The soulfulness of Sebastian Bach’s new memoir caught me off-guard. It's not that 18 and Life on Skid Row is short on debauchery. Having threesomes with strippers at age 15, rocking stadiums by his early 20s with Skid Row on Guns N’ Roses’ Use Your Illusion tour, doing mounds of coke with Lars Ulrich. It’s all in there.
The book’s personal stories are just as compelling, though. And ultimately they're what make 18 and Life on Skid Row a captivating read, even if you could care less about Skid Row.
Bach became a star in the late ’80s, blending poster-worthy allure and Rob Halford high notes on hits like “18 and Life” and “I Remember You.” But growing up he was just a Bahamas-born Canadian kid who liked comic books, KISS and riding his bike. He loved singing “Requiem Aeternum” in the Anglican Church choir and hamming it up to “Emotional Rescue” in the back seat of his mom’s car. His dad, a talented and now deceased visual artist who created the cover art for Skid Row's chart-topping 1991 album, Slave to the Grind, was as a big an influence on Sebastian's life as were musical heroes like David Lee Roth and Paul Stanley.
Skid Row fired Bach in the mid-’90s. (He admits more than once in 18 and Life on Skid Row that he hasn’t always been the easiest guy to be in a band with.) He eventually augmented a music career with Broadway and TV work, including Jekyll & Hyde, Gilmore Girls and Trailer Park Boys. It’s fascinating to read the stories behind all those turns. When his 2007 solo album, Angel Down, a fantastic heavy metal record and possibly the best LP of his career, fails to connect commercially, Bach vents his frustration with 21st-century music-biz lethargy.
It took Bach four years to write the 448-page tome. Unlike many rockers, he worked on it without a co- or ghost-writer.
On a recent afternoon, Bach checked in for a phone interview from his Studio City home. Excerpts from the conversation are below.
There’s a great story in the book about your dad taking you to a KISS concert back when you were 10 years old. Was it more fun to write about those kinds of memories than all the later hedonism?
Yeah. [Laughs] And I could just answer it with that one word because reading the audio book, it was a different experience than turning in the written word, reading it into a microphone. And some parts were very hard to read. But it’s funny you should mention that one part about my dad taking me to see KISS, because on one hand that’s the happiest part of my life, but nothing hits me harder in the book than that part, in a sad way, which is really weird. [Laughs] I was interested in explaining: How does a person go from being like a normal, not-famous person to becoming this other thing, like when I joined Skid Row? I was just a normal dude goofing around and then all this crazy shit happened to me.
You open the book in a gutsy way. Not with a flattering, glamorous or triumphant moment but with the notorious 1989 Massachusetts “bottle incident.” [After being struck by a glass bottle while onstage, Bach threw the bottle back into the audience and jumped into the crowd. At least two fans were injured.]
The reason I decided to open with that is I was under a court order during that situation, which was decades ago, I was forbidden by the judge to make any contact with any of the people I hurt. I wasn’t allowed to write them a letter. I wasn’t allowed to say I’m sorry. I don’t even know if I still am, but that’s been bothering me ever since then, that I’ve not been allowed to explain what happened. I was totally wrong. But I didn’t know how to respond to that [situation], and that sounds totally awful. I was very young when I started in rock & roll. I wasn’t mature enough to be doing some of the same stuff I was doing.
The inside cover of 18 and Life on Skid Row features a full-color poster. Do you still have the gold pants from your 1991 Rolling Stone cover shoot?
I think I do somewhere. I don’t think I can fit into them but I do think I have them. [Laughs] They’re very, very small pants.
Have you ever had sex while listening to one of your own records?
[Laughs] Yes, I have. I think I tell the story about shooting the “18 and Life” video in the book. I’m not going to elaborate, but that [song] was definitely playing … well, there you go. [Laughs]
You write about working on certain passages in the book from a particular hotel room or while smoking a joint or whatever. What’s the most interesting way you put the book together? Did you write the chapters in order or zigzag back and forth?
Not be boring or anything, but voice technology these days has progressed to the point where I can go in a quiet room with my MacBook Pro and I can tell the story as best I can, as impactful and with as much detail as I can remember — because this was all a very long time ago — into the computer. And then I read it when I’m done and torture myself to make it the way I want it. I also have to give credit to your columnist, Mr. Henry Rollins … I never miss anything that he writes. He’s probably not my fan and probably thinks my hair’s weird or something like that, I have no idea, but I am such a fan of the way he writes. He writes like rock & roll.
You write about your friendship with Axl Rose a good bit. I’d love to read an Axl memoir …
[Laughs] Me too.
Who’s another rocker who hasn’t written a memoir that you’d like to read one by?
It's not a book but it would be incredible to see a Van Halen movie on the scale of The History of The Eagles, a three-hour thing like that. Most everybody has a book out. Does Eddie Van Halen? No, he doesn’t. That would be cool.
Don’t get me wrong, if you guys did a Skid Row reunion tour I’d love to see it. But is it possible your life has worked out better and more interesting not being in the band all this time?
You just floored me with that one, because I have nothing to compare it to. All I can say is that I follow my heart and sometimes that gets me into trouble, sometimes that makes enemies, but that’s the way I make the albums that I make and that’s the way I wrote this book. I don’t know if I would’ve been able to do Broadway if I was still in Skid Row, or Gilmore Girls, but you know nobody tells me what to do, for better or worse.
The new season of Gilmore Girls is now on Netflix. What’s next for you musically?
I just hooked up recently with Taylor Hawkins, who totally wants to make a ’70s metal record, and he wants me to sing it. … We’re talking about that.
Did you leave any debaucherous stuff out of the book because you didn’t want your kids to read it? “Dad, you can’t be mad at me for not cleaning my room. You once got naked and lit your pubes on fire at a strip club!”
[Laughs] Thanks for reminding me about that story, because I kind of forgot about that one. That gives you an idea of how old [the stories in] this book is. This is back when people had pubic hair. [Laughs] This isn’t really a “tell-all.” I prefer to call this a “tell some” and I have a section on my computer that’s called “Taken Out of Book.” [Laughs] Who knows? That might be the next book.
You're known to be a big vinyl guy. What are some of the coolest records you’ve picked up at Los Angeles stores?
At the Record Parlour, I picked up a white-label promo copy of the very first KISS album, which, when I got home and played it, was so dead mint it’s like I’d never heard that music before. It’s insane. And I said, “Where the fuck did you get this?” And they said, “Some old dude brought it in the middle of a stack of Kenny Rogers records.” [Laughs] And there’s also a store, Atomic Records, you can find a lot of quadraphonic records, like Sly & The Family Stone. Mountain. That is mind-blowing because if you have a 7.1 audio system you’ve got more than four speakers going and it sounds crazy. I also like the original half-speed Mobile Fidelity master discs, like Steely Dan's Aja. Those are probably the best-sounding records I can think of.
At Amoeba I found the first record I ever bought in my life, which was “Convoy.” … Remember the song “Convoy”? I hadn’t seen it since I was 8 and that’s why I love places like Amoeba. To me they’re like a library of our times in sound.
The reason I love vinyl is it’s before remixing, remastering, re-this, re-that. Fuck all that re- shit. I want to hear the original thing. I want to hear that. And when you find that in a bin at a record store and get home, it’s like magic. It’s like hearing that year, that month, that studio, that board. An endless fascination for me.
Sebastian Bach’s book tour hits Amoeba Music on Tuesday, Dec. 13, at 5 p.m. More info.