"Books, records, films -- these things matter. Call me shallow but it's the fuckin' truth."
Silver Springs - Lykke LI (Fleetwood Mac cover)
Some songs have a special power to soften a Sunday morning hangover.
She says you always smell like cigarettes
and there, there’s always whiskey on your breath
But you’re the best that I can
And I, I think I love you
(photo by Matt Whibley, Europe 2011)
In October of 2010 I was looking for a new touring job. I had worked with my close friends Motion City Soundtrack for years and years prior, and had finished my last stint of Warped Tour that summer. I didn’t really ever work for bands that I didn’t know personally until after Warped Tour of 2010. I got a call to go work for Primus. It gave me the confidence to be able to go work for people I didn’t know. I liked working for Primus but it was a very different scene than what I was used to, even though they were a band I idolized when I was kid in high school learning to play bass. They were an older band and crew, and I was kind of looked at as “the kid”. I learned to be a bit more responsible on that tour, and in no way was it not fun, but it was a way more mellow vibe than I was used to.
On that summer’s Warped Tour I didn’t really leave our stage or the bus much. I have a well documented passionate hate of summer festival touring, and Warped Tour is at the top of my shit list. Our stage featured some of our old friends - Alkaline Trio, All-American Rejects - so we didn’t leave the stage too often. As a main stage band we were pretty well taken care of as much as you can be on a tour like that. Truth be told, since I was just the guitar tech and nothing else, it was a far easier day for me than it had been in years past. It left me a lot of free time to spend in the A/C on the bus, but I also ended up wandering off to the other stages. Specifically, drummer Tony Thaxton and I would head over to one of the side stages to watch a band that clearly should not have been playing the side stage - Sum 41. I’m pretty sure in 2001 you’d be living under a rock, and one with no radio or television, to have missed out on Sum 41’s gigantic hit song “Fat Lip”. We were pretty excited to see them as many times as we could, as they seriously put on a really excellent live show, regardless of what you think of their catalog of music.
Through my friend Chris, who was tour managing Sum 41 at the time, I was able to meet them for the first time that summer. I remember walking onto their bus and thinking to myself, “holy shit, these guys go fucking hard.” The bus was littered with empty bottles of booze. Empty cans and bottles of beer, empty bottles of wine, empty vodka bottles, and empty bottles of Jack Daniel’s.
"It’s been a long tour, huh?" I asked Chris.
"Long tour? Bro, this is from this last week!" he laughed, and recounted how much he had spent on alcohol on that summer alone.
I was floored. How could they party this much? How could anyone live through that. This isn’t the Rolling Stones or Led Zeppelin, and even so, in those stories someone dies. I shook my head in disbelief, hung out for a while, and said goodbye to the dudes in the band, who at this point were all pretty wasted and not really paying attention to who was hanging out on their bus at all.
Fast forward back to October of 2010. I got a call from Chris asking me to replace a friend of mine who was guitar tech for Sum 41. He had just left to do another job, so I got on board with the Sum 41 crew. My first calls with their management team warned me, “Be prepared for a lot of shenanigans. I suggest you watch the videos they post online. They like to party. A lot. Just be prepared. They party. A lot.” I was aware from having met them that this would be true, but this was also coming from management now, so I went in with a bit of caution.
My first tour with them was in Europe and I met up with the band for rehearsals in London. Like any other new kid on the first day of school I was met with a little bit of hesitation as we tried to figure each other out, and I found common ground with the guys in the band through drinking and partying. Even though I was working for bassist Cone and guitarist Tom, the other guys - drummer Stevo and singer/guitarist Deryck - all invited everyone in on the party. They very quickly became my friends. They were all funny, talented people, and I felt had been stigmatized by uppity critics and fair weather fans as being one dimensional. After being a band for almost 15 years they still worked hard and had thousands upon thousands of fans the world over. Sum 41 made their career by being on the road constantly, and that same work ethic would eventually unravel them a bit when coupled with all the partying.
(Japanese airport with Sum 41. Photo by Matt Whibley)
I wish I could tell you that I remembered half of the things that went on on those tours, but I spent a lot of that time shitfaced. It wasn’t uncommon to go weeks at a time drinking until we blacked out without a break. The first Europe trip was a blur of Jack Daniel’s and vodka, shitty European cocaine, and non-stop partying. The party animal in me loved it but it had already started to take a toll on my body after several months. I couldn’t believe how far Deryck could go, though. I couldn’t get myself to walk from the bus to the venue some days, and here this guy was playing shows every single night for an hour or more, sweating, running around like a maniac, and killing a bottle of whiskey. It was insanity.
