After a glorious Halloweekend that saw the city vigorously celebrating in costumed style, I was prepared to cool my jets for a few days after cavorting with so very many ghouls, goblins and a female version of Edward Scissorhands. Sunday night rolled around and as I was sitting down to write this column, everything changed. Jeremy Swift, the guitarist of my band GET OUT., wrote me to say that Gary Miller, a.k.a. Dr Know of punk legends Bad Brains, was hospitalized and potentially passing away.
Not only the inventors of hardcore punk as debatably the first band to play the style, at least on the East Coast, Bad Brains were one of the first bands to kickstart alternative music, combining Bob Marley-influenced reggae into the same set as pit-starter, hyper-fast classics like “I Against I” and “Riot Squad.” As a teen growing up it was amazing to have Doc live around here and continually working at a local Woodstock farmstand, whether the Brains were doing good financially or not, almost as a sort of humble relationship between himself and the cycles of the Creator’s seasons.
And that’s the thing. Gary could go on a rant sometimes when he was mad about something and say that the band never got their due, until perhaps recently when Dave Grohl’s Sonic Highways reintroduced a whole new generation of fans to the most iconic band still active properly in underground punk. (Don’t get me started on the current Misfits and Black Flag lineups.) Those were rare occurrences, though. The vast majority of the time Doc has always been, in my experience, way more humble than he should be. It’s not only idiotic that he was not on the top 100 guitarists ever Rolling Stone list, but borderline insane. Many people I know feel in awe around the guy.
Over the years Doc has benefited the community in many ways, as a father, as a mentor to many musicians and troubled youth including myself, as somebody who could make a bangin’-ass meal, and of course as a beacon of musical inspiration to anyone who ever saw a rare local Bad Brains/Soul Brains set or the recently re-activated Defiant Ones. Just last week or so The Defiant Ones played BSP. A few days later, Doc was hospitalized and the family requests his privacy be respected at this time.
My cousin, who has been involved with him, is flying back from Cali and there was a candlelight vigil in Woodstock. It is making me nauseous to not know if he will be alive by the time this sees print. Not knowing what to do with myself, last night I wrote people who I know were his friends who would want to know, fellow musicians like Ian Mackaye of Minor Threat/Fugazi and Jason Christopher of Prong. Perhaps that seems odd but I respect these people and the thought of them finding out online in some gaudy fashion made me ill at ease. Ian wrote Darryl Jenifer, Bad Brains bassist, as of Sunday night and told me Doc was still in critical condition and there was still hope.
The last time I saw Doc was at my own dad’s memorial a few weeks ago. He was laughing, helping our family mourn and videotaping my aunt singing songs or talking guitars with my cousin from Texas. He took me aside and asked me some questions and listened to me about some horrible recent arguing with the band Coheed & Cambria and some of their friends. I told Doc over the years I really want to stay positive and he suggested I try to talk to those guys, though also said it was OK for me not to think it is OK for their fans to bully my sister Cambria because I have felt they haven’t been forthright about their band name, or cleared it up. That meant a lot to me. If anyone thinks I am making that up for this article they can frankly go someplace really hot. I doubt they will talk to me still as our arguing got really ugly again recently and it is easier for them to not face the conflict, but I know I am a good, well-intentioned person.
Doc trying to bridge that divide, as he is still friendly with them, on a day I was celebrating my dad’s memory and the gentle-but-firm way he was hoping the best for me and telling me not to lose who I really am in anger really touched my heart. I really regret that when I was doing a record that Doc co-produced in 2003 that I was drinking so much it was one of the many factors that led to that band Divest imploding — but that was by no means all my fault. I wish we all could have that level of compassion for one another and cut through the bullshit to publicly show a more unified scene to the world.
Bad Brains represent that to so many people. They invested the idea of positive mental attitude (PMA) into the mainstream and it is now more popular than ever. You see the hashtag all the time of a phrase that used to be synonymous with the song “Attitude” and a crazy band of child military brats doing crazy backflips or riffing out on a voyage to infinity. Whatever the outcome of Gary Miller’s struggle, and let’s hope it is all for the best, he has lived an incredible, influential and vibrant life. I feel selfish writing this as he has closer family, but after losing my dad I can’t believe I might also be losing in the same year not only my biggest hero in music but a mentor, friend and inspiration who is frankly, irreplaceable.
I’ve said it in this column before, but we should be really grateful that Gary has been, and hopefully will continue to be, in our midst.