Baroness’ John Baizley: A Bus Crash Isn’t the Sort of Thing That’s Going to Stop Us
It’s been nearly three months since progressive rock leaders Baroness were involved in a catastrophic and gruesome bus accident. After the breaks on the group’s bus failed to work, the band plummeted 30 feet into a wooded area at a speed of around 50mph. Although serious injuries were sustained, all of the bus’s passengers survived and are nursing themselves back to health.
In a great honor here at Loudwire, Baroness frontman John Baizley offered us his very first interview since the crash, discussing in great detail how the incident changed his life. In this three-part interview, where we spoke to Baizley for nearly an hour, the musician opens up about the crash itself, his current physical condition, when the band will tour once again + much, much more. Read Part 1 of our John Baizley interview below:
We’ve all heard that the bus crash left you with very debilitating injuries. You’ve just started picking up a guitar again and you wrote that incredible recollection of what happened. Since you weren’t able to pick up a guitar for a little while, I’d think that it’s left a little bit of a creative gap in you. So writing the recollection of that crash, was that somewhat of a creative catharsis for you?
Yeah, in a way. It’s a far cry from writing full songs and really jumping back into art, but when I was first put in the hospital and had to go through surgery, I was just on my back and it was hard for me to sit up. The one thing that I did have the ability to do was use my right hand and I started very early on, very quickly after the crash, just typing really or texting, whatever I was able to do with those fingers to keep in touch with my friends and the people that I needed or wanted to have access with.
Shortly thereafter I discovered that being able to articulate the experience, either verbally or on paper, was quite nice for my mental state. I won’t say cathartic because that would seem to denote that at the end of it, I feel better or that I purged with it. I guess over time it’s a slow purging. But yeah, I discovered some sort of therapy through putting my thoughts down on paper in a different way than I’m accustomed to. The tools in my trade are typically songs and images, so now I’m trying to keep them a verbal thing. It’s a new thing for me but it’s actually been quite good for me.
It was strangely beautiful, that memoir. I think it connected with a lot of people and you mentioned that you only recently have been able to pick up a guitar again and you still struggle with some pain when playing. Could you elaborate on what that pain is actually like?
I’ve been probably living with it now for close to seven weeks. It’s a physical pain, it’s a corporeal pain that won’t go away and of course when it initially happened, I was in real need of heavy medication. Since then, the trick has been to sort of get away from it, so I’m still not quite so far away from the injury that I’m without pain. There’s a 16, 17-inch scar going down my arm that hasn’t healed yet. There’s a small army of metal pieces inside which are not only helping keeping me together but also beginning to react with the organic parts of my body, and at the same time, it’s important for me to get to know the nature of my injuries so that I am as mobile as I possibly can be. I’m trying to move what doesn’t want to be moved and all the while I’m trying to heal. There’s that pain from the injury and along with that severely extensive nerve damage, basically from all the way up from my shoulder down to my fingertips.
Playing music is like a different thing, you know? Now there’s a rehabilitative quality to what I’m doing because I essentially had all of the musculature and all of the nervous system removed from my arm for eight hours during the surgery and once it was replaced, you’re dealing with scar tissue and you’re dealing with some parts which aren’t going to work again. There’s a swash of skin down the middle of my arm; basically the top half of my arm doesn’t have physical feeling to it anymore. When I first came out of surgery, there was very, very extreme and incredibly painful pins and needles in my hand, which scared me at first. I said to myself, ‘Oh god what if this lasts forever? What if everything I touch hurts?’
Fortunately, the nerves in my hand are going to work again correctly but the interesting thing is I have to teach the nerve endings how to feel certain things. Textures are quite alien to me at this point. It took me a week to tell the difference between wood and cloth and to pick up my guitar and being able to do that. To my utmost surprise, my fingers were able to play and there was still a ton of muscle memory that was really left in them. They were articulate despite the absence of muscle in my arm, which is almost total. My fingers which require very little musculature; my fingers could do what they’ve always done with a guitar. It was remarkable, it was super surprising. I put it like this; I was stuck in the UK for like six-and-a-half weeks, and when I got home I went back to my studio and there was a guitar hanging on the wall and I was just sitting there looking at it for a full day trying to build up the will and energy and confidence to pick it up and touch it. To me, even at that time, it represented something more than just a guitar. The moment that I picked it up I was going to assess exactly where I was and exactly how much work I had ahead of me to get back to being normal, or whatever the new normal is. Like I said, to my surprise I put it on my lap and was instantly able to play. At first, it was country music; just simple chords, and then within three or four days my fingers were able to stretch out. After five days I was able to play all of our songs and at the end of the week, I had written three songs.
So it was very quick and I think it’s an incredible tool for me given the very specific nature of my injuries. Having this tool is not only good physically for my arm, but also a positive thing for me mentally and a constructive thing for me spiritually. It’s like, here’s a tool to help me get back anything I could do with my hands. I’ve begun making art again and I started writing a lot more songs, so all of these things are sort of, multifaceted tools to express myself and to heal myself and to get right with myself by engaging. But, as you said initially, it doesn’t come without pain. I think that one of the big lessons through this process for me is that I’ve been broken down to the basic physical functions of a two-year-old and since the accident I’ve been trying to reclaim myself from all directions and it doesn’t happen without pain. I’m still waiting, it’s still just so fresh for me, I’m just waiting for the first moment of my life where just sitting here doesn’t hurt.
It’s actually not that bad because if you’re sore all the time or if you’re in pain all the time, then adding a little bit doesn’t freak you out at all. So what I’m doing is I’m being very aggressive with my rehabilitation. My therapists keep asking me ‘Does it hurt when I do that?’ and my answer is, ‘Yes, but it hurt before you started doing it, so just lets get back together.’ [Laughs] I’m not the sort of person that likes sitting around. I don’t see the benefits in having the time-off aspect of this. I see this as another challenge for me this year and one in which I’m fully equipped to deal with even though it’s certainly been intense. It’s really been traumatic and it’s certainly become something that will define this year, if not this section of my life, but because of that, I think it’s very important not to let it be all negative. Yeah, I was in a crash and that’s bad. I got banged up, broken — that’s bad. There’s nothing good about that, but you can learn something through it, like anything. Like any mistake that’s made or any injury to a person, you could take something from it and use it to make yourself better.
With this thing in particular, because it’s touched me on so many different levels, it’s allowing me to regain perspective and regain motivation and reaffirm my ideas and my passions and become, if nothing else, more confident, more resolute in the choices that I’ve made in my life in the fact that I’ve dedicated myself to music, and as I said in the press statement, this wasn’t the fault of my career path, this wasn’t the fault of my lifestyle. This could have easily happened … it’s that cliche, it could have happened walking out of the house in the morning or could have happened downtown while I was going to see a show or eat dinner. It’s just that what we do in Baroness puts us on the road and on roads very frequently, so it’s certainly part of the risk but it wasn’t something inevitable. It was a fluke, and like all of these things that happen as a fluke or by happenstance, we have to use it. We can use it very easily and in a negative way and become more fearful of leaving the house or fearful of going out on tour or, you know, less secure and sort of paranoid and sad about it, but that has nothing to do with us getting back out. It’s just that something has happened to us and it’s going to take a minute for us to get ready again, but f— it, put me back on the road; that’s what I do. This isn’t the sort of thing that is going to stop that.