This month will be dedicated to Depeche Mode and it features many thinkpieces centering music and their personal lives, today will be all about lead singer/songwriter Dave Gahan’s mental health and his life after a nearly fatal overdose in the 90s, you cannot talk Depeche Mode history without bringing this back, every fan may know of his now recovery from drug addiction and alcohol but to the general public who may casually follow them every now and then, they might get fascinated with all the craziness surrounding it and because it’s the 90s, we are talking about the grunge/alternative scene popping at the time and the band went through a period of changes in terms of sound and aesthetic from the electronic/clean cut vibe of Violator to now rock ‘n roll grown adults in Songs of Faith and Devotion, it’s not going to be a happy piece so there are two trigger warnings to those who may be too sensitive to these topics.
It is clear Dave doesn’t want your sympathy and absolution in present time for everything happened back in the day but he does want the younger crowd to not get into the shit that almost killed him. Drugs are everywhere, it is not exclusive of what comes down with being famous as a musician and any career in the arts whatsoever. Many journalists are fascinated with how he returned from a two-minute clinical death to this day, to us the fans, it is a reminder of not taking anything for granted, we often get attached to our faves, of course and if you are familiar with my work, I write a lot of pop-culture and pop justice related articles so I am constantly doing research before getting into the making because it is my mission to communicate based on facts, reality. You’ll read extracts from interviews of the past 20 years, Dave in his own words and nothing is sugarcoated, this man is known for keeping it real and taking accountability for his actions.
The golden 90s: Sex, drugs and music experimentation
It is known of the band’s partying ways throughout the Violator era with some of their most popular songs such as ‘Personal Jesus’, ‘Enjoy the Silence’, ‘Policy of Truth’ and ‘World in My Eyes’, it was their best selling album and brought them into the mainstream but once their World Violation Tour ended, they took a break from each other, marking a gap of 3-4 years (something still going to this day). A lot had changed at the time they got together again to record ‘Songs of Faith and Devotion’: Martin’s alcoholism, Fletch struggling with depression and while Alan Wilder was enthusiastic to work on new stuff, something had changed with lead singer Dave Gahan aka the guy with a crown from that iconic video directed by Anton Corbijin and it wasn’t just the Jesus-looking inspired look (long hair and beard), he moved to Los Angeles and got into the grunge scene which is cool because everybody go through a discovery process wanting to know who they are and their purpose in life, but that wasn’t the problem… it was heroin, cocaine and alcohol taking over his life. You may ask, why? why a talented, handsome singer was on the path of self destruction? it happens too often, Amy Winehouse being one of the most recent cases of the 27 Club and boy, that woman was hella talented.
Like Big Poppa once said »Mo’ money, mo’ problems» and hell, he was right! Once you get a taste of success, shit is bound to happen. He was lost, he didn’t know who he was at the time of the band’s rising popularity with ‘Violator’ so what did he do? He packed his shit, moved to L.A and the rest of history, in his own words …
»During the Violator tour I split with my wife. My next year was really spent doing a lot of soul-searching and trying to find out what had gone wrong with my life, and thinking, to be quite honest, about whether I wanted to come back and do the whole thing – records, tours, fame, Depeche Mode – again. Just tearing myself away from everything that I had really grown up with and known, including my wife at the time, and my young son, Jack, as well… all that stuff was quite painful to me.» – Dave Gahan, interview with Jennifer Nine
His habits got worse by the time he moved to L.A. Found someone and got married but here’s the tea: She was a junkie too, you may picture this as the typical rock ‘n roll love story, boy meets girl, they fuck, fall in love and do drugs together but it was the beginning of his downfall, it affected his relationship with the band at the time of the recording of ‘Songs of Faith and Devotion’. Some fans say booze and drugs gave Dave that extra push to serve vocals, given the dark atmosphere of this record, it was darker and vulnerable because of what he was facing behind closed doors. It all makes sense.
He calls denies the self harm episodes as ‘suicide attempts’, it was a ‘call for help’. It’s heartbreaking to see everything documented publicly not only due to his enormous talent and because there’s a stigma among men regarding mental health issues, masculinity is so fragile to the point men don’t want to handle with their issues properly, instead, they normalize it. He was extremely depressed, died too many times and just wanted to get it over with.
“I swore to myself every morning… er, afternoon, when I came to, that I would stop. Classic drug addict stuff – actually believing that the adrenaline that run through me when I was heading off to cop, that feeling of purpose, actually meant something. A drug addict’s life is repeating the same thing every day and expecting a different result. It’s the dictionary of insanity” – Dave Gahan, 2005 (Playing the Angel era)
Not many people come back to life from a speedball (a shot of heroin and cocaine), the way Dave describes it is God’s calling to get your shit together and do something to fix your life up *cues Prince’s voice*. He hasn’t had a drink nor drug ever since, it is an accomplishment but what surprised me was his accountability for his actions, the aftermath of it is astounding. This was during the recording of ‘Ultra’, life has never been the same ever since.
»All I came back with was the knowledge that I may think I have some kind of control over my life, but I don’t, really. I wouldn’t choose that road for anybody else, but for me, it was the right one. I needed to take myself that far to find out that’s not what I wanted.»
Accountability and acceptance:
“I was very conscious about the way I was destroying myself. But that can make you so depressed that you can’t see any way out.”
What surprised me about Dave’s story is how he did not play the blame game and instead took accountability for his actions. When I watched this news archive, there was something in his eyes that were screaming, pleading for help because he knew it was over, no more chances from the bearded man from above and he knew it was time to get his shit together. Here is a grown ass man knowing right from wrong but here is the deal: The media focused too much on the word ‘addiction’ instead of seeing Dave wanting to get better, it’s like being a recovering addict defines you as a person and it shouldn’t be like this which is why many people are afraid to come out and be public about their experiences, perhaps, the best way to put this out for the media would be ‘mind your business’, it may sound rude but having everything documented for the world to see can be stressful to a person struggling, you have Britney Spears and Amanda Bynes as one of the most recent examples to name. Scandals, suicide attempts and going batshit insane and of course the media will do anything for money instead of respecting people’s privacy.
Dave has been very outspoken about his experiences and wanting to help others to get out of that road. He’s also very open about knowing he could relapse anytime soon if he goes out with the wrong crowd, sometimes I wonder how he copes with depression when he’s off stage and besides exercising (something I do a lot these days), it all has to do with discipline I guess.
Depeche Mode’s music helped me through the darkest times of my life, songs like ‘Walking in My Shoes’ and ‘Get Right With Me’ were spiritual guides while going through physical and psychological bullying, sexual assault and coming out as bisexual. Knowing Dave’s story also opened my eyes to the dangers of peer pressure and understand the human mind a bit better, it’s difficult to open up and seek help because in adulthood, you’re supposed to know everything and have your own shit together, how about we start calling ourselves a ‘work in progress’? I know Dave is one, and the way he sees life these days is a lot more positive yet cautious because he knows himself that well, you don’t need to tell him shit because he had seen it all. I’m so happy to see him happily married to his wife Jennifer, she is also the reason why he’s still here, twenty years later, he’s still here kicking ass with the band.
Thank you for your vulnerability, consciousness and ability to continue to inspire me in my work and everyday life. If I ever get the chance to meet you in person I would thank you for all the joy you’ve given me for the past sixteen years as a fan, you are the reason why I never got into drugs and now leading healthier coping mechanisms with my PTSD.
You are the reason why I’m still here, rock on Dave. 🎤