(reported by MPO Member, Tim Leonard)
On Friday May 19th, Mike Peters attended the Joey Ramone Birthday Bash Press Conference, prior to the concert that night. Alarm fan and MPO member, Tim Leonard was there to capture the moment.
“Mike has been going through a similar ordeal as my brother went through. It?s kind of fitting that he?s here helping us out and helping everybody else out.”
Mike addressing the assembled media”
“I wanted to be here because Joey meant a lot to me as a musician and a performer. I actually saw him play in 1977 at Erics in?Liverpool. It was a life-changing experience for a young guy from Wales to see the Sex Pistols in 76 and the Ramones in 77. You had to be there in that era, but it was amazing.
I wanted to apologize to Joey for actually spitting on him in 1977. That?s why I came all this way.
Also, in the same year as Joey in 1995, I was diagnosed with lymphoma. I was lucky enough to fight off the cancer then. I went into remission not long after, by the grace of God. Recently, in December, I was back in hospital and diagnosed with leukemia.
I remember being in hospital the first day and listening to the IPod and The Ramones came on and that gave me a lot of inspiration to stay alive. I?m here and I?ve got the clearance from doctors to come out. I just had my sixth round of chemo two weeks ago, but I wanted to be here really bad and help out the family and do something for lymphoma. I?m looking forward to playing tonight for all you people and playing for Joey and the memory of the Ramones. Thank you.”
Tim Leonard: How did it happen that you wound up here for this show? Did you reach out to them or did they reach out to you because of the news about your recent diagnosis?
Mike Peters: We were on tour in the UK last time. We had an acoustic tour that I couldn?t get out of, actually, last April or May so we couldn?t do it. So we said if we had the chance to come next year that would be great. So we kept a dialogue going and then ? irony of ironies ? I got diagnosed with leukemia in December. Mickey called our agent and asked if we?re still able to come and play. They said they?d keep a slot open, no matter what. So I was able to come and play, which is something I felt very strongly I wanted to do.
TL: How do you compare this episode with 10 years ago?
MP: The main difference is I was so far gone with it, the diagnosis. I obviously had to have treatment immediately. I couldn?t get out of it like last time (chuckles). And I had no tour booked for the next day, no America to escape to. I could tell things were heavy just by the looks on everybody?s faces. I couldn?t get out of treatment this time. My life was at risk, basically.
My doctor couldn?t believe I?d walked in to see him. They told me that if I?d carried on much longer my brain would have stopped working, my blood would have stopped circulating. I was in danger of thrombosa. The next day I was in treatment.
TL: You just said you?ve completed your sixth round of chemotherapy. How does that affect you and how are you still able to perform?
MP: Two things, really. A. I?ve always stayed healthy. I decided not to cancel anything until I saw how the chemo reacted on me. At first I was advised to shave my hair and all that kind of stuff to get ready. I just thought ?Well, I?ll do that when things happen.? I thought maybe I could be one of the lucky people that the chemo doesn?t affect too much and I am one of those. I kept my hair, kept my body shape. It hasn?t made me bed-bound or anything like that.
[B.] I do realize that chemo, it does affect my voice. I was only able to play one show a month. As soon as I?d have the chemo, I?d have to start reconstructing my voice to play once a month. So I?d have to go and sing every day and rebuild it because I?d lose my voice very quickly from the chemo because it strips the lining of your throat.
The doctor didn?t know it was going to do that, but I found out the first evening. Not that many people go singing off chemotherapy, if any.
TL: From being at The Gathering in January and seeing what an emotional time that was, does being here compare to that day?
MP: This is my first experience just stepping here, but it feels like The Gathering. It feels like The Gathering event, especially when you hear this is the event where Ramones fans come from all over the world. I?ve heard that said somewhere before in relation to The Alarm and The Gathering. (Smiling)
I?m reminded seeing Joey?s Mom, just like when my Mom stands in The Gathering. The difference is I?m still alive and the band will appear. This is a festival of The Ramones, but without The Ramones. That?s where it differs from The Gathering. Hopefully, The Gathering will continue when I?m not on this planet anymore and The Gathering will continue in the same way. Somebody from the family will be organizing it and fans will come to pay tribute to The Alarm. That?s what you hope.
