Rolling Stone has just published an interview conducted last fall with Ringo Starr and brother-in-law Joe Walsh discussing their sobriety. The chat was taped back on October 8th when Walsh and his wife Marjorie Bach — sister of Ringo’s wife Barbara Bach — were both honored in Manhattan by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) and Facing Addiction.
Ringo shed light on the white-knuckled panic he felt attempting to make music without being drunk and high, recalling, “I was afraid at the beginning. (I thought) I don’t know how you do anything if you’re not drunk. That’s where I ended up. I couldn’t play sober, but I also couldn’t play as a drunk. So when I did end up in this rehab, it was like a light went on and said you’re a musician, you play good. What happened to me is that playing was all right and being onstage and being in the front, but afterwards, my whole body screaming: let’s get crazy. (Alcohol) had always been the prize, do a gig and then you get crazy. . . I used to have to sit on the (drum) seat and just hold (still). Barbara couldn’t talk to me. People around me couldn’t talk to me. I’m just holding on because all my sinews and veins and brains were like, ‘Let’s get f***ed up.”‘ But I didn’t. That’s how it works. If (sobriety) is something you want, you can get it. Here it is. Come and get it.”
He went on to say, “The discussion is very difficult, because we did as much as anybody did and we’re still here and we’re sober, and there’s no telling when that day is when you leave. I don’t know why Tom (Petty)’s gone and I’m here. It’s unanswerable. But I know in the bands I hang out with, there’s a pretty — not absolutely — but a pretty large sober mentality going on now.”
Joe Walsh credits his community for helping him life a life past the excesses that rendered him helpless 25 years ago: “I got sober because of a fellowship of men and women who were sober alcoholics. That’s how I got sober. After a couple years, I talked about (my sobriety) with other alcoholics and tried to help them. The only person who can get somebody else sober is somebody who’s been there and done that. . . I realized that I do more good showing people that there’s life after addiction. So I decided it’s okay to go public because everybody knew anyway, and if I save one life showing that there’s life after addiction I feel good about it. I believe that’s part of why I lived.”
Walsh spoke about the difficulty in becoming a songwriter and a performer without the crutch of drugs and alcohol, remembering, “Sobriety came first. And I thought well, maybe I will never write a song again, and that’s gotta be okay. It was the same thing with playing live. I was uncomfortable, but then other musicians would start coming up to me, saying, ‘Joe, you used to be really good, but there’s a profound difference in the way you’re playing now.’ They said it made them want to get sober. And I have been able to get some people sober that way. But I was just in my own way. I was all about me. I was uncomfortable, and then one day I realized I could do it. I can do this. And after that, I can’t imagine doing any substance that would affect my playing sober now. I don’t even think about it.”
Joe Walsh admitted that upon getting sober in 1994 his overriding emotion was sheer terror: “It was pretty scary. It was beyond that. It was terrifying for me to do anything. I didn’t know how to do anything. I didn’t ever think I’d be funny again, I didn’t think I’d be able to write music — much less play it in front of people. Everybody on the planet would discover that basically, I had no idea what I was doing.”
1988 saw Ringo at the low ebb of his addiction and alcoholism issues, which finally brought him to rehab: “Well, it was very bad for me, that’s why I ended up in the rehab. I just was drinking morning, Noon, and night. So, when you’re only doin’ that, that’s all you do. I wasn’t very happy; but that’s all behind me now, thank God. A day at a time.”
Ringo Starr & His All Starr Band will next perform on Thursday (March 21st) in Valley Center, California’s Harrah’s Southern California Resort
The Eagles will next perform on June 23rd at London’s Wembley Stadium.
Photo Courtesy of Rob Shannahan