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[Arena, April 1997. Words: Gareth Grundy. Pictures: Jake Chessum / Various - page 2 of 2]
In July 1995, Alan Wilder called a meeting in London with Andy Fletcher and Martin Gore to tell them he was leaving Depeche Mode. He faxed Gahan in Los Angeles to inform him of his decision. He never received a reply.
Gahan was otherwise occupied. He’d retreated to his bedroom. Stepping into his walk-in closet, he’d lock it from the inside and sit in there injecting heroin. He called it his Blue Room. The longest period he spent in there, moving between bedroom and closet, was three weeks. Teresa’s best friend, Kippy, who lived with the couple, would occasionally knock on the door to see if he wanted anything.
“It was really bizarre,” says Gahan. “We never lived alone. There was always somebody there. I didn’t mind, I liked the company. At the time, I was romanticising about the idea of death and just slipping away. It wasn’t part of the rock’n’roll thing by then. It was just about me. I didn’t like what I’d become and I didn’t know how to end it. But along with this, there was also something in me that wanted to live. I was always very afraid when I was on my own.”
Even so, his habit had ruined his second marriage. Teresa moved out of their million-dollar home in Hollywood, unwilling to stick by the drug-addled Gahan.
“Every time I tried to get sober, she wouldn’t stop her own using to help me,” he says. “That’s when you it’s over. Our marriage was pretty much non-existent anyway. We’d see each other occasionally, that was all.”
In August 1995, Gahan returned from yet another detox attempt to discover that he had been burgled. Everything – his two Harley Davidsons, his home recording studio, even the cutlery – had been taken. “There was nothing left,” he says. “Just wires hanging out of the walls.”
The electronic alarm had been shut down and resent. Only three people had the code: his estranged second wife and two builders who had worked on the house, supplied Gahan with drugs and were users themselves. “The police were convinced it was my wife because we’d separated,” he says.
Gahan reacted by putting the house up for sale and renting a place in Santa Monica. “I thought everyone would be better off if I wasn’t around,” he says, “I was hellbent on destruction.”
Despite having a new apartment, Gahan began to spend a lot of time at the Sunset Marquis hotel. On August 18, 1995 he was on the phone to his mum in England. He was waiting for a friend, a girl who was accompanying him to rehab meetings, to return to the hotel. But he wasn’t really sure if he wanted her to return; the Valium and bottle of wine he’d swallowed were preventing him from thinking clearly. He asked his mum to hold for a moment and went into the bathroom, where he picked up a razor blade and began slashing his forearms, gashing his wrists. He wrapped his arms in towels and returned to the phone, and told his mother he had to go.
“It was definitely a suicide attempt,” says Gahan. “But it was also a cry for help. I made sure there were people who might find me.”
The girl arrived, saw the blood running down Gahan’s arms, and called an ambulance. Gahan was rushed to Cedars-Sinai and – because attempted suicide is a felony offence in California – was put in a psychiatric ward. He was given a padded cell and wrapped in a straitjacket.
Eventually he was released into a room with just a bed in it, nothing else, not even a mirror. If he wanted a cigarette he had to go outside. Denied matches or his Zippo, he had to insert his cigarette into a wall-mounted lighter instead.
After his release Gahan retreated to his Santa Monica apartment. By this time he had become so paranoid that he’d taped his curtains shut and was living in darkness. He never went anywhere without carrying a gun.
“I had lots of guns, a 9mm, a .38 revolver and a 12-gauge shotgun too,” he says. “I just thought they were out to get me. Yeah, it was very much like the bit at the end of Goodfellas with the helicopters. I mean, if there were actually helicopters overhead, or cars going by, I’d freak.”
He was now more worried about the attitude of his drug buddies than being arrested. Dealers were refusing to sell to him. No one wanted the liability of a suicidal, drug-sick celebrity. Especially one who was beginning to overdose regularly.
He remembers the time he woke up on a dealer’s front lawn, wearing only his trousers, shoes and socks. His wallet, shirt, silver watch and jewellery were all missing. He’d overdosed inside the house and been thrown out. He staggered to his feet and began hammering on the front door, shouting that they’d forgotten the $400 that he’d hidden in his sock. The dealer, Maria, opened the door and let him in. She was wearing his watch. The following week, Gahan went back to the same place to score yet again.
“I had to,” he says. “These were my so-called friends.”
It was time for Depeche Mode to go back into the studio. The band, plus Jonathan Kessler, Daniel Miller and producer Tim Simenon arrived in New York in April last year. Gahan flew in from Los Angeles to complete vocals on eight tracks. His voice was so ruined from drug abuse that he managed only one. “And that,” says Andy Fletcher, “was probably luck”. 
Fletcher, Gore and Simenon had crisis meetings in the back of a New York taxi, travelling between the studio and their hotel. On the second day of recording, they delivered an ultimatum to Gahan: he had to sort himself out. This time for good. It was suggested he take on a vocal coach to get his voice back. Gahan knew his bandmates were resentful towards him.
