“The normal, mundane things you become grateful for”
By Steve Ruff
Photos by Rick McDonough
This was one of the coolest interviews I have ever done. I always enjoy talking to anyone associated with Michael Knott and any of his projects. Contrary to the press that I have seen in most other places where I have read about Knott, I have always found him to be extremely gracious and very giving of himself and his resources. When we interviewed Michael for our last issue, and Matt and I were both wondering what had happened to Brian Doidge, I decided to make that an interview questions. As you read, Michael and Brian were back together and working on the new L.S. Underground record. I, for one, was pretty excited about that. I have always enjoyed watching the old footage that I have of L.S.U. and seeing Brian up there next to Michael, tattooed and strumming away at his guitar… kind of like the silent sidekick. Brian was the clown to Michael’s cookie monster (C-Stone ’93). Brian and Michael were always together for all of Knott’s various projects: L.S.U., Lifesavers, Aunt Bettys and Michael’s solo ventures as well. Then it seemed as though Doidge disappeared after the original Aunt Bettys broke up. What happened to Doidge?
A couple of weeks after the interview with Michael, he contacted me and said, “Why don’t you talk to Doidge, he has a great story to share that might help others in some way.” Of course, I was game and all in for that. No one has ever asked me to write an article, and this one really hit home for me in a personal way. Besides the fact that the Knott/Doidge combo are some of my favorite artists, Brian’s story hit me on a personal level as well. Writers love to talk about themselves, I guess it is somewhat cathartic. I usually steer clear of myself, especially in Christian circles. My past is riddled with drug and alcohol abuse, and for many people I have come in contact with, unless you have lived it, the church has very little understanding of it. I am speaking generically here, I am not saying nobody gets it – just painting the ‘church’ with a broad stroke here. It seems that this subject is something hard for them to get their arms around. Anyway, Brian’s story is not one of just indulgence and partying hard while promoting the ‘rock ‘n roll’ lifestyle… far from that. To me, Brian’s story is a story of redemption, both personal and public; a story of friendships mended and grace rediscovered. This interview lifted me in a way that was very healing on some level. I talked to my wife about my conversations with Brian for several days. I hope that you find this article relevant for yourself or someone you know who may struggle with addiction.
The AMA (American Medical Association) calls addiction a disease. If it is a disease, it is not a typical one… or not in the sense that cancer is a disease. It is something that many people live with, or struggle with, and not always easy to tell. The end result though: addiction leads to prison, death or sobriety – those are usually the only options. This article is not a judgment on drinking, I am not playing the moral police with that. I don’t drink because I have an obvious problem with alcohol, but I don’t think there is anything wrong with alcohol, or the consumption therein. How much is too much is for the individual to figure out. The only scripture that I think really deals with it is where Paul said to not be controlled by anything other than the ‘Spirit’. Again, that is a call for people to make for themselves, and everyone is different. So please, don’t take this article the wrong way, my intent is not to pass any type of judgment, it is just to relay a story, and as Brian and myself hope, to help someone who might find hope in these lines, or to offer encouragement to someone trying to help others.
Brian Doidge has been around the music scene a long time. Actually, I was surprised at just how long. He is now 42 years old, but he first got saved at the young age of 14 at Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa California. He tells it like this: “That was back when the whole punk rock thing hit, I cut off all my surfer hair, and I got the look of the Sex Pistols. Some of my friends and I got really involved in church and in the born-again movement, but we wanted to be like The Ramones and The Sex Pistols, so we started a band.” Brian’s musical influences really began there as well. He said, “The first Ramones album was really easy to learn to play, it was just three chords and the bass was like, one note, so it was simple to learn. I got saved right around the same time I started playing, but the music I was into was probably not the music that most people would expect a new Christian to be listening to. I don’t know if people have picked up on it or not, but my biggest guitar influence was Brian James who played in The Dammed and then in Lords Of The New Church. That guitar sound and what he was doing I really liked, so I tried to copy that. Then there was the guitar player from Killing Joke, he did a lot of weird chords, and once I sat down and started learning that stuff I thought, ‘hey, this is cool’. So, I kind of combined all of those things and came out with my own sound, I never really had any lessons, I just learned from the records I listened to back then.”
