No. I have never met Chris DeGarmo.
If you thought this post would be about me and meeting a metal musician, then sorry to disappoint you. No, it's just something that's been going through my mind as another birthday came and the story of Chris makes me think deep at the moment about myself and the idea of making a turning point in one's life.
First of all, my birthday just went by on Friday uncelebrated. Only TWO people remembered. My former subordinate who NEVER forgets my birthday and a colleague who is technically my senior from the UK years. Thank God for the Internet. Thus, my birthday wishes at least expanded beyond a mere TWO-person-only demographic.
So, why suddenly Chris DeGarmo?
OK. As I was lying on my bed staring at the ceiling on the night of my birthday after a draggy day at work, I was drawn to an old issue of Kerrang magazine from 1988 with a cover picture of Queensryche members i.e singer Geoff Tate and lead guitarist Chris DeGarmo. Flipped through to the feature inside where they talked about not chasing the dream down the commercial route and staying true to themselves and the music they believed in.
Queensryche is a band that one cannot really categorize in any particular genre. However, they were often described as the thinking man's metal band as opposed to many typical bands from the 80s who sang about rock n roll lifestyle, sex, fast cars etc. The band was not something you could easily sell to the public for quick megabucks. They were and still are the type who need to be believed in first to be marketable. Somebody sure did believe in them as they were managed by none other than Q Prime Management who also managed Metallica, Def leppard and Dokken.
Chris was one of the core members of the band. One of the main songwriters and the one responsible of penning the hauntingly beautiful Silent Lucidity, the song that finally catapulted the band to the major public.
Then, Chris left the band. From what I read, he wanted to pursue other interests outside Queensryche and was getting tired of 'having to tour with the band'. Not that he was having a rift with his bandmates because he did come back for a collaboration with them (Queensryche boys were far too matured to have catfights within the band unlike many others). He seemed to just not want that life anymore.
Let's see. He is now working full-time as a charter pilot. He's married with children and has settled down at his hometown of Seattle. He still does music here and there but it sounds to me like he's doing it more as a hobby now than the full-time career it once was. Looks like it's going to remain that way.
It got me thinking. What could really make a man take such a drastic turn in his life and left something he had been a part of for more than 15 years? The band was something he had worked on most of his young life. Step by step. Playing at many venues as an opening act supporting bigger bands. Got their first headlining tour in the UK in 1988. Received commercial success and appraisals for his masterpiece Silent Lucidity. Queensryche also wrote Real World, one of the better songs for the Last Action Hero soundtrack. Crappy movie. One of the best soundtracks ever. Who can ignore the metallized cover of Scarborough Fair? Hey, even their earlier song Queen of the Reich inspired German's power metal sons Helloween to get singer Michael Kiske to be their frontman, a decision that turned the band into a legend even Helloween themselves nowadays cannot match still.
Singer Geoff said that Chris felt 'stuck in a box'. To me, that was enough to explain it. I fully understand how it feels or at least from what I can decipher from it. You have worked hard ALL your life. You are moderately successful. Neither megastars nor unknown. Respected in exclusive circles of exclusive tastes. Then, the viscious cycle of the music biz struck and your carefully crafted music was suddenly not relevant to the market. You feel like you're going nowhere. You feel worn and burned out. Like there isn't much more you can give. It feels like whatever you put into it will only return in less than 10th of the input, if it returns at all.
Thankfully, Chris was in comfortable position financially. Also, he saw something else he could pursue. A more stable career which probably pays better than a music gig. I don't know but it could just be that Chris just wanted to settle down. Somewhere, at one point of a man's life, he felt it was time to leave life on the road so he could be with his family and have a normal life instead. To see his children grow. To be there for the loved ones. To shape their lives into a sure future. Unlike the uncertainty of the music biz.
So, what does all this have anything to do with me?
I reflected on Chris' life and felt at awe of this man. He dared to make a 180 degree turn from a life he had held on to far longer than my working years. Started something new and has since stayed contented and happy with that choice and he still gets to enjoy the other great passion of his. Music.
He has it all. A family. Stability. Careers. A great past. Still highly respected and missed by his fans.
I'm asking myself. As I turned another year older. Shouldn't this be a turning point for me? What do I have as something to fall back on? Like Chris did?
My biggest fear? To grow old lonely and to die alone.
Chris, from now on, if I feel stuck and lost, I'll think of you and the brave step you took.