Dear Superstar: Dave Gahan
By Victoria de Silverio ~
“My face hurts,” says Dave Gahan, sitting on a penthouse veranda at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills in a slim black suit and wifebeater. “We all went to see The 40-Year-Old Virgin last night and I laughed so hard my jaw is still sore. During the saddest moments of my life, I had lost my sense of humor.”
There was a time when Gahan had more to worry about than his funnybone. The Depeche Mode frontman, whose cavernous voice ushered in an era of new-romantic gloom, was almost felled by his grunge-era heroin habit, an addiction that led to numerous overdoses, a suicide attempt, a weird Bugs Bunny doll roommate (more on that later) and death, for two minutes.
Despite deciding to “play the whole rock-star thing to the full and burn out,” the eight-years-sober Gahan, 43, is sinewy, tanned and wrinkle-free. Even in the unforgiving glare of the afternoon sun, his only visible scars are from an aborted tattoo on his forearm and a gnarly wound on his elbow, the result of an extreme Pilates position he’s been practicing.
Though he’s sold more than 50 million records with a band he started 25 years ago with Martin Gore, Andrew Fletcher and Vince Clarke, written a well-received solo effort, Paper Monsters, in 2003 and is promoting Depeche Mode’s eleventh album, the return-to-form Playing the Angel, Gahan is feeling modest.
“Turning down that radio up there is the key,” he says, pointing to what lies beneath his perfect black coif. “Even now, it will tell me to end it. The difference now is that I’m like, Shut the fuck up!” A yoga state of mind we hope he keeps, as we expose him to your inquiring mind…
Describe the worst day of your childhood.
GEESUS, IRVINE, CA
I can think of two. When I was 11, I came home from school and was confronted with a man sitting next to my mom, who explained that this man was my father. Up until then, I’d thought that my stepfather, who’d died when I was 9, was my biological father. Turns out my father had left us when I was very young. God bless my mom, she was doing the best she could, but I was brought up in that very English way that if there’s something that might hurt your kid, you don’t tell them. After that, I was like, fuck off to everything and I got into a lot of trouble, for stealing cars and robbing and thieving, which led to my other worst day. When I was about 15 I was sent away to a detention center for six weeks. It was a kid’s prison — you march down the hall, get your blanket and new clothes, get screamed at and beat up. Joining Depeche Mode saved my life.
At the height of your infatuation with grunge, did you rock a flannel shirt?
HICCUP2000, SANTA MONICA, CA
I don’t think I “rocked” a flannel shirt, but I definitely had my fair share of flannel shirts. There are some pictures of me being arrested in one. I wore them more so that I wouldn’t get noticed, so I could blend in.
Do you still wear a scrotum ring?
SHOVAK, JENKINTOWN, PA
It wasn’t a scrotum ring, it was a geish — that’s a piercing in the part between your scrotum and your ass. It’s supposedly the most erotic place to be pierced, but I would beg to differ with that. I don’t know if any piercing is that erotic, really. For me, it was probably about the pain. I knew it was time to get rid of it when one of my kids noticed it and was like, “Why do you have an earring in your ass?”
Did your life flash in front of your eyes when you had your near-death experience in 1996?
FASHIONCHIK2, CARSON CITY, NV
Oh yeah. I saw Jennifer, who is my wife now, and she was calling me back. I had this feeling that she was a light, a good thing in my life. I also heard a voice really loud that was saying ‘This is wrong! You don’t get to decide!’ I could see myself surrounded by the paramedics and I was screaming down: ‘I’m here, I’m here!’ I felt like, oh my God, I made a big mistake! This is not what I wanted! And all of a sudden I felt that surge coming back to life. I found out later that Jennifer, who was in New York, felt at the time, 4 A.M., an overwhelming feeling that something terrible had happened to me.
How long after you flatlined did you give up drugs?
EYEPOD2005, CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, OH
It still took me about two years after that to ask for help. At that point I was finally court-mandated to stay sober. It was either that or go to jail. So I went to live at a sober living house and they would pull us in randomly to be urine-tested. It was really humbling, but at the same time I felt the best I had ever felt in my life.
I’m thinking of buying a pair of leather trousers. Any advice?
UNICORNLVR, ANTIOCH, CA
Yes. First, find someone to make them for you, because you’ll never find a pair that fits you properly otherwise. Make sure they are black, too.
Is it true that you had a weird rabbit doll when you were a junkie?
BLCKCELEBRATION, LIVINGSTON, NJ
Oh yes. The last couple of years in California, I was living in a little apartment in Santa Monica and I had — well, it’s really sad, actually — this huge Bugs Bunny doll. Which would become quite animated when I was out of my mind. I also had a Tin Man and a Lion. The Tin Man used to speak to me. It was basically psychotic behavior, which of course now I can see. But at the time I thought, “Doesn’t everyone have these things?”
What song did you sing in your audition for the band?
KSWAGGER, NEW YORK
“Heroes” by David Bowie — it was an accident though. One night I was messing around at rehearsals with this other band and someone started playing that song and I started to sing. Martin and Andy and Vince were next door and they heard me. A couple of weeks later, Vince called me and asked if I wanted to rehearse with them.
How out of it were you when you brought a spiritual advisor on tour with the band?