TL: Talk about the album. I know you didn?t want to release it in the States until you were healthy enough to support it. Is it almost like doing it all over again?
MP: We really believe in this record. We wanted to give it as good a send-off as we could. I knew that since I was diagnosed, my workload would be limited. I?m really glad that it?s been a staged release because this record?s been gathering momentum every week. It comes out in America soon. That will help it keep going in the UK. It?s just come out in Germany and it?s doing really well there. This is a record that?s had the best reviews we?ve ever had for a record, so we want to keep it going for quite some time.
TL: What was it that inspired you with this album? There are some songs that are ?traditional Alarm? and others that branch out.
MP: We wanted to utilize the energy of the band today, instead of like in traditional Alarm albums where I finished all the songs and the lyrics before the band had seen or heard them. This time I just went in with beginnings of ideas and then allowed everyone to join in and help shape and finish the work. Lyrically, I was writing lyrics on top of the music we were creating. Sometimes you can write a song only to start, but you?re not sure how fast or slow it will be until you start playing it with a band. Sometimes, you have a lyric that was maybe set to a slower song that comes out faster when you play it with a band. This time I was writing lyrics once I knew where the music was going to be and I was building the songs up from words that came out within the rehearsal room and making sense of them.
This album is the first Alarm album ever that doesn?t have a title song on the record. The title of the album came out from just an instinctive thing. I didn?t know why it was going to be called ?Under Attack,? but it felt like it was the right words. The biggest point for us was to ask as many questions as possible and raise many debates and get people questioning everything around them. Unlike other albums, when we were looking for answers or looking to create situations for people to find answers, this one?s all about asking questions. From my point of view, it was a great album to make because it was very instinctive.
It was only when I was diagnosed with leukemia and was lying in the hospital and heard Without a Fight come on my IPod, I thought ?Now I know what this album is all about.?
TL: You?ve spoken before about ironies and how the songs have changed meaning for you since they were recorded. One thing I?ve noticed is that a lot of people are looking at this and viewing it and saying ?He wrote this song Without a Fight because he?s going through this cancer thing? and it?s kind of gotten lost in the shuffle that the song came before the diagnosis, not after.
MP: It?s funny how history weighs itself that way. Hindsight is a beautiful thing, isn?t it? I think ?I?ll never give it up without a fight? was something that was probably lurking in my mind from when I was diagnosed in 1995. It was something that was part of me. I?m the sort of guy, if I want to win at something, I don?t give up easily. That came out just spontaneously. I?m not thinking ?Why am I writing that song now?? I?ve written a lot of those songs over the years. In my life I?ve always had to fight for something ? my health, my family or for the band and a career. When you do something for as long as I have, it?s not all going to be going in one direction. Things go up and down in life. I?ve had to fight for a lot of things and keep them alive. Health is the thing I?ve been having to fight to keep alive the most. I?m glad, while we?re touring for this album, that I?ve got a song like that to sing by my side, rather than some love song where I?m singing about the moon and the stars. Instead I?m singing about something that acts as a bit of a soundtrack and as an anthem for inspiring the shows.
TL: In terms of where you are now health-wise, how much are you going to be able to tour or is that still wait-and-see?
MP: I?m doing great on my treatment. I?m making massive strides, surprising the doctors and myself in the speed of my recovery. Obviously, I?ve got a disease that isn?t going to go away .It is going to come back at some point in time. I?m just waiting to find out if I?m going to have to have any more chemotherapy or not and we can take things from there.
I?ve enjoyed the fact that we haven?t played a traditional tour on this album. Every time we?ve played a show, it?s been really special. It?s played at a heightened sense of anticipation amongst the audience when we play because it?s that little bit more rare than it has been in the past. That?s been a good thing, it?s been a positive. Good things have come because we?ve been forced to change things and we?ve learned a lot of good things from them.
