The Boy with the Rebel Tattoo

An interview with a would-be rock star – ‘Sean Torino’


I think I was born with the word ‘rebel’ tattooed somewhere inside me, so the hedonistic side of the music industry was always gonna get me.

My first brush with music came as a child, in the early 70’s, discovering bands like Slade, Sweet, and T-Rex. Later, on a trip to Canada in 1976, I discovered a glam-rock band called Kiss; that’s when my obsession really started to grow.

I wasn’t interested so much in just the music, but in the entertainment side of things as well – the performance. I formed my first band in 1978 and have continued to play, or be in some way been involved in music, ever since.

In the beginning it wasn’t so much about drugs, as alcohol. I was a full blown alcoholic by the time I was 20, and the drugs slowly filtered in after that.

When you have a personality like mine, things never match up to your expectations. That’s not to say I was never happy, I was always happy, but I still always felt that things could have been better.

No matter how much I had, I always thought there could be more. More girls, more drink, more drugs, more guitars, more amps. More, more, more.

I have hundreds of memories from the early days, though some I remember less well than others… but I think the thing that I remember most, and the thing that I used to enjoy the most, about being in a band with a group of people, and touring and gigging with those people, was the camaraderie.

When a band are all on the same page, when they are well rehearsed and getting on there really is nothing quite like it.

I think it was only when my bands started to pull gigs in with bigger crowds, in large clubs, that the drugs started in a big way. The high you get from playing a live show is met with a huge down once the amps are turned off.

The exhilaration and pure adrenaline it gives you fades quickly; as soon as the spotlights go dark it begins to seep away, then by the time you’ve packed up your gear it’s gone. So to carry on the high, you’d ask ‘Uncle Charlie’ [cocaine] to come out and play.

I don’t think any of the darker times in my life had anything to do with the music; it was more likely to do with the lack of it. I’m sure sometimes it affected the people around me, but the one thing most successful musicians have in common (not that many would be willing to admit it) is their selfishness: live performance for me, was what it was all about. Nothing else mattered.

Of course, like a lot of musicians, I found when the gigs became less and less frequent, and the crowds got smaller, and live performances dried up, that all I was left with was the drugs and alcohol.

In a way they become like childhood friends, friends who remind you of an earlier time in your life whenever you see them. You welcome them into your life with open arms, because it makes you feel like you’re still out on the road, just waiting to get on the stage; waiting to get that old, familiar thrill again – except the spotlights don’t go back up, and the only thrill is the one that comes after a five minute conversation, at the back of a shady pub, with a shady-looking bloke.

Then in my forties, when I was well within the clutches of depression, I developed epilepsy. This didn’t particularly help matters.

With the epilepsy came regular and ferocious seizures: as my illness progressively grew worse over time, I began to have as many as one or more seizures a day – something which I continue to live with.

It didn’t take long for the illness to overcome me, to dictate my life completely. I grew afraid to leave the house, for fear of having a seizure in public.

Resuming consciousness on a supermarket floor, the warmth of urine on your thigh, to the sight of a crowd of unfamiliar faces surrounding you, is an experience that stays with you.

I’d have seizures which would wipe-out my memory, sometimes for days. I wouldn’t remember who I was, or who my family were.

I felt the grief fresh every time my (now ex-) wife had to break it to me, in my confused and terrified state, that I couldn’t talk to my mother, because she had passed away.

I now know that my epilepsy is brought on by stress, nervousness, depression, anxiety etc. – endless cocktails of them all, which were inside me before my use of drink and drugs, and were suppressed by it. It wasn’t until eventually, after both my parents had died, that these problems overpowered me.

I tried to quit drinking, I tried to quit everything, but things seemed to get worse instead of better.

My seizures are actually referred to as ‘non-epileptic’, which means medication (the prescribed kind) doesn’t work for me. The reality is that I’ve probably had this illness most of my life, it’s just that I’ve been self-medicating for 30-odd years!

Thinking back on my life, thinking about whether I have any regrets, or whether there’s anything I wish I’d done differently, is a hard one; I’m still talking through all that with my shrink.

One of the things that I have discussed, is that as a child I was very, very, shy (probably hard to believe for anyone that knows me!), but when I started drinking, I was able to over come it, and the more I drank, the less shy I became.

I started drinking when I was 13, which just so happened to coincide with me starting my first band; the fact that the two kind of went hand-in-hand, is probably no coincidence! It’s well documented that shy, introverted types tend to turn to rock ‘n’ roll.

Once I had set off down that path, there was no turning back, and in the rush and haze of the life of a touring musician, I couldn’t see a way off of it either. Maybe if I hadn’t been so shy as a child, or found a different way to get around my shyness, I would never have set off on that path in the first place – but you can’t ask yourselves these sort of questions, because they can never be answered.

Besides, having said that, I can’t see my life as being any different. Like I said, I think I was born this way, so I think I would’ve always turned out like this!

Another thing most musicians have in common, is that when they get to their fifties, the selfishness turns into regret – I regret not always being there for my kids.

Most people will try to tell you they have no regrets, but they’re liars. Everyone has regrets, especially by the time you get to 50, but luckily, 50 ain’t that old, and there is plenty of time to put things right!

I don’t perform live anymore, as I still have seizures on a regular basis, so I very seldom leave the house; and from a writing point of view it took me a while to settle into writing ‘straight’.

But my studio work is far better than it used to be because, apart from the fact I have my own studio, I’m more focussed and have more time. Before, we would always be rushing because of schedules, or because we wanted to get wasted, laid, or back in a tour van.

I’m actually about to start work on an album with the guy I formed my very first successful band with; so for the first time in over 30 years we’ll both be straight enough to finish a whole album!

I wouldn’t say I’ve completely put all my old habits behind me, after all I got my stage name, ‘Sean Torino’, from the label on a bottle of Asti Spumante… but my life is pretty stable now, and it’s definitely heading in the right direction.

But you’ll never be able to remove that tattoo, it’s who I am.

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. John Wilson says:

    Good stuff Alex. Very interesting.

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