Lamb of God frontman Randy Blythe is a voracious reader, these days by choice but originally by divine intervention. "When I was a little kid, we had a lightning storm and my TV blew up," Blythe explains from his home in Richmond, Virginia. "For a while my dad didn't replace the TV and all we had were books, so it became a huge part of my life, and eventually I was grateful the TV blew up."
Blythe is an author himself, having penned a memoir, Dark Days, which recounts the five weeks he spent in a Czechoslovakian prison in 2012 on manslaughter charges and the subsequent trial stemming from a fan's death at a Lamb of God show that occurred two years earlier. He was ultimately acquitted of criminal charges.
"A lot of times when people quit an addiction, they'll replace it with something else, and I replaced drinking with compulsive book shopping to the point where it got embarrassing," explains Blythe, who got sober after two decades of drinking. "The people at the local book store knew me and were like, "You're getting another book?' It was this compulsive consumption of books, and you can only read so many, so I have a lot of books left that I need to read. But it's a lot better than blowing all your money on alcohol and opiate pills, I suppose." We caught up with Blythe the day before his massive metal band left for some shows in South America to see what he's been reading lately and learn why he used to carry an extra suitcase full of books on tour.
A Brief History Of Seven Killings: A Novel by Marlon James
Marlon James a Jamaican-born author who lives in Minneapolis now and this book is a fictional recounting of the time around when there was an assassination attempt on Bob Marley in Jamaica. There was supposed to be a concert called Smile Jamaica where Bob Marley wanted to unite the two political parties. There was a lot of ghetto violence in Jamaica at that time, political violence in the ghettos. Not out of any ideology but out of money, politically motivated violence. People were trying to intimidate people into voting this way or that way in order to see who controlled Jamaica. So there was this assassination attempt at Bob Marley's house in Trenchtown; I've been to Bob Marley's house, the bullet holes are still there. A few days later, Bob Marley played this concert anyway, even after they came and shot at him to try to stop him, to try and bring some public unity between the two political parties. It was a famous concert.
This book is set in that time. It starts in December of 1976 when the concert was supposed to occur and there's a fictional singer called "the singer" who is obviously based on Bob Marley and all sorts of different players: Political players from the ghetto to politicians, etc. So it's a novel about political violence at that time and I'm just digging into that. I've only read literally a page because I'm leaving for tour tomorrow, but I'm looking forward to carrying that with me. I haven't read enough fiction lately.
All For A Few Perfect Waves: The Audacious Life And Legend Of Rebel Surfer Miki Dora by David Rensin
I just read a book called All For A Few Perfect Waves by David Rensin and it's a biography of a guy named Miki Dora who was one of the original crews surfing at Malibu back when surfing was really underground. Surfing is huge now, it's one of the fastest growing sports although I do not consider it a sport. Nothing against any of the competitors—professional surfers don't take that the wrong way, they all have a very high level of skill—but surfing isn't really a sport to me just like skateboarding isn't really a sport; it's a way of life and an art. So there's this guy Miki Dora, known as "Da Cat" or "The Black Knight," and he was this total iconoclastic guy. You've heard of Gidget, right? Did you know she was a real person?
No, I didn't know that.
Gidget was a real person named Kathy Kohner-Zuckerman, you can look it up. And she was this little girl who started hanging out with Miki Dora and some other locals there when there were just a few people surfing Malibu. Gidget means girl midget, that was her nickname. She was really short. She was this teenage girl who kind of wormed her way into this scene and at that time surfing was super subculture. It was 1957 was when she started hanging out, I believe. She started coming back and telling her patrons these stories about crazy surfers who were doing this thing, this was before the hippie era, you know? So her father, I think he was a German immigrant, started collecting these stores and wrote this fictionalized account of them called Gidget because that was her nickname, and it became a best-seller.
From there, you got the Gidget movies and surfing exploded. It became part of the natural consciousness and the Beach Boys wrote all of those songs even if they weren't surfers. But Miki Dora, who was one of the original guys who hung out with Gidget, was this insanely bitter sort of gnarly scam artist surf innovator and he just went around this world and lived this really bizarre life ripping people off. He was a jewel smuggler, he was an art collector, he had these weird, like, almost racist tendencies, too. He would go to Africa to surf because they had great waves but he kind of had a strange relationship with the natives. He liked them but he also had this inbred sort of racism from what you can gather. Once it got popular, he hated what surfing became: He hated all the beach movies, he hated that Gidget got so popular, he hated that Malibu got taken over and so it's this crazy book about his life and it's one of the wildest stories you'll ever read. I would recommend it even for someone who isn't into surfing because this guy is just a really unique personality.