I don?t know if I?d want to go back to playing those massive tours where you?re just endlessly on the road. I?ve got a family. First, I want to play rock and roll. Then, I think playing one-offs, like when we do The Gathering, it?s amazingly emotional. There?s something to be said for playing on a Monday night when you?ve done six nights on the run and maybe your voice is a little bit tired because of it. I don?t know if we need to do that anymore, not with the internet and means of communication we have today. I think we can find better ways to tour for albums and keep the band exciting and fresh.
TL: I know there?s at least one person who keeps asking for you to play Dallas.
MP: Yeah, there?s lots of people there. Hopefully we?ll get there. When we do it, it will be special.
TL: Do you have specific cities in mind that you want to target?
MP: Not really, no. We?ll just see what comes up and play. Keep it meaningful. That?s the thing.
I?ve got to work to protect my health first. By doing that, the band will stay longer and I?ll stay longer and the shows will last longer and that will be a good thing. That has to be the driver in all of this.
TL: I think a lot of people look at the progress that you?ve made — and it?s been just remarkable ? and they almost think ?Well, Mike?s better now.? And things are back to normal.
MP: To some degree I am (better). But it?s going to come back. I have a chronic illness, which means it?s not curable. I?ve never felt ill, that?s the thing. I suppose because I?ve played the one show a month that they?ve been seeing me at my best. They haven?t seen me in the hospitals or the times where I?ve had reactions.
When I went to see my doctor, I had the worst blood count he?s ever seen in his life and now today I?ve probably have the best blood count he?s ever seen.
TL: What was the blood count?
MP: 500,000 [Note: A normal range is between 5 and 10]. My wife has been amazing in that sense. She put me on a really strict diet, which I think has been contributory to the healing process. She found that through sharing my news with the fans. People who had the same illness in their families and had worked out with things, they were passing tips on and we?ve embraced a lot of them and that?s been contributory. I shared that with my own doctor in Wales. He sat down and said to me ?Look, Mike, there?s some people medically who don?t agree this is bad for you. They?re not into the diet thing. The hardest thing I have to do with cancer patients is get them off the McDonald?s and Kentucky Fried Chicken. He said one thing science can?t do is to take 200 people and put 100 people on a diet and give 100 people chemotherapy when they?re diagnosed with cancer ?Science hasn?t got the balls to run that sort of test on humanity. I?ve learned a lot from 10 years ago, when I had the spontaneous remission. I?m a great believer that supplementing the traditional treatments has been contributory. I?m absolutely at normal levels now, which is amazing. I have a great medical team behind me. My wife?s been amazing. Everything is contributory to my good health. And I?m playing rock and roll. It keeps you young and alive.
In fact, my doctor is thinking of getting every cancer patient who comes in to start a band and learn the guitar. That will help your recovery.
TL: What did it mean for you to be at The Gathering this year, especially so close after your diagnosis? And were you certain you were going to be able to perform?
MP: No, I didn?t know. The Gathering this year, I took the risk. Actually, I was on the chemotherapy before I took the big step — which everyone wanted me to do — of canceling the whole year and the album and everything. I thought that was again like last time was, a negative. I thought that with the situation, even if I have to cancel 10 minutes before I come on stage, everyone will understand. I wanted to give myself the best chance to be there and if I could play I would play, even if it just meant just playing three songs. In the weeks leading up to it I was doing a lot of rehearsing. I wanted to test my voice and make sure it was ok. I built it and worked on it.
When I came out Friday night on my own with all the fans, it was extremely emotional. It was probably the most emotional moment I?ve ever experienced in my history with rock and roll. To see what the music and my life means to so many other people was inspiring to me. It gave me even more incentive to stay alive and beat this thing. The Gathering was a very important step in my road to recovery.
(Mike and the band stormed the show later that night with a blistering set)