I was blindsided by news of Slayer’s firing of drummer Dave Lombardo. At first, I disregarded the rumor as just another internet farce. However, Lombardo personally addressed the issue in a frank statement to his fans. He claims he was never paid for the 2012 tour and upon investigation, learned that the band’s management was writing off 90% of Slayer’s income as expenses and paying out only 10%, of which he never received his cut. He says he talked to singer Tom Araya and they hired auditors. But all were denied access to the documentation necessary to get a grasp of exactly how the band’s finances were being handled. Management then asked him to sign a contract that still didn’t answer his questions or detail how future income would be broken down, and which imposed other harsh stipulations. Lombardo proposed an alternative deal to the band, but guitarist Kerry King allegedly threatened Lombardo to either drop it or he’d start looking for another drummer. Personally, I was crushed. Slayer’s been one of my favorite bands since I was about 12, and Dave Lombardo has always been one of my favorite drummers. Incidentally, pretty much all of their best albums were recorded during the periods he was in the band. My pain turned to outrage as I made such crude remarks as hoping King becomes afflicted with guitarist Jeff Hanneman’s necrotic fasciitis, but on his face; or that a Norwegian black metaller would find Araya’s church and burn it to cinders (yes, he has admitted to being Christian).
The unfortunate fact about bands is that drama is inevitable—just like in any small business, family unit or circle of close friends, because that’s essentially what a band is. However, the bigger the fame linked to a band, the higher-profile the problems become; there’s also more at stake for each band member and for the band as a whole. Before you know it, you have a feature-length documentary about your on-call group therapist and a crying, former founding member confronting you. No, wait: That only happens to Metallica.
Some of the more famous bands have had beefs develop into resentment and hatred so deep that even the money and fame couldn’t keep them together, like Guns ‘n’ Roses. Some bands have managed to trudge through the mire solely for the love of music and the fans; or else they’ve chosen to simply weed out certain members. Some bands have even taken financial matters to court, such as the Misfits and Dead Kennedys, who each fought for years over naming/merchandising rights with their former frontmen. The biggest problems bands face are money disputes, drugs, alcoholism and women (the Beatles, Black Sabbath, the Ramones), but also jealousy and power struggles, the stress and fatigue of constant touring and recording, laziness or a change in musical direction.
I still can’t believe that there isn’t a reality TV show about band life. Not about forming some “supergroup,” but just following around a regular band, preferably one that hasn’t “made it.” If you want to see grown men act like teenage girls, just put them together in a band and you’ll get bitching, whining, arguing, gossiping and backstabbing, especially if a member gets kicked out or quits. When a band is together, they’re like a family, complete with sibling rivalry. But when a band breaks up, it’s so much like ending a romantic relationship, it’s scary.
It’s harder work than many people realize if you ever want to break out of the practice space. For the vast majority of musicians, it’s not always rewarding in terms of monetary value or recognition. The little guys go through even more adversity than the big names, just not under as big a microscope. However, it’s all the little things that make it worthwhile and keep us going, like taking pride in releasing a new album, feeling the exhilaration of playing live to a cheering crowd or having your hard work lauded in the press. I can’t imagine going back to a life without being in a band. It’s tough but it’s what I love, and any other working musician will certainly agree.