The Death Of Santini: The Story Of A Father And His Son by Pat Conroy
I will re-read some of my favorite books from time to time and one that I did that to recently is called The Death Of Santini by a guy called Pat Conroy. Pat Conroy died about a year ago and he's a Southern author from Beaufort, South Carolina, who was a best-seller. He wrote a lot of books, some of which were made into movies, probably the most famous one being The Prince Of Tides, which was made into a movie starring Nick Nolte and Barbara Streisand. The book blows away the movie.
He's a master storyteller and throughout his books there is always an insanely horrific family dynamic normally involving a very abusive father. Pat's father was a guy named Donald Conroy who was a Marine pilot and Pat wrote one of his earliest books, The Great Santini, about a young kid being raised by an abusive Marine core pilot and the book… there is just insane abuse in it, you know? When Pat gave the book to his editors, they said, "You have to tone this down, no one is going to believe any father could be that bad to his children." But it was true, and throughout all this fiction there was him coming to terms with his crazy family life. What's even wilder is that toward the end of his father's life, he and his father developed a relationship where his father would go to book signings with him and he would sign as "The Great Santini" because that was his nickname. He would joke with people when they came to signings and say, "I hope you enjoy my son's work of fiction," kind of tongue-in-cheek. Ultimately getting this horrific family dynamic out publicly through this best-selling fiction helped the relationship with his father.
Pat Conroy is one of my favorite authors and one of his grandchildren happened to be a fan of my band. I found that out through my friend Tony who lived in Beaufort. So I said, "Look, I want to give Pat Conroy a copy of my book," so I sent it to my friend who gave it to Pat's grandson who gave it to Pat. I wrote him a kind of funny, self-deprecating letter as well that said, "I'm a heavy metal singer. I wouldn't recommend my band to you. I don't even expect you to read this because you've sold millions of books. If you don't enjoy this, throw it at the next teenager you see with a black t-shirt with an illegible font printed on the front and they'll probably enjoy it," just kind of a funny letter. I got word back that Pat really liked the book and he read it and enjoyed my letters. Regrettably, shortly after, he got it he got cancer, and there were plans to go down and meet with him, but he passed away.
Wow, that's amazing. Did you ever make it down there?
Recently, I took a surfing trip from Virginia all the way to Florida, shooting photos and surfing, working on my next book, and I stopped in Beaufort for a few days with my friend and visited Pat's grave and I met with his widow who set up a literary center called The Pat Conroy Literary Center in town. I donated some money and I've been trying to do some fundraising for him because it's not some museum or shrine to him, it's supposed to help area writers develop and bring good writing to the public that are interested because he was a very generous man with his time. So when I re-read The Great Santini, that and his other work just provides me with so much joy. It was incredible to see a lot of the places he had written about and the atmosphere of the South Carolina low country really informed his writing, which is absolutely beautiful. It's so descriptive. In my own writing, I always thought I would use this short terse, effective sentence structures but I'm much more verbose. A great example of someone employing that effectively is Pat Conroy.
The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-Of-Age Crisis—And How To Rebuild A Culture Of Self-Reliance by Ben Sasse
Ben Sasse is from Nebraska and he's a conservative guy, and that's one reason why I bought this. I want to hear opinions from the other side of the political spectrum because politics has gotten so ludicrous to me—both on the right and the left wing—things have gotten so extreme. People aren't able to communicate and hear each other's opinions anymore. Apparently, this book is about the way we are raising our children today and how we aren't raising them to be self-reliant enough, so I'm going to check it out. There's a bit of sociology and psychology to it too and so I want to see what this man has to say without me writing him off immediately as some sort of right-wing enemy nut guy. I think people need to listen to opinions coming from people at all ends of the political spectrum right now in order to see if we can find some kind of common ground, you know? So I'll probably throw this book in my bag for tour as well. I don't normally buy books written by Republican Senators.
The Battle For North Carolina's Coast: Evolutionary History, Present Crisis and Vision For The Future by Stanley R. Riggs, Dorothea V. Ames and Stephen J. Culver
I was raised in Tidewater, Virginia, and half my family still lives in Cape Fear, and in the last week it's come out that a division of DuPont has been releasing unregulated toxins into our water supply called GenX. GenX is the replacement for a compound called C8 which is an ingredient used in the construction of the non-stick material Teflon. When they used C8, they knew about its toxicity starting at least in 1961 and hid its toxicity for 20 years until residents started getting birth defects—cancer and all this other stuff—and there was a lawsuit with the Environmental Protection Agency involved and it's the largest lawsuit in history involving the EPA.
So they were like, "Okay we won't use this compound anymore," and they replaced it with this other compound called GenX which we discover now that for at least six years they have been dumping into the water supply that my mother drinks, my brother drinks, that I drink when I'm down there surfing. So there's a huge uproar about that, you can look it up in Cape Fear right now. The Battle For North Carolina's Coast is a scientific book and I'm going to dive into that soon, especially given this new development, because they've been dumping this shit in our water and we don't know what will happen to us. This kind of stuff takes years to manifest.