STRNGLVE, SAN FRANCISCO
Jonathan Kessler actually handled accounting stuff for us, but we referred to him as our spiritual advisor as a joke. What he did was act as a mediator between us since we were all in very different places. We did take a psychiatrist on the road, to help us communicate, but we never ever sat down together. The idea though was sort of like the Metallica film, Some Kind of Monster, but before that came out, of course. I never went to see the psychiatrist and I’m pretty sure no one else in the band did either. Some crew members did though, and after a period of time, the doctor left, saying ‘You are all insane and need to be committed.’
Out of your 11 records, which one is your least favorite?
PRINCEODARKNESS, FORT LEE, NJ
Ultra was my least favorite to make. That was a bit of a mess. But my least favorite record in terms of sound was Broken Frame, our second one. That was when Martin was thrown into the deep end to write all the songs [after Vince Clarke left the band]. We struggled for a few albums to try to find something, our sound.
What do you remember about getting married in Las Vegas?
REALELVIS, RENO, NV
Not a lot.
It’s 1994, You’re midway through the songs of Faith And Devotion tour and it’s 10 minutes before you go onstage — paint a picture of the scene backstage.
JLANNERT, OSSINING, NY
Well, I was usually locked away in my dressing room — we had separate dressing rooms at the time, separate everything, actually. The weird thing was, during that period, even though I was messed up, I’d do an hour of yoga before the show. When people are really in the grips of addiction, you often think you are on a higher plane, and doing yoga was all part of that. I was really disciplined about it. I think it amazed people, because I would come off stage and get straight into the drugs and the booze and that would go on all night.
How is it that you look so good after all these years?
TPEBBLE, BAYONNE, NJ
Well, I don’t go there anymore with the booze and the drugs, and I haven’t for about eight years. That might be part of it. I still wake up in the morning full of gloom and doom. I do not jump out of bed going “Wooo hooo! Let’s go!” To get myself out of that funk, I get moving. I run three, four times a week — only for 30 minutes — but I run pretty fast.
Are you still the world’s foremost new-romantic goth fisherman?
FUNKYDANCER, GERMANTOWN, PA
Yes! I just went actually with my brother Pete. It was cool, just sitting next to each other. After all the stuff that’s happened, I still have my fishing poles. I think the biggest fish that I caught was probably a 10-pound carp. That might be exaggerating a bit.
Why did you start waxing your chest?
JHENKLES, ANAHEIM, CA
I’ve got one of those chests like the guy from 40-Year-Old Virgin — hairy and kind of patchy — and I’m very vain. I don’t really like body hair, to be honest. I like to be streamlined, like a dolphin. I don’t really do it anymore though.
Have you talked to your kids about drugs yet?
JESUSISMYPAL, MODESTO, CA
Oh yeah, we talk about it. If there is one good thing that has come out of all of this, it’s that we are open to talk about those things. Drugs aren’t things that our kids are going to be able to hide from us. We know all about it. It’s not going to be like, “Oh, hmm, I wonder if he’s smoking pot.” But if they choose to go down that path, I’m way more equipped to be supportive and to give advice.
Which lyric are you most proud of writing?
VIOL8TR, ORLANDO, FL
The words to “A Little Piece,” from my solo record Paper Monsters. It starts out, “All alone and bitter, all alone and mad, all alone with someone, and I should be so glad.” It seemed to just flow through me when it came out.
Do you have any nicknames?
PEGGYSUE99, FORT COLLINS, CO
A paramedic who, well, I wouldn’t say I became friendly with him, but he treated me a few times for overdoses, was like, this guy is a cat. He’s got nine lives. So some people have called me “Cat.”
What was the worst job you ever had?
CRUMBS88, NEW YORK
I’ve worked so many jobs at construction sites and in factories, paperboy, washing up in hotels and stuff, but I would never last long. Sometimes I would go to lunch and never come back. One job I really liked, though, was landscaping. We’d all get in the back of the truck and the boss would drop us off at a bare field and we’d rotovate the land, then come back the next week, throw some seeds around and plant small trees. Months later, it would be grass with trees and we’d dance on it and then mow.
Who does the best cover of “Personal Jesus”?
DUFFBEER, MEMPHIS, TN
Johnny Cash, by far. He pared it down to its barest form. Martin originally got the idea from reading Priscilla Presley’s biography on Elvis. She said that Elvis was her personal Jesus.
Aside from dying, what is the dumbest thing you’ve ever done on drugs?
KARMAKID, TALLAHASSEE, FL
Ha! Take them in the first place. Moderation was never my M.O.
In all, how much money do you think you stuck in your arm?
KHARRIS, VIRGINIA BEACH, VA
One of the first things you have to do when you go to a rehab is try to work that out, to take an inventory, so that you see the value of what you’ve wasted. The answer, especially if you include all the rehabs, is a ridiculous amount of money, a shameful amount. For a few years, I was spending $2,000 to $3,000 a week. I’m sure it’s a lot more than that, if you figure in all the damage it caused. It’s insane.
What song in the last six months do you wish you had written?
BIGDIPPER9, AMHERST, NY
“Hiding All Away,” from the new Nick Cave album, Abattoir Blues. The line “I was hidden, dear, hiding all away” particularly rings in my ears. I think he’s an absolute genius, a poet.
What are your vices now?
PAPERPUSHER00, WILMINGTON, DE
Dark chocolate. I prefer it to be from Belgium. I don’t think there is a day that goes by that I don’t eat some. It’s my reward.