Remembering Kevin DuBrow: My Plane Ride With Quiet Riot
If your travel plans include a 6 AM flight, the best you can hope for is that the plane will be half-empty and populated only with quiet people. As I sat in a gloriously empty gate of the Denver International Airport a half-hour before boarding, it seemed luck might be on my side.
Suddenly, the silence of the cavernous hallway was replaced by an echoing, oddly familiar racket. Somebody was talking at a volume necessary only for the flight deck of an aircraft carrier and at speeds suitable for the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. The source of the commotion soon revealed himself. I would be sharing a flight with Quiet Riot, and their famous motormouth of a singer, Kevin DuBrow.
I was 13 when Metal Health came out. I love Quiet Riot at least as much as the next person. Heck, probably more. Never mind "Cum on Feel the Noize"; I can go word-for-word on "Run for Cover" and "Party All Night" in a heartbeat. But this was about 20 years after the group's reign at the top of the hard-rock world had ended – sometime around 2005 or 2006, I can't remember exactly – and my first concern was that any chance of sleep had just been dashed.
Sure enough, when we boarded I was seated right behind the group. There was DuBrow, longtime drummer Frankie Banali and the band's guitarist and bass player. The cabin was empty enough that I could have asked to move further away, but two things stopped me. First off, even if I had been hanging from the wing of the plane, there would still be no avoiding that voice. Second, I had moved quickly from slight annoyance to curiosity to something completely unexpected: I was learning an important life lesson from Kevin DuBrow.
Quiet Riot's celebrated heyday was far behind them at this point. The two decades since the Metal Health days had seen numerous controversies, many lineup changes and sharp declines in record and ticket sales. It soon became clear from their conversation that the group had performed in town the night before. This obviously would have been at a venue far smaller than the arenas of their golden years – and from the sound of it, they hadn't quite sold out the place.
I had worked at a record label for more than 10 years by that point, and while I had met many wonderful and talented people there, I also was fully aware of the shit storm that can be unleashed by a band if things don't go as well as expected at a particular show. So I was prepared to hear a litany of complaints about the promotion of the date, or maybe the club's sub-par sound system, or the early hour at which the group were now forced to fly home.
But nothing of the sort was coming from DuBrow. Instead, he was still basking in the afterglow of the performance, praising the contributions of his bandmates and chatting excitedly about the reaction they got from the crowd: "That was good, right? I mean, it wasn't packed but there were a lot of people there, and they were into it, man!" (Author's note: Obviously, I won't get the words exactly right after all these years.)
What DuBrow was most excited about, though, was the vacation he and the group were about to have at his house in Las Vegas. From the sound of it, he had been planning this get-together for weeks. Again, the details may have gotten mixed up over time, but there was talk of rental cars for each of the band members, a big new TV and DVD player and of course the pool was fully prepared for rest and relaxation. Restaurants and sightseeing – including a trip to the Hoover Dam – were also on the itinerary.
It's approximately a 90-minute flight from Denver to Las Vegas, and DuBrow spent nearly every second of that time enthusiastically (and yes, loudly) talking about either the show or the upcoming hangout. Trust me, I wasn't eavesdropping; most of the people on the flight could probably tell this same story. Banali got maybe two dozen words in and nodded a whole lot, the other two guys rang up goose eggs.
But DuBrow's energy was totally infectious. He seemed completely focused on making sure his friends were going to have a good time. To hear this man, who had probably seen the highest and lowest points possible in this often challenging business, so happy with the most basic elements of his life and career after all that time was quite inspiring.
Now, this brief trip was the sum total of my time in the presence of DuBrow, and I have no idea how well my outsider's perspective reflected the reality of the situation. If the truth was different, I don't want to know. To me it was a big, surprise pep talk from the universe. I spent the last half-hour debating whether or not I should say something to him about everything I had heard and how it affected me. I couldn't think of a way to do so that it didn't sound condescending or make me seem like a stalker, so I let the moment pass.
But every time I heard a Quiet Riot song after that, it hit me in a completely new way. I'd picture DuBrow happily babbling about that show in Denver, think about how lucky I was in my own life and try to realize that whatever dumb thing I was all worked up about at my (also awesome) job wasn't really all that tragic. Pretty deep lesson to learn from a guy in striped pants, right?
Hearing about the death of DuBrow a couple of years later was quite sad, and I immediately wished that I had thought of a way to tell him how much I had gained from listening to him be so enthusiastic about his life. Then again, even if I had tried, it's unlikely I would have been able to get a word in edgewise.