Were you bullied when you were growing up?
Oh yeah. I grew up in a blue collar area, and that was part of the way of life there. I think that the older kids thought that it was their job to terrorize the younger kids, especially the ones who were undersized. Even though I consider my childhood to be pretty idyllic for the most part, and I wasn’t bullied constantly, it definitely started happening during my pre-teen years as I was going into junior high school.
Being undersized, and not particularly athletic, it was hard to find a place where I fit in, so I was an easy target. As the saying goes, “shit rolls downhill,” and I think that some of the people who were doing the bullying were bullied themselves. I think that it would be great to stop the cycle of bullying. Just because it happened to you, it doesn’t make it right to do it to others. If we all lived by that type of logic, we would still be riding horses and taking wagons everywhere.
When you were bullied was it more verbal, physical or both?
Both, but I remember the physical more than the verbal. One incident in particular comes to mind. There was a kid who was much older than us sitting on the bleachers. We weren’t sitting too far away from him, and out of nowhere, he picked up a rock and just winged it really hard right into my thigh. I guess it was his way of telling us to get away from him. He was a pitcher who threw very hard, so it was pretty painful.
Others musicians that I’ve spoken with about bullying have told me that they used music as an escape. Do you feel that bullying helped drive you to playing music as an escape?
I don’t think that it necessarily drove me to music because I loved it at a really early age. It wasn’t an escape from bullying per se, because it didn’t happen constantly. However, I think that our insecurities play a big part into playing music. If I was completely well-adjusted, I wouldn’t want to get on stage and seek the adulation, acceptance and love from strangers that I do now. I’m sure it played some part, but I don’t think that bullying consciously drove me to music. That being said, I think that all experiences that you go through help shape you into who you are, and dealing with bullying was just part of it.
Have you heard from any fans about how your music helped them deal with bullying or other difficult situations?
We did a show back in July in Texas. At the show, we met an undersized high school kid, with longer hair who was there with his dad. The kid is a drummer, so he spent a good amount of time talking to our drummer, Jason. Before he left, Jason gave him a drumstick to take home with him, and the kid left happy. The next day, the kid’s dad sent us a letter on Facebook telling us about his son, and how much it meant to him to meet us.
It turns out that because of his size, his hair, the clothes that he wears (concert shirts) and the music that he likes (hard rock and metal), he is bullied in school. His musical taste doesn’t fit in where he lives. When I read the letter about how a lot of the kids pick on him, it broke my heart, because he was a really nice kid.
I had no idea that he was going through all of that when we met him. As I read the letter in the van, I said to the guys in the band that I wished that there was more that we could do for him, but I’m glad that coming to our show and meeting us gave him a respite from all of the stuff that he’s going through.
Thanks for taking the time to share your story, John. I’m sure that it will help others to see that you can rise above it and become a success in life.