DEF LEPPARD’S RICK ALLEN HELPS SELF AND OTHERS
July 2, 2009
Tom Keyser of www.timesunion.com reports that Rick Allen knows about drumming. Since he was 15, he’s been the drummer for the heavy-metal band Def Leppard.
And he knows about crisis. In 1984, when he was 21, he lost his left arm in a car wreck. Two years later, he returned as Def Leppard’s drummer, manipulating electronic pedals with his left foot to play what he used to with his left arm. Now 45, he will drum with the band Friday at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center.
Offstage, Allen has put the two together — musicianship and hardship — in a nonprofit organization, founded with his wife, Lauren Monroe, that combines drumming with alternative therapies to bring relief to people in crisis.
Started in 2001, their Raven Drum Foundation has evolved into a group that focuses on helping veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. Many have lost limbs in bombings and require years of rehabilitation and a lifetime of adaptation.
“It’s crazy,” Allen says in a phone interview. “Too few troops, going back and back and back, and they keep going back. More recently, we started hearing about amputees that were going back into war again. We just want to be there to help as much as we can. And this is our way of doing that.”
Allen met his future wife when he visited her as a patient. Monroe, also a songwriter and musician, was a practitioner of alternative therapies, including energy healing and massage, who had worked with incarcerated teens, hospice patients and others in emotional distress.
They eventually added Allen’s drumming to her techniques to create various programs of drum therapies and healing workshops. The foundation’s Web site lists the benefits of drumming, as determined by medical studies: Reduces stress, helps relieve chronic pain, stimulates the immune system, creates a sense of connectedness with others, releases negative feelings and emotional trauma, and serves as a distraction from pain and grief.
Based in Beverly Hills, Calif., the foundation puts on various drumming events at military bases, hospitals, juvenile-detention centers and community centers.
Monroe and Allen attend when they can. Their main event is the drum circle, at which people beat rhythms on various kinds of drums and take part in breathing, visualization and movement therapies.
“We have specific intentions for each rhythm, so that people are really going on a journey together within themselves,” Monroe says. “We’ve found that this way of working also transcends language and dialect, so we’re able to work in a way that’s very deep and very quick and connects everybody right away. I think that’s what we’re all longing for, really.”
“Community,” Allen says, “And being supportive, you know.”
“And belonging and feeling like we’re part of something bigger,” Monroe says.
Even though Allen lost his arm 25 years ago, he still relies on others to help him.
“Looking in from the outside, some people may think that I’m doing this completely for other people’s benefit,” he says. “But really, it becomes this fantastic two-way street, where I meet some of the most incredible people who inspire me to go on as well and just to be a better person.
“You know, people have said to me: ‘I don’t know what I would have done if I’d have gone through what you went through.’ I just turn around and say, ‘Well neither did I.’ Until you discover that part of yourself, it’s inexplicable. You just have to go through the experience, and somehow you’re inspired.”
The foundation has yet to conduct workshops in upstate New York, but Monroe says she’s hoping to make contacts this week that would result in functions next year. She grew up in Queens and spent summers in the Adirondacks. She has relatives in Saratoga Springs, she says.
Of course, the main purpose for this trip is the Def Leppard concert. Allen says he’s looking forward to it.
“Every show that we’ve ever done is an event unto itself,” he says. “It’s interesting, you know, because people ask: ‘Don’t you ever think about doing the songs in a different way? Does it ever get boring?’
“Well, when you’re playing to four walls, that’s one thing. But when you add a crowd that basically sings along to every single song you do, it creates this whole new scenario. These songs are so timeless, you know, and people really immerse themselves into them. That’s the reward, playing in front of people.”
Sometimes Allen’s work with the foundation and work with the band collide. After visiting veterans at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., Def Leppard played a concert in Virginia.
Joe Elliott, the lead singer, was addressing the crowd between songs when, suddenly, he stopped in midsentence. He couldn’t believe what he was seeing — all these arms and legs going up into the air. Spectators were holding up their artificial limbs.