“They were nervous and scared,” he says. “I was a chronic relapser. I was destroying everything. My life and theirs.”
The sessions finished in mid-May. For the last two weeks he was in New York, his new girlfriend told him that she knew he was going to get high again. Gahan told her she was right, he had to, just to see if he’d finally mastered his addiction.
“When I went back to Los Angeles,” he says, “I used like I’d never used before. I went mental.”
That was when Dave Gahan pushed it too far.
“After that big overdose last May, the paramedics told me that I should have been dead,” he says. “They said that I had enough heroin and cocaine in me to kill a horse.”
After his overdose and release on bail, Gahan went back to the Sunset Marquis and continued to use heroin for a couple of weeks. Not that it was having any effect any more.
“In the end, the most exciting part of it was connecting with somebody who had drugs,” he says. “Getting in my car, racing there and having stuff in my hand. It was all downhill from there.”
He phoned his girlfriend in New York, who said she couldn’t have a junkie around her. Then Jonathan Kessler called, telling Gahan he had to attend a meeting with his lawyer concerning the arrest. There was no such meeting. He arrived to find Kessler with Bob Timmons, a professional “intervention specialist” who works with addicts in the entertainment business. They told Gahan he was going to rehab. Right away.
Gahan checked into the Exodus Recovery Centre in Marina Del Rey, Los Angeles – the unit that Kurt Cobain escaped from before committing suicide in April 1994. This time he was serious in adhering to the rules. The place was like a minimum security prison. Meals were eaten with plastic cutlery and Gahan was woken at 7am for a morning meeting with his counsellor and recovery group. These sessions would run throughout the day. He was not allowed to leave and for the first few days, while he was in withdrawal, he would have seizures every hour.
The last time he spoke to Teresa Conway was when she phoned him in the Exodus. They’d been separated for a year and were discussing divorce. Shortly afterwards she served Gahan with the requisite papers. The split was sour.
“She’s suing me for a lot of money,” he says. “I felt like I gave up a lot I already had – a wife and son – for something that seemed real at the time, but in retrospect was pretty painful. The first couple of years we were together were pretty good, but after that it started dwindling. A lot of it was based on lust – I could hang out with this girl, party, and get laid.”
In July last year, Gahan pleaded not guilty to cocaine possession charges in the Los Angeles municipal court. Judge Charles Rubin Friday ordered him into an outpatient programme, which would allow him to work with Depeche Mode again. The band had continued working while Gahan was ill. To assist his recovery, he left Los Angeles and moved to New York.
The Leonard Hotel, Marble Arch, London, January 22, 1997. Dave Gahan looks nervous. His pale green suit, jewellery and mid-Atlantic accent provide some superficial rock star swagger, but he seems shaken. As he sits down to have his make-up applied for a photo shoot, he begins to talk. He rambles things you wouldn’t ordinarily tell a photo shoot crew that you’d just met.
He says he’s been on the phone since seven o’clock this morning. His girlfriend phoned him from New York. She found her ex-boyfriend, and father of her son, dead in his apartment last night. He’d hanged himself.
“I just didn’t know what to say to her,” he sighs. She told him they shouldn’t phone each other for a while, that this is an emotionally raw time for both of them. His eyes well up.
You could write to her…
“Maybe I should,” he says, staring off into the distance.
As he begins posing for photos, Jonathan Kessler enters the room, still in trainers and tracksuit bottoms after his morning run. He asks Gahan if he’s OK.
“Yeah!” he declares, loud enough for everyone to hear.
Then he looks at Kessler, smiles weakly and shakes his head.
On February 21 Dave Gahan was given eight months to show that he can keep clean. He will be back in a Los Angeles court on October 21, and, if he’s still drug free then, the charges against him will be dropped. In the meantime, he’s on parole. He provides two urine samples a week and must talk to his Exodus counsellor, and his probation officer, every day. He’s also required to attend AA meetings while he’s in Britain. Gahan’s faith in the rock’n’roll myth has been replaced by belief in his own sobriety.
His relationship with his first wife is now healthier and he’s spending time with Jack again. “I just wasn’t physically able to be around him while I was using drugs,” he says.
“I believe that I can do this: stay sober,” he says. “I’ve got to get humble, real humble. I maybe even need to stop everything before I really work out what I want to do with my life. I’ve been in Depeche Mode for 17 years and in that time I’ve been married twice and divorced twice. That’s a sad state of affairs. I don’t want to make the same mistakes again.”
Depeche Mode release the single “It’s No Good” on March 31 and the album Ultra
on April 14.
- Dave didn't even manage that much, to be honest. The song, Sister Of Night,
had to be spliced together from several recordings as Dave's voice was too poor
for him to sing the song adequately from start to finish. [continue]
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