The hard road of Pentagram frontman Bobby Liebling, who has fought the real demons of addiction for decades, was well chronicled in the documentary Last Days Here as well as J. Bennett’s May 2011 cover story. While the film had a happy ending everyone knows that after the credits roll life continues. Hollywood doesn’t like messiness. Real life is about ambiguity.
Liebling has struggled since the film, including a bout with depression and separation from his wife Hallie. On the upside, he’s remained sober and recently given performances with longtime collaborator Victor Griffin that would be incredible even if you weren’t a 60-year-old that by most accounts shouldn’t be with us (check out a photo gallery from dB contributor Raymond Ahner here).
Decibel met Liebling on his RV in San Francisco and gave him a few packs of Fig Newtons to break the ice. He then gave us an update on success as a near senior citizen and admitted to a new addiction: streaming movies.
How is life a few years removed from the movie?
Things have picked up and are faster and a whole lot bigger. The group moved up two to three rungs on the ladder. We have people opening for us that I should be bowing to like Beavis and Butthead (laughs). The band made the major leagues, finally. It hasn’t fully crossed over from a cult following in the U.S. but in Europe the last two gigs were sold out. We sell out almost every single place we play in Europe, like 50,000 people. I just turned 60 and my wife is 27 and my son is three-and-a-half and started preschool. I’m still sober. Everyone is waiting for the other shoe to drop and see me all fucked up but it isn’t going to happen. I like knowing what I’m doing; it kind of adds to life a little bit (laughs).
Right now my wife and I are separated. So 2013 was very stressful and honest to God I started losing my hair. I love the hell out of my wife and little boy.
That connection with you and Hallie was very palpable in the movie.
Everyone says they can see how in love we are in the movie or when we are together. I miss her dearly. I brought her down to Gaithersburg (Maryland) the day before I left on tour and that was the first time we were alone together in eight months. I’m still deeply in love with her and always will be. It’s not just that she saved my life but she is a beautiful person.
Considering the separation how have you managed to keep it together?
Netflix (laughs). That one word sums it up. I watch movie after movie after movie and won’t run out in the lifetime I have left. I get up in whatever hotel or state I’m in and watch. I live the entire year in hotels and want to go home real bad. I’m hoping maybe when this tour finishes I can go home. I don’t remember why we separated. It was a big verbal argument or something like that. It happens. So it’s been very low and I have been depressed. I spent this anniversary alone in a hotel room, crying. Our anniversary is Thanksgiving. We got married on the same day, the 25th of November, four plus years ago. This year I was totally alone in a hotel for Thanksgiving, my birthday, Christmas, New Year’s sitting in a hotel. I don’t have friends and don’t give a damn. If you have three (friends) you can count on that’s a lot.
It’s strange that you say that because there is a building of people here who, in a sense, love you.
Well, it’s not involved friendship. I am very flattered that they love Pentagram. But not everyone is a real confidante.
I think it’s fair to say that you might be hard to have as a friend…
Sure. I’ve done a lot of crazy shit and drugs.
Last Rites came out a few years ago. Have you written any new material?
Well the guys in the band write but I could play the rest of my life and only use up a third of the songs I wrote in the 60s and 70s. All the Pentagram albums, the songs were written like 40 years ago. I like just writing lyrics because I shot my wad so many years ago. I hated the fact that First Daze Here and First Daze Here Too came out because they were shitty rehearsal tapes. But now I’m starting to understand the younger generations. Sometimes we play for three and maybe four generations. I’ll meet a kid who is six years old listening to us and his 65 year old grandfather is with him. It’s a complete dreamscape. I got thrown into the frying pan from the fridge in no time.
Being straight, I found out it isn’t all about me. It’s about what’s around me.
How has fatherhood changed you?
It melts my heart. I cut the cord and I never let go of my wife’s hand when she was giving birth. It’s pretty heavy duty stuff there; I love him so much. If you look at my baby picture from the same age you’d bet your house it was the same person. He has flat feet like mine and tiny little round shoulders and strong legs. Every little bit is me except he’s blonde. Hallie is a blonde. When he looks up and there’s a connection and I know I helped make that it’s the greatest feeling you can have. I’m a crier and I cry about that. When I see my little boy it melts my heart. Aside from the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame I’ve left something else behind (laughs). I’m a very emotional guy and I masked it for so many years with the drugs. All the outlandish stories, people think I’m delusional, but they all pan out.
Your parents were a big part of the film as well. How are they?
My father is going to go anytime. He can’t walk. And he’s getting delusional and he’s in so much pain that he needs to take Tylenol with codeine and he never smoked a cigarette in his life. We are the opposite ends of the block but he still loves me dearly and recognizes me. He just turned 94 and my mom is 83. They finally got to see me get to the big leagues.
That has to be gratifying. Do you talk about the changes in your life?
All the time. My mom knows I’m completely different person. I don’t snap.
Victor (Griffin, guitarist) was gone for a whole and I have to imagine that the two of you together is what makes it magical.
It’s a much larger draw when we are together. Everyone who has left Pentagram will still put out an album that says “formerly of the legendary Pentagram.” My wife and I kid and say most of those people will want to come back. Pentagram has had so many member changes over 44 years. We don’t go out on the road more than two weeks because two of the four people have regular jobs. I support my family with what I do six to eight weeks a year.
When you travel in a band the lure has to be there to go back to bad behavior. How do you keep it together touring?
Like I said I like knowing what I’m doing. And there a lot of people who said they were really helped by movie. It’s gratifying that people can use me as a vessel. (My story) gives some of these people the feeling that they aren’t alone.
I think a love of people took strength and inspiration from your story.
Yeah, it’s a real Cinderella story.
Do you ever think about what would have happened if things hadn’t been derailed earlier in your life?
I’m happy that it’s happening now but at my age is taking its toll physically. It’s hard to keep up this pace, even for a few weeks. And everyone that works with me has to leave venues and clubs hours later because I’ll never turn down a picture or an autograph. I’ve stopped the van in a middle of a road to sign for two 14-year-old boys holding an album cover. I realize now that without the fans there is no me. I appreciate it dearly. When I say it’s from the heart it is.
When you were struggling with addiction it’s about me, self-gratification.
Yeah, and when I started the band I was doing all this dark Satanic stuff for years but it scared the shit out of me. I kept the name because it was bold and simple. I know we play bummer rock (laughs). But I guess this kind of music is making a hell of a resurgence.
How do you choose bands that open for Pentagram?
Well, we don’t choose them. If I had my choice there would be no cookie monsters or hardcore shit. We call those bands plumbing (makes horrible noises). And all of these bands say you spawned us! The problem is I can’t listen to that shit and it gives me a headache. But it humbles me that people say they started playing music because of me.
What do you do on the road to take care of yourself and perform like you want?
Nothing special. I try to sleep as much as I can. Last year I did a lot of depression sleep because I was in the lowest valley without Hallie.
I’m hoping I make it to seventy after all the abuse. My original crowd said I wasn’t likely to make it 30 and I’ve doubled that. And my original buddies are all gone from AIDS or maybe dope.
What’s your next dream?
To see my son get to college. I’ve worked every crappy job, cleaned every toilet, worked in boiler rooms selling shit I don’t believe in. Until I was 55 I had only seen five states.
Do you ever look out the window as you are travelling now?
When we are in foreign counties people will be like “we want to go to the Eiffel Tower do you want to come?” Why would I want to pay 20 dollars to go to an Erector set with an elevator? I get a hell of a lot more pumped with this and people cheering.