photo & text by nacrowe
being abroad is an inherently risky proposition given that by definition you are not intimately familiar with the local culture, geography and general mentality of the inhabitants. being involved within the context of a foreign legal system is yet another more disorienting level of bewilderment, one that i unfortunately know from personal experience. as a PEACE CORPS volunteer in ALBANIA i was the victim of an assault walking home from local college that i had just given a lesson as part of my assigned service as a lecturer. obeying guidance from my superiors at PEACE CORPS, i went to the police shortly thereafter and witnessed what only can be described as corrupt maneuvering to save face on the part of the authorities, who paraded various innocent local men (most i assume who were beaten) in front of me for identification. i was made out and walking the streets became unsafe as nearly everyone thought i ratted them out to the police. it was bad. it got worse when my name hit the news and i became a national headline.
i can only imagine if i was the other way around and i was accused of something truly heinous within this dodgy legal morass.
that is pretty much the premise of the DARK DAYS (HACHETTE, 2015) memoir by LAMB OF GOD frontman RANDY BLYTHE, who recounts his monthlong incarceration in the notorious PANKRAC PRISON and trial on manslaughter charges related to the death of a fan who sustained injuries at a PRAGUE concert a few years prior. it should be stated up front that ultimately BLYTHE was ultimately exonerated of the charge.
it is a hell of a story that is told with humor, wit and empathy for not only his former fellow incarcerated peers, but also the guards. you very much get a first hand perspective on the survival mindset of a prisoner and how one maintain's hope and a sense of AGENCY within a context designed to eviscerate your sense of PURPOSE and IDENTITY. but ultimately DARK DAYS is less about specifics of his legal absolution and more about the singular experience of being imprisoned abroad and how to meet those acute personal hardships (which are PSYCHOLOGICAL, CULTURAL and SPIRITUAL in nature) with DIGNITY, GRACE and HONOR.
anyone familiar with LAMB OF GOD would not be surprised that BLYTHE produced a well-written accounting of his experience. as a writer i found him to be incredibly well-considered and deeply reflective. he speaks a lot about maintaining mental discipline and positive habits of mind (PMA) that allow him to not be victim to the traps of XENOPHOBIA or thinking in cliches and platitudes about his situation. with all his free time he develops a routine of reading, writing, meditation (zazen) and exercise that allow him to be present in the moment, as painful and isolating as that could be.
this discipline provided a core for which he could be aware and better able to assess his situation, which included his deep sorrow for the loss of life of one of his fan, even comparing it to the previous tragic loss of his newborn daughter. life for him is about dealing with life head on and accepting responsibility. and how can you not respect that?
this discipline also allowed him to not make broader judgements on CZECH society writ large, which i have witnessed AMERICANS do most of my life for far smaller grievances than incarceration while awaiting a murder trial. the fact that this book is not a tome against the notorious CORRUPTION present in EASTERN EUROPE (there is a reason the term balkanization exists) is quite an accomplishment in and of itself.
my only critiques are pretty minor.
stylistically, BLYTHE is a bit on the verbose side, something he fully admits. i believe this book could have used another edit as there is a tendency towards repeated tangents of key points that appear and then laboriously reappear in multiple passages throughout this 500-page book.
based on his prison experience, BLYTHE vigorously defends the ROMA people. my own experience finds me less than sympathetic to that population, as i saw them beat their infant children constantly in the street as to make them more convincing agents of pity for foreign tourists. its hard for me to unsee that sort of thing, but i understand he is informed by his experience, as am i.
there is a tendency for BLYTHE to ascribe his attitude, resolve, discipline and resolute sense of identity to his upbringing in VIRGINIA and cultural aspects of SOUTHERN GENTILITY. having lived around TEXANS and LOUISIANANS when i lived in NIGERIA growing up, who espoused endlessly about this supposed sense of moral clarity and refinement that came from their CHRISTIAN upbringing in the SOUTH always made my eyes roll. especially when these same people said unspeakably racist things about the local population and their children performed acts of cruelty on such. i understand that for BLYTHE this intimate sense of being grounded on your soil and within your community was a key element that provided him the resolve to transcend what can only be described as a harrowing experience. i get it. i just never bought into SOUTHERN GENTILITY as a concept. it probably says more about me that i take issue with this, but then again i am not from the SOUTH. so what do i know?
this all being said, i found DARK DAYS to be one of the more enjoyable and thoroughly readable self-written memoirs by a musician in recent memory. despite whatever deficiencies or squabbles i may find in various aspects of his story , in the end i have to admit his memoir is brutally honest and he takes responsibility for his participation in this most unfortunate tragedy with DIGNITY and GRACE and with his HONOR fully intact.
well worth reading whether or not you are a fan of LAMB OF GOD or METAL in general.