'High Times' And High Notes: The Life Of Sebastian Bach The former Skid Row frontman spent a lot of his glory years under the influence, but his first true high came from singing in Christmas mass as kid. He discusses his new memoir with NPR's Ailsa Chang.
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'High Times' And High Notes: The Life Of Sebastian Bach

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'High Times' And High Notes: The Life Of Sebastian Bach

'High Times' And High Notes: The Life Of Sebastian Bach

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Sebastian Bach has sung, screamed and strutted for fans around the world as the front man for the heavy metal band Skid Row. But is he a rock star?

SEBASTIAN BACH: The definition of rock star now is, like, the biggest compliment you can give. This dentist came through and he was a total rock star of the dentistry world. What does that mean?

CHANG: Sebastian Bach joined us to talk about his new memoir, "18 And Life On Skid Row." He writes about how his mom and aunt turned him on to what would become his lifelong passion, singing.

BACH: And then I joined the church choir when I was 8 years old. And I describe in detail in my book a Christmas mass where we would sing (singing) Gloria in excelsis Deo. (Laughter) We would sing that.

CHANG: Oh my God. Yeah.

BACH: Like, in that falsetto.

CHANG: I can't believe you still hit those high notes.

BACH: Well, I didn't hit it perfect, but I'm sitting down and I'm 50 (laughter). I could have - if I had practiced, I could do it. But anybody that remembers singing that hymn at Christmas remembers this insane soprano harmony on that section. I remember just saying, this is the most incredible feeling (laughter). Like, when the whole choir would hit that part, it felt like we were flying.

CHANG: You very much enjoyed being a soprano.

BACH: Yes.

CHANG: And when you were in boarding school in Ontario, Canada...

BACH: Yes.

CHANG: ...You felt your voice begin to change because of puberty, but you forced your voice to stay soprano.

BACH: I did.

CHANG: Why were you so desperately wanting to sing high pitch?

BACH: Because my identity before I was like a singer was I was like the class clown. But when I started to sing, people acted totally different towards me than they did before they heard me sing. And when I felt my voice change, I did not want to lose that newfound respect that I felt from people. So I locked myself in my dorm and I put on Rush and I put on The Police, "Roxanne," because I did not want to lose my vocal range.

CHANG: And, you know, Skid Row took off pretty quickly. It wasn't long before you guys were touring with Bon Jovi and Motley Crue and Aerosmith. And a lot of this book is about reliving your crazy exploits...

BACH: Well...

CHANG: ...On tour.

BACH: I mean...

CHANG: I mean, in most of these chapters you are high, usually on cocaine, and you're also drunk at the same time. And I was just curious because you recount these, like, vivid, detailed memories of these wild parties. How did you remember all that when you were high most of the time?

BACH: Well, just to be clear, never drunk on stage. I save all that kind of activity for after the show. I don't ever charge money for a ticket to someone and then show up drunk. But after the show (laughter) on the tour bus on the way to the next town, that's my time (laughter).

CHANG: Share a crazy story with us.

BACH: Well, I tell the story in the book of Rick Rubin, the producer, coming to see us open up for Aerosmith at the LA Forum on the same night that I met Axl Rose and David Lee Roth. Well, I had met David before. But David had the idea to take us all to the Rainbow, so we went in Rick Rubin's car...

CHANG: And the Rainbow is this club.

BACH: Rainbow Bar and Grill - which used to be called The Grove - on Sunset Boulevard. So we all piled into Rick Rubin's sports car. I vomited Jack Daniels out the car door while we were driving there and Axl held my hair, you know, inches from the pavement. And then he pulls me back and I'm like, all right, let's do this (laughter). I'm like, now we're ready (laughter).

CHANG: Your breath must have smelled wonderful.

BACH: Oh my God. Well, there, I think we should end it on that note.

CHANG: There's also this one point when you're on speed and you can't come down from it, and you call your father in the middle of the night. And you say you're calling him just to tell him you love him, but you keep saying it over and over again. And he starts to feel really sad because he knows you're totally high. Did he ever tell you he thought you were getting out of control?

BACH: Absolutely. I was on the cover of High Times magazine in July '93 after I was on the cover of Rolling Stone in June '91, and my dad was disgusted. He goes, you don't need to do that when you just were on the cover of Rolling Stone. You don't need to put that message out. And I didn't know that he was going to be upset. I thought it was, like, my duty. I don't think he would be so mad in 2016, but in 1993 he was furious that I would talk about that in public. And he thought that it was a big mistake.

CHANG: You explain at the end of your book that you're in this new phase of life now. You enjoy staying at home.

BACH: Yes.

CHANG: You enjoy doing the normal everyday things. What convinced you to begin investing in home life, in family, in just staying still?

BACH: One major thing that happened - like, I don't know if you know that, like, the singer of AC/DC, Brian Johnson, had to end his career because of his hearing loss. So I'm always getting my ears checked. And my doctor did a hearing test on me, like, two years ago, and he said Sebastian, you're - I can tell that you've played rock 'n' roll your whole life. Your hearing is fine, but if you don't start turning it down now, in 10 years from now you will wish that you did. And I broke down and cried in the doctor's office because I can't imagine not being able to listen to music.

And so I did what he told me to do. I turned it down. And who knew that you could even hear the music better turning it down? You can hear more. Music that I've listened to all my life - I'm like, oh, listen to that harmony and listen to that guitar part. I never heard that. Yeah, turn it down so I can hear it (laughter).

CHANG: Sebastian Bach. His memoir, "18 And Life On Skid Row," is out now. Thank you so much for joining us.

BACH: Thank you.

CHANG: It was such a pleasure talking to you.

BACH: I never thought I would write a book, I never thought I would do Broadway, and I never thought I'd be on NPR.

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