At the time there weren’t really any Christian punk rock bands around. Brian relates, “There was this 70’s rock, Daniel Amos and Randy Stonehill, but this was like ’79 or ’80 and we had started a band that played Ramones style music, but we didn’t have a singer, so we put out an ad and Michael showed up.” Brian laughs, “Michael drove all the way from Huntington Beach to Yorbe Linda, and he thought it was the longest drive of his life… he walks in, comes up and I remember thinking, ‘Who’s this guy, he thinks he’s Elvis’, because he had this jet black hair and pompadour, but when he played with us I knew he was good. We had already started playing shows then, but there was this other band, The Lifesavers, and they were having trouble with their singer, so Michael ended up going with that band.” The band that Brian was in was called The Chosen Ones, and they were playing Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa back when they had Saturday night concerts. The bands that played then were The Chosen Ones, Undercover, The Lifters and The Lifesavers, and those were really the only bands playing this ‘new’ style of music back then. Brian states, “The Lifters were rockabilly, and Undercover was more of a rock band, The Lifesavers and The Chosen Ones were playing punk and people were packing the place, it was this big move of Jesus, and that’s basically how I met Mike Knott.”
Following on with the history Doidge continues, “The Chosen Ones were kind of disintegrating, we were only like 15 and 16 years old, and we were still going through puberty and fighting all the time, so it was hard to keep things together. I started another band called The Altar Boys with a couple of guys from The Chosen Ones, and right when I got that together and we were about to start playing shows, The Lifesavers recruited me to play guitar behind Michael.” Brian laughs, “I was 16 years old and I remember the drummer was mad and he was like, ‘We can’t let this little kid in, he doesn’t even have his license’… but we ended up being good friends with him, his name was Kevin Lee and he ended up being the drummer on Shaded Pain and some other stuff we did, but yeah, that was funny. I don’t remember if we ever played a show as The Altar Boys, we were going to, but Kevin’s brother was Mike Annis (Mike Stand) and he came to me one day and said he was starting a band and wanted to use the name Altar Boys, and I said sure, we weren’t going to use it so you’re welcome to it, and then the Altar Boys went on to play for a long time too. It was a tight knit group back then because there wasn’t really any other Christian punk rock or alternative music groups playing … we were kind of the first ones to be taking it to this whole new level. It was an exciting time, I was really glad to have been a part of it, I was really blessed to have been a part of it… ya know, I don’t really know how my life would’ve turned out if I hadn’t been there, it was a lot of fun.”
From that point on, Brian played with Michael Knott. As a matter of fact, Brian has played on most of Knott’s various projects all the way up until sometime around 2000. That includes L.S.U., Lifesavers, Lifesavors, L.S. Underground and some solo ventures as well, including Rocket & A Bomb, Strip Cycle and Fluid (which, funny enough, was about a girl that Brian was dating at the time). I asked Brian about Fluid and he said, “Fluid was one of my favorite things we did. I remember when we were recording it, it was dark and grey, and it was really weird outside… but, that record came out really well.” Interesting enough, Michael has written a few songs about Brian (“Lonely Boy Gone Bad,” “Sugar Mama”) and even painted him, as the painting of “Lonely Boy” on the Shaded Pain re-issue is Doidge.
So, let me get back to the history aspect of the story. Brian continues, “I just ended up playing with Mike. We did the Lifesavers, and then a few guys left and it was just me, Mike and Kevin Lee for awhile. We went to Frontline Records and then Mike started his own label. As Shaded Pain was being released, we changed from Lifesavers to L.S.U. because people gave us so much grief about that record. It was so different, and dark, but we were trying to relay the other side… I mean we weren’t going to sing ‘Jesus Loves Me This I Know’, we already knew that. We were trying to go a little deeper and talk about the real issues Christians were dealing with, that normal people deal with, like relationships, and some of the things that can be darker. I worked really hard on that record, I thought it was really good. I did guitar and bass with Mike and we thought that this was the way we were going to go, but nobody liked it ya know? They wanted the Dreamlife stuff that we had done on the previous record, but I hated that record. After that we just kind of said ‘whatever’ and we played where we could, but there weren’t a lot of places to play. I think after Shaded Pain people basically thought we had lost our minds. Then, years later, I hear how much people really like that record and I thought, ‘Thanks for the support when it came out.’ Mike and I were starving at the time because we were trying to do this as a living, these other Christian bands were able to do it as a living, and that’s what we were striving for. Then Michael started his own label and we just started putting stuff out on the Blonde Vinyl/Siren Records label that he had going for awhile, and we just became best friends. We lived together, we lived in LA, and we moved to Hollywood and tried to make it in a more secular type band called Idle Lovell, but I think we got kind of scared of Hollywood, man it was weird up there, so we moved back to Orange County.”