Even from that first show I did with them in 2010, I noticed that he seemed a bit unhealthy. He was definitely looking a bit pale and had the visible signs of having partied a bit hard over the years. He looked tired. He was playing shows every day and hitting the bottle every night, sometimes into the daylight. For all intents and purposes Deryck was a functioning alcoholic by the time I met him, but I didn’t really see it that way. He worked hard and he played hard in my eyes. This was the reputation they had built for themselves and I had witnessed first hand.
That year and a half I toured with them saw a lot of ups and downs for the Sum 41 guys. Especially with Deryck and his health. Ongoing back problems forced shows to be canceled. He tried going sober at the beginning of a Japanese tour and passed out on stage in Sapporo several songs into the set. An Australian tour was cut short when he contracted pneumonia, no doubt exacerbated by his excessive drinking. Even a day or two after being in a hospital in Sydney, he was at the airport sipping wine at 9am as if nothing had happened. This was the first time I was really upset and concerned for my friend’s health. Before that I was along for the ride and part of the circus. We all enabled one another and that was okay. 48 hours before that though, I had seen photos of him laying in a hospital bed and here he was on his way to Spain, drink in hand. It was the very same thing that probably got him in that predicament in the first place. Later that evening I kind of let him talk me into letting him have a bunch of drinks at the bar after everyone else refused to hang out with him and give him the go ahead, and he passed out in my hotel room right after we trashed a bunch of signs in the hallway causing a few hundred Euros in damage. As much as I love the guy, I started to realize that this was incredibly destructive. It had become the opposite of fun, regardless of what face everyone put on for the public.
Deryck Whibley is an incredibly talented guy. Yeah, yeah, I know. Everyone who works for someone who the punk rock/indie/whatever community shuns because they deem them uncool, those people will always defend their employers. But, what you don’t understand is that they are talented people. I have worked for some incredibly popular bands who receive scathing reviews from the pens of people who haven’t contributed a second of their time to bettering the genre of music they so expertly criticize. All of those bands feature talented musicians who, like it or not, have excelled at their craft and have made a career out of their unique gift. Deryck is no exception. He is also a human being. The shame of it all is that it has taken him nearly dying for him to straighten himself out.
Two days before Deryck went public with the horrifying story of what happened to him he called me out of the blue. I hadn’t heard from him in a year, and the last time I had seen him in person he said he was cutting back on his drinking, even though I could tell by looking at him that it was not fully true. I was in Los Angeles recently with a couple of days off and he texted me asking if he could call me. As you can imagine I was in horrible shock hearing what had just happened to him. He told me pretty much the same thing he eventually went on to tell the world. I got off the phone and cried. I was imagining my friend Deryck completely hitting rock bottom alone and it scared the shit out of me.
The music business isn’t an easy industry to come out of unscathed. I have seen friends waste away. I have seen co-workers die. People are on top of the world one year and broke as fuck the next. I, myself, have been through my own trials and faced my own demons. Am I 100% clean and sober? No. Not by a long shot. But, every time I hear a story like this from someone I was close to, it brings me that much closer to just giving it all up. I look at the Brian Diaz of 2010, 2011, and 2012 and I can pinpoint those moments where it all could have gone wrong and thankfully it didn’t.
I hate that Deryck is going through this. I hate that it took nearly dying for him to not completely throw his life and his talents away. I hate that he’s going to be remembered, at least for the time being, as a cautionary tale rather than the talented, good person that he is. But, goddamn it, I’m glad I worked for him and Sum 41 and I’m glad that I can still call them friends. I’m glad that Deryck is still alive. Life ain’t a fairytale. It’s what you make of it and a result of the decisions you make. I’m glad that in his sobriety he was able to come to terms with that and admit that. Hopefully some good comes out of the bad. The last thing I want to hear is another friend’s name attached to a list of rock ‘n’ roll casualties.
I wish Deryck well and hope this is the beginning of something new and better in his life.
(Sum 41 in Chicago, 2011. Photo by me)