison. Most of it is as clear as day, but some isn’t.
I told Marc I had to come to NYC where he lives soon, to record a few episodes of The Crucible, the radio show I host from time to time on Sirius/XM, and he suggested we meet up and discuss how to put together a book proposal. I agreed to meet up, and we made plans.
“Thanks Randy, I’m really happy to be working with you,” he said, and hung up.
We’re working together now? I thought Oh well-I guess I have a literary agent.
Less than a month later I had finished writing my book proposal. Marc sent it out to publishers, several of which gave us callbacks, and I had preliminary talks with a bunch of editors. There was a brief auction, and then I had a deal. Less than two months had gone by; from Marc’s first email to me, until the day he called me to say
“Congratulations, you have a publisher.”
Quick, but it didn’t come easy, thats for damn sure. I would have rather it not come at all; if not having a book deal or even not ever having my band could change what happened in Prague May 24, 2010. But it can’t, so I will do the best I can to try to bring what good I can out of this. I’m a musician, and a photographer, and a writer.
It’s what I do.
Plus, once this thing is done, whenever people say “What was it like in prison?” or ask me “Why did you go back?” or “Are you free and clear of all that Prague stuff now?”, I can just say…
Obviously (as the name of this blog will lead the more astute amongst you to deduce), this is the official blog of my upcoming book, Dark Days, scheduled for publication later in this year of our lord, 2014. I even state that fact in greater detail over in the “about the author” section (the little box to the left of this post), just in case there is any confusion about what in the hell is going on here. In that box it also says “PROCESS. PRODUCTION. PUBLICATION.” That is because those are the three phases the life of this book will go through, and the three phases in which this blog will be chronologically updated. More on that shortly.
First, a brief explanation about myself and the basis of my book for those of you who are unfamiliar with me or the recent events that have occurred in my life during the last year and a half or so. My name is D. Randall Blythe, known to most simply as Randy. I make my living singing for the four-time Grammy losing international touring heavy metal act, lamb of god. We’ve been around for almost twenty years now, have several critically acclaimed albums (well, at least by a few critics at a couple of metal magazines), and have played on every continent on earth except Antarctica. It’s a good life.
I am also a sober alcoholic who hasn’t touched a drink or a drug (other than caffeine and nicotine) for well over three years as of this writing. For twenty-two years, I drank herculean amounts of alcohol (and drugged on the side just to make sure I was truly screwing myself up) in an attempt to alter reality to the point where I could deal with it. Surprise, surprise- that strategy did not work. That was NOT a good life, and I barely survived it. I’m much better now.
Everything was going just hunky-dory until about a year and a half ago. On June 27, 2012 my band flew from Norway to the Czech Republic to play a show. Upon landing in Prague, we were met at the end of the jetway by five masked and heavily armed large men in body armor, along with four plainclothes detectives. To the immense surprise of my bandmates and myself, I was arrested on suspicion of manslaughter concerning the death of a lamb of god fan. We had played Prague two years previously, and unbeknownst to any of us, a young man had sustained an injury to the head during our show, dying a month later. The police said that I was the cause of that injury. I was promptly incarcerated and spent the next thirty-seven days in a 123 year old crumbling prison on the outskirts of Prague. After a long and complex process during which my band had to borrow almost half a million bucks, I was released on bail and returned to the United States. Instead of hiding like a coward in the U.S., safe from extradition (the U.S. government had refused to cooperate with the Czechs after they requested assistance in investigating me immediately after the young man died. My government also did not deem it necessary to inform me that I was a wanted man in a foreign country. Your tax dollars at work.), I returned to Prague in early 2013 to stand trial. I did this for several reasons, first and foremost being I felt the family of this young man deserved some answers, and I was the only one who could provide them. I felt it unethical to hide from my problems while they grieved the loss of their son. As the father of a dead daughter, I understood their pain in a very visceral way. I had tried to hide from my problems for over twenty years by crawling into a bottle. I do not live that way anymore, so to hide from this would have been intolerable for me. I believe it would have lead me back to the drink, and from there, I would have surely died.
On March 5, 2013, I was found not guilty and acquitted of all charges. I have remained a free man every since.
This book will tell that story, the whole story, for the first time ever. I’m the only one who lived it, so I’m the only one capable of telling it. However, the tale of my arrest, incarceration, release, and trial are merely the vehicle I will be using to convey what I feel is an important message in today’s fast paced, high tech, self-centered world. I have something to say, and life has presented me with a tragic way to illustrate my point without being preachy or pedantic. I will not moralize or shout from some ludicrous ethical pedestal (I didn’t win the Olympics or cure cancer, I went to prison for Pete’s sake)- I just want to relate how I got through a very scary time and came out with my head held high. I think there is a lesson of value in the telling of my story, if only for myself. Therefore I will write it, and I hope some of you will read it.
That’s my basic story. What this blog is:
1) Process: I am a voracious reader, and have been since I was child. I love reading books about the people who write books. I love learning about their process. I love seeing pictures of their writing desks. I love hearing about the nervous break downs they had as they toiled in solitude to produce something worth reading. I love a glimpse into their great knotty craniums. That is what the first phase of this blog will attempt to do through writing, photos, video, and maybe even some original music. I have found that through my photography and Instagram account (@drandallblythe) that fans of my band and my photo work enjoy seeing what is going on in my life, as it has taken me to some pretty neat places and lead to some pretty interesting observations. The process phase will allow you a glimpse into what it’s like for me to become an author. I will not be taking questions during this phase, as I need to be writing. If you want to observe the train wreck in progress, by all means, hop aboard.
2) Production: In the second phase of the blog, I will be detailing what happens between submitting the manuscript to my publishers and the book hitting the shelves. This will include art work updates (galley covers, etc.), perhaps some advance reviews, book tour dates (I plan on doing a very interesting book tour), and what I learn about the business of publishing as I go along. This is a new area for me, and I hope to share what I learn as I fumble through this new field- who knows, maybe it will help some young aspiring author out! No questions will be taken here either.
3) Publication: Ok, the books out- now what? I guess we shall see! I will be opening up the questions section once the book is released, and we will be entering the publication phase of the blog. If anyone asks me something interesting CONCERNING THE BOOK, I will do my best to answer it. I also will be updating appearances and writing about anything different/funny/weird/hideous/painful/embarrassing that occurs as a result of being a published author. Maybe nothing will happen- who knows? Once again, I guess we shall see. I have a feeling all the above mentioned things will occur though. I am a magnet for wing nuts and bizarre situations. The book will only step that up, I’m sure.
WHAT THIS BLOG IS NOT:
A place to write about my band or answer any questions about it. There are other channels for that. I talk about band stuff when I am doing band stuff. Right now, I’m doing book stuff. The band stuff will come later.
So that’s the concept for this blog. In my next post I will tell the story of how this book deal thing came about; relating how I had to be convinced to write this book in the first place (it was not my idea- in fact, I really didn’t want to at first), and what finally made me agree to do it (no, it wasn’t money. I already have enough money for what I need. Plus, unless your King or Grisham or one of those folks, the book business is the wrong business to try and get rich in). Thanks for stopping by, and be sure to tell your friends, y’all hear me, now?