On the album Shaded Pain, as mentioned earlier, there is the song about Brian called “Lonely Boy.” Brian said, “I was all messed up over this girl, over the relationship ending, I was really messed up over it… that’s about when I started drinking. Alcoholism can affect anybody, you just don’t know if you have the disease or not.” I asked Brian if alcoholism runs in his family. “No, not really, I guess way back on my Mom’s side a great Grandfather died from it, but no one in my family really drinks, it wasn’t a part of my upbringing or anything, it was just something I kind of slid into. When I was about 20 or 21 I just started experimenting with it, but you just don’t realize that it can reach out and grab a hold of you because you’re not a normal person. I had no idea about alcoholism or anything like that, I was just living life like everyone else, and I didn’t realize until I was about 30 that something just wasn’t right here.” Brian and I started talking about how when you’re an addict you just kind of wake up and think, “Man, I’m 30, what happened to the last 10 years of my life?” Brian continues, “Yeah, I remember most of my 20’s, it was when I was battling the disease in my 30’s that I lost recollection of entire weeks, shows, spans of time, you know, the whole deal… it’s just a nightmare, but I really didn’t know what to do. God helped me through a lot of tight scrapes, I was really lucky.”
“Sometime around ’93 Michael and I started talking about getting a record deal, another secular type deal, and the things were happening in Hollywood, so I thought if we just go there and play, even if nobody comes, we might at least get an offer if we get a good enough band together. So, Michael got a drummer, and I put an ad out and went through a ton of guitarists until we found Andrew Carter… and we started Aunt Betty’s Ford. It wasn’t intended to be a Christian band at all I don’t think, and we just started playing teasers until we became teaser favorites and all of a sudden we had a record deal… I mean, it sounds like it was easy, but looking back on it, it was kind of like once that was what we decided to do, we did it, and we ended up with a record deal. It was kind of strange, it was surreal, it was a really weird time. So we put out what we thought was a really good record, but I guess the record company wasn’t really happy. I was never really sure what all the circumstances were about why we left the label because I was really a little too out of it most of the time to know, or even care. I just remember playing some shows, and then I don’t remember playing some shows. I think I probably played most of the last Aunt Betty’s shows in a blackout. So, the band was in the process of leaving that label, and Mike decided that it was probably time for us to part ways, which was understandable considering what a mess I was… I was a little hurt, but looking back on it I understand where he was coming from.”
“After the whole Aunt Betty’s thing we just kind of lost contact, I didn’t play to much then, I just figured maybe it was time to retire.” I asked Brian if retiring might have been due in part to the letdown of losing the Aunt Betty’s contract. “Yeah, I guess that it was, and I think it was pretty much our fault, or I’ll take my side of it anyway… I was way too much of an alcoholic at that point to pull anything that professional off. I mean, I was a mess. I was on the floor, and I mean seriously in the grips of it bad where it was affecting my playing and it was affecting me. After that it just spiraled out of control and I thought maybe I just shouldn’t be doing this, I felt embarrassed you know, because Christian people would come to see me play, and it just wasn’t a very good representation of who I was. I was really fighting my disease, and not being very successful at fighting it, and I think a lot of people saw that and were probably just thinking, man, what the hell is wrong with this guy? I was one of those alcoholics that just couldn’t stop drinking even if I had a show, and I played some shows very intoxicated, and the guilt from that was just horrific.”
“So, that’s when I left, and the Aunt Betty’s continued on a little while without me, and then Mike just started doing his solo stuff after that. I ended up meeting a girl who had a really good job, and I just basically ended up being a bum from about the time the band ended until about the end of 2004. So, I spent 5 or 6 years of my life doing nothing… I didn’t work, I just drank, I didn’t care about anything, I had lost hope in life and in music. When you’re in the grips of alcoholism, that becomes all you care about, I didn’t play music, I didn’t pray, nothing but drinking.” Brian and the girl he met ended up getting married. “My wife allowed me to live that way and I took full advantage of it, and that was wrong on every level of who I am, and every level of just normal human beings. It was the wrong existence to have, and I had it for way too long. I just watched TV and drank, and I jumped in a few Orange County bands here and there, did a little writing for them, played a few shows, but nothing ever really worked out. I think at that point I was starting to scare people, and that’s sad.”
