Sebastian Bach is, first and foremost, an entertainer. Whether singing with Skid Row, playing Gil on Gilmore Girls, starring in reality TV shows like VH1’s Supergroup and Celebrity Fit Club, or acting on Broadway in Jesus Christ Superstar, he loves the spotlight. The man and the mic belong together; at a recent Q&A for this book at St. Vitus in Brooklyn, Bach was hilarious. It’s no surprise, then, that his autobiography, 18 and Life on Skid Row (Dey Street Books), is highly entertaining. Bach is a perfect tour guide through the sex, drugs, and rock & roll antics typical of these autobiographies, yet there are also some surprising insights and reflections that make the book one of the better rock bios.
The erstwhile Sebastian Bierk credits some of the crazy and fortuitous turns his life has taken to when he was a child in the Bahamas, and his parents returned home to find the babysitter and some other local women performing some sort of Bahamian ritual over his crib. Fred Coury of Cinderella is quoted in the book as saying, “There’s something about Sebastian. He can go through all sorts of crazy shit, be shot out of cannon, and end up landing on his feet. With his hands in the air. Saying, ‘Hey, what the fuck is up?!’”
Throughout his autobiography, Bach pays tribute to his father, David, an artist, who took many of the photos throughout the book and who took 11-year-old Bach to his first Kiss concert. His parents’ painful divorce and his love of Kiss seemed to have shaped his young life, along with discovering his love of singing in the church choir and forming a band at boarding school. Only 19 when he joined Skid Row, Bach was already married with a child on the way.
Skid Row—which ascended to fame in 1989 hits like “Youth Gone Wild,” “18 and Life” and “I Remember You”—perhaps didn’t often get the credibility the band deserves, sometimes lumped with the hair and spandex style-over-substance groups of their era. Bach was pretty—in fact, Bach recalls that when he met James Hetfield (of Metallica), Hetfield grabbed Bach on both sides of the head, stared deep into his eyes and said, “You really do look like that!”—and his looks and the band’s ballads appealed to a large audience. But Skid Row had some undeniably heavy songs, like “Piece of Me” and the entire Slave to the Grind record, which debuted at number one in 1992. “Our answer to being perceived as balladeers was to come out as hard-ass screaming metal as we possibly could,” Bach writes. “And we definitely accomplished that.”
Of course, the book has the crazy stories of Skid Row’s heyday and beyond involving Bon Jovi, Christina Applegate, Motley Cree and Guns ’n’ Roses. Bach also geeks out about meeting some of his musical heroes—and recalls a few inevitable disappointments that happen when you meet your idols. A line appears at several instances in the book (“it was a different time”) following stories like when Bach and Axl Rose smoked dope and called up the Howard Stern show. He also confesses that he doesn’t like cocaine, “but I liked the way it smelled.” One of the best stories in the book begins with cocaine and Lars Ulrich and ends with Bach’s grandmother.
(Interesting aside, my review copy of the book has notes that I assume aren’t in the final edition. These cryptic comments, presumably from Bach or his editor, are themselves gems: “Was this the same show where we got tied to the chairs?” and “Slash’s house nude boxing.”)
With all the rock star bedlam, however, there’s another thing that Bach mentions several times and is very strict about: no drinking before the show or onstage. Bach’s a professional and takes singing very seriously, something that he goes on to talk about during his Broadway days in Jekyll & Hyde and Jesus Christ Superstar. Although the book touches on low points—being adrift after the end of Skid Row, his own divorce and losing his house to Hurricane Irene—Bach notes that he’s had “as much fun as possible. To me, that is what life is about.”