It was at an elaborate breakfast buffet in an upscale Manila hotel – courtesy of a Filipino concert promoter – where I first had an in depth conversation with Randy Blythe. Sure we’d run into each other before, always at a show, in a big crowd but never one on one. Minutes earlier, we’d noticed each other sitting alone at tables and got a kick out of seeing someone else from our respective bands that had risen early and headed to breakfast with a paperback in hand. One of us, I forget who, waved the other over to his table.
Soon we were deep in discussion of shared passions for not just books but also spicy cuisine, adventurous travel, diverse music and films. It was a mutual favorite movie, Lost In Translation that solidified this bromance – if you will. We each own the film, have seen it numerous times, frequently quote it and both love the soundtrack that consists of ambient textures and indy rock not typically listened to by metalheads. It was good to find someone else in the metal world that enjoys a good thought provoking, artistic, independent film while so many of our friends prefer dark fantasy, horror and violent action movies.
To my pleasant surprise that morning, Randy turned out to be someone that defies stereotype, is an independent thinker, well read, articulate and unafraid to express honest opinions. Whenever we’ve hung out since, it is not as the singer of Lamb Of God and the guitarist of Testament, but simply as two guys that have a lot of common interests.
A few months later, I went to see chef/author/TV personality Anthony Bourdain on a book tour – Randy and I are both die hard fans. When I met Bourdain, I passed along a message from Randy and got each of us a personalized copy of Bourdain’s latest book Medium Raw, in which Bourdain drew a picture of a chef’s knife and a personal inscription. Randy returned the favor by giving me an incredible book by computer programmer/musician Jaron Lanier – a technological manifesto covering the positive and negative implications of the modern computers and the internet, entitled You Are Not A Gadget.
This is the Randy Blythe I know- bookish, passionate, smart someone that, like myself, is a nerdy intellectual oddball who just happen to be in a well known metal band. That scowling, scary face in his band’s publicity photos and live shots? An onstage persona.
As I write this, Randy sits in a Czech prison, unjustly accused of manslaughter, denied bail and facing a 5-10 year sentence. He was arrested on sight at the Prague airport, without warning. Apparently two years prior, a fan succumbed to head injuries weeks after attending a Lamb Of God concert. While this is a tragic unfolding of events, it is beyond a reasonable doubt that Randy is not to blame. Here’s a report from Richmond’s local CBS affiliate, WTVR
As of this writing, it has now been more than two weeks. It’s getting more difficult by the day to think of a friend unfairly locked away in a foreign jail, kept from family, loved ones, liberty and life. One is reminded of films like Midnight Express and novels like Franz Kafka’s The Trial (the type of creative works that Randy appreciates on a deep level, but surely never thought he’d have to live through).
At this point all we can do is try to stir up noise, keep tweeting, petitioning and drawing more attention to this case and hopefully get this great, well deserving guy out of jail. There are a few petitions going around, including this one from Change.org It can’t hurt to Tweet media and government figures, including the State Department Bureau Of Consular affairs, @TravelGov, an official US agency that describes its purpose as “protecting lives and interests of U.S. citizens overseas.” So far not a peep out of them. Adding to the frustration, this case is barely making a dent outside of Randy’s hometown of Richmond, Va. As of yet there has been no national TV coverage of the case, despite brief mentions in the LA Times, New York Times and Rolling Stone (shortly after the arrest, with little or no follow up). One can’t help wonder if prejudice against metal and its reputation could have something to do with this. As one fan, @GarthGreen13, posted on Twitter: ” Justin Bieber gets speeding ticket & its headlining news, Randy gets put up 4 MANSLAUGHTER in another country, nothing.” One would like to think that simply being an American citizen comes with certain inalienable protection against mistreatment by foreign justice systems, especially those of European Union countries such as the Czech Republic. And it would seem like being a four time Grammy nominated singer would help. Apparently not.
Addendum: Unfortunately, in the days following this post, a very select but vocal few have chosen to interpret the last sentence of the post as demonstrating ‘American exceptionalism,’ causing a chain reaction on certain other websites. These irresponsible ranters fail to mention or even consider how often I’ve been a critic of blind patriotism, cultural illiteracy and global ignorance as demonstrated by some in the US. Someone even had the nerve to accuse me of having a stance reminiscent of the George W. Bush era. I normally don’t feel the need to justify anything I write, but this is no doubt the most false, shocking and absurd reaction to anything I’ve written, ever.
In defense of these accusations, here is a comment I posted following my 9-11 anniversary post that can be found here: Ten Years Gone
“…anger and seeking of retribution can be extremely dangerous when it is misplaced. The leadership of the US at that time, specifically George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, took advantage of a self-serving agenda that has made the world a more dangerous place. Reaction is something that must be handled with care, one must think before action, whether as just one person and especially as a group or nation…So much of the country was blind with rage. It became acceptable to hate immigrants, moderate Muslims and even France. French Fries became Freedom Fries.”
More examples of my own combating of overzealous Americanism can be found throughout my blogs, comments and Twitter posts, including some that I had back and forth with Randy Blythe, especially on the 4th Of July and 9/11 anniversaries, drawing the wrath of a few ultra ‘pro-American’ folks.
As soon as a couple of my own readers expressed such concerns, I immediately posted the following comment, certain all confusion would end here:
” …If Randy was a Japanese citizen, I would hope that someone from the Japanese government would intervene. If he was Canadian, I would expect the Canadian Government to get involved. In either hypothetical situation, I’d expect the respective medias of those countries to be all over this. No one from any country, famous or not, deserves this situation Randy has found himself in.
In no way was I implying that being American or famous means someone is deserving of special treatment (it’s a bit puzzling to me that anyone would interpret it that way, but ok). The fact that he’s well known doesn’t place him above anyone else. It does, however make it less excusable that US officials and media are ignoring his case.
I do not bring up the “American citizen” factor out of a sense of superiority, but merely to point out that a false sense of security exists among our citizens (I can’t speak for any other country). Supposedly our government has agencies that are “protecting lives and interests of U.S. citizens overseas.” Many of us in the US have grown up believing this.
The truth was put rather well by Roger Waters the other day at Yankee Stadium, when he sang “Mother should I trust the government?” The answer flashed across The Wall in red spray-paint like lettering: “NO FUCKING WAY.”
I have no issue with anyone who’s commented on this blog that may have misunderstood the purpose of this post, which was to humanize Randy and show him as someone separate from those scary publicity photos. He is not someone above the law, just one who finds himself in an unfortunate legal limbo. I’m deeply sorry that a life was lost and am sure that Randy is as well.
I am, however, bemused with those who have miscast my words on other sites in an attempt to vilify me for the sake of serving their own self interests – even after the above comment – using me as a scapegoat for the purpose of enhancing their on-line personas and drawing attention to their own posts. As a writer, this is something I would never stoop to.