Brian’s marriage lasted about 10 or 11 months, and then his wife met someone else. They were together a little over 6 years, but then he was out, right around Christmas of 2004. “I had a bag of clothes, didn’t know what I was going to do, I just left. I went to a rehearsal studio of a friend of mine and stayed there for awhile until I could figure out what I needed to do. So, I decided that the thing to do was to get sober, but I didn’t know how to go about it, and I had tried it on my own and just couldn’t seem to do it. So, I thought maybe I needed to get a job.” Brian laughs and in a mocking voice says, “Maybe I should get a job… what a novel idea… I think I’ll get a job. It took me forever to get a job. I looked every day for five or six weeks, every morning I got the paper and I went on job interviews all day. I would be at these interviews and the people would say, “You’re 42 and you have no resume, what have you been doing?” I would tell them, I’m a professional musician, I’ve been in bands, making records and touring, and they would say, “Yeah, we’ll give you a call.” Never heard from them man, interview after interview, and I just knew. So I finally ended up answering an ad for what turned out to be a temp agency. There was this other musician who worked there, and the guy that ran it was also a musician, and he had just bought this guitar, an expensive guitar, and there was something wrong with it so I just grabbed it and basically fixed it for him. He started talking to me and asking me about myself, I told him I was a musician, and he asked me if I knew anything about speakers… I said, well, I’ve blown a few of them. He told me that he had a great place for me to work, so I ended up getting a job at the speaker store… they’re a big power amp company that got into speakers, and I started working there, and I still work there today. I started off at the entry level, and I’ve worked my way up to a supervisor, been there since 2005.”
During this time Brian started going to a 12-Step program, but as he says, he still wasn’t “getting it.” He continues, “I kept trying to get sober, and then I was drinking again, and I would try some sober living things, but I would still keep drinking. So finally I moved into a weekly motel right by my work, and that’s what I did for a couple of years… basically, I worked and I drank, it was a pretty sad existence. I was barely holding down my job at times, and then I would get sober for a little while, work would be happy and promote me, and then I would struggle again, and that was basically how my life was. Then, last February I had a week off work, and I had been drinking heavily with some friends at my hotel room, and I guess one night they came in and found me face down on the ground with a bunch of empty bottles around me… I was unresponsive, so they got me to the emergency room and I was admitted right away because the doctors said my pancreas was about to explode. So, at that time I was at deaths door. I stayed on the top floor of the hospital for about a week, hooked up to every machine that they had. Imagine just waking up, strapped down and hooked up to all these machines behind you that are humming and beeping and thinking, “Uh oh, I’ve really done it this time.” So that was really my wake up call.”
Fortunately, the hospital had a chemical dependency unit right inside, and they asked Brian if he was interested in doing a 30 day program. Doidge said yes, he went through the program, started his own 12-Step program, and at the time of this interview he has close to 9 months without a drink! When I stopped the interview to congratulate Brian he said, “Thanks. Yeah, nine months is a long time, or it is for me ya know. That’s the long and short of it, and now sobriety is a big part of my life, it has to be.”
Brian has been very fortunate, not just that his life was spared, but he has also been able to re-connect with people in his life that he had not spoken to in a long time. He relays, “My Dad, and Mom and Mike all came back into my life once I got sober. I had not spoken to them in a good eight years, I think they had written me off, and I had pretty much written myself off too, just because I didn’t know what else to do.” In talking with Doidge, I told him how a lot of the music that he and Michael made had helped me through a lot of dark places in my life, and how I found it interesting that even though he was going through his own struggles when he made the music, God still used it, in spite of what he was doing, to minister to me. He replied, “That makes it all worthwhile, ya know? That’s one of the main gratifications for me… maybe this will speak to someone else and help them along, especially now, that’s one of my main reasons to continue doing it. Maybe people will say, hey… these guys have been through it, and now they’re singing about it, and maybe it will give somebody hope in a rough time.”
Brian now lives in Newport Beach, at what is called a ‘sober living’ home. Basically, it is two houses, one for men and one for women, where people who are living sober are welcomed to come and stay. Sobriety is the only pre-requisite to living there. Brian has been there since February of 2008, and loves where he is living. He said that he helps out new residents, introduces them to people and helps them get their bearings. I asked Brian if he would be able to stay there as long as he wanted and he said, “Yeah, it’s a great place, I’m comfortable here. There are other people here, just like me, that are taking it day by day. I just go to work, go to the movies, don’t drink, hang out at the pool, ya know the normal stuff that everyone else does… I love it here.” I told Brian how when I got sober it was just nice to experience the same things that other people did, just to be able to go to the movies was a blessing. He agrees and says, “I know, I was having trouble eating when I drank, and now just being able to eat is a blessing, and going to the movies instead of just having a movie as background noise in a hotel room… it’s a lot of little things, like being able to look people in the eye when you talk to them. I was always ashamed of what I was, I never looked people in the eye, I was ashamed to talk to God, let alone other people… it just had me bad. Now, life is good, I have no complaints at all, I don’t need to go anywhere, I’m good right where I’m at.”