In Rob Halford’s New Memoir, The Judas Priest Frontman Gets Candid About His Sexuality And Alcoholism
It goes without saying, but Rob Halford is an icon. As the frontman of Judas Priest, he helped codify a whole genre, a whole aesthetic. He was one of the early heavy metal howlers, but he was also one of the guys who established aspects of metal’s early iconography, decking himself out in leather and riding a motorcycle onstage. Through the dizzying highs of the band’s success and the lows of Halford’s personal struggles, he’s lived a hell of a life. And now he’s telling that story in a new autobiography called Confess.
The title is not used lightly. Throughout the book, Halford writes candidly — and, often, amusingly — about the travails of decadent rockstar life in the ’70s and ’80s and onwards. He talks about miserable recording sessions in the Bahamas, and about laughing his head off upon seeing This Is Spinal Tap and recognizing just a bit too much of his own band in the movie. He describes both career milestones — like being at Live Aid — and crushing personal tragedies. One of the book’s most heartbreaking and harrowing sections arrives when Halford grapples with the loss of a partner to suicide. No matter the comedy or the horror, the lightness or the darkness, Halford proceeds through his memories with brutal honesty and, often, a sense of disarming wonder at making it through to the other side of all that experience.
Of course, Halford, like many of his peers, almost didn’t. A major thread throughout the book is his struggle with his sexuality, and living as a closeted gay man amidst the metal scene of the ’70s and ’80s. He wrestled with unrequited love, with not being able to be open about who he was. And in turn it fueled his drinking and partying. Bit by bit, Halford traces his battle with alcoholism and addiction, from wild rockstar days to much bleaker passages and, ultimately, to sobriety and the peace he’d later find in his life.
Now that Confess is out today, you can read the whole story for yourself. But today we’re also publishing an excerpt from Halford’s book, from the would-be halcyon days following the major success of 1980’s British Steel. Halford and his band were on the top of the metal world. And yet Halford found himself spinning out of control, at war with himself and entering one of the most difficult chapters of his life.
I’d never gone onstage sober. Even in the very earliest days of Priest, I’d liked to have a bit of a buzz going before I got up in front of a crowd. This had been ratcheting up since the band had started getting huge, around British Steel, and now it was out of control.
By the time we got to America in the spring of ’84, I was necking plastic mugs of vodka and tonic before the shows as if they were orange squash. In the past, I had always drunk water onstage to stay hydrated. Now, it was neat Smirnoff.
I would be close to staggering as I bade the crowd farewell — “THANK YOU! GOOD NIGHT!” — and then I’d run backstage to do some proper drinking. My post-gig ritual was two large cans of Budweiser, glugged down in one, followed by a bottle of Dom Pérignon to myself. A bit greedy, but there you go.
I have never been a falling-down drunk, but I was getting so paralytic that Jim Silvia would sometimes have to pour me onto the bus back to the hotel. At which point, I would attempt to hit the bar, or give up and drain the minibar in my room.
I just fucking hated being sober. Hated being how I was — and hated being who I was.
The next morning, I would feel dirty and horrible. Shit, I don’t want to feel this bad again tomorrow — I’ll take it easy today! That would last as long as getting to the venue before the show, at which point it was Groundhog Day:
I need something to take the edge off before I go on! I think I’ll have a vodka and tonic . . . and another . . .
I also introduced another element into my ferocious partying: cocaine.
Oddly, I can’t remember where we were the first time I took coke, or who gave it to me, but I’ll never forget the feeling that seared into my brain the second I sniffed the white, salt-like powder. It was love at first snort.
Oh, my God! This is the perfect fucking drug!
The coke buzz was euphoric and, in an instant, I became extremely powerful and potent. Plus, incredibly clever. I knew the answer to every single question, and what everyone should be doing, and it was essential that I shared that knowledge.
Coke felt like a gift from God. Alcohol got me depressed after the twentieth drink or so. Coke took that clean away and lifted my spirits and my confidence. It let me drink more, which let me take more coke. Perfect!
Also, it was so more-ish! Once I had had my first line of the night, that was what I needed, nonstop:
One night, I was sitting on my hotel bed with a Priest roadie, shoveling coke up my nose until the sun came up. I was banging on about my dad, and how I never told him that I loved him and I wished that I did.
“Why don’t you call him?” asked the roadie. “Tell him now!”
It was a self-evidently stupid idea, but it made total sense at the time. Unfortunately, I was too out of it to work a phone, so our roadie dug out my address book and called my dad’s office number.
“Hello! Rob wants to tell you that he loves you!” he said, when
Dad picked up. He passed me the phone.
“Hello, Dad! You all right? Yes, I’m in America!” I gabbled at him. “On tour! With Priest, Judas Priest! Yeah! Er, I love you! I know I never tell you, but I do, like! You and Mom! Yeah! You know what I mean?”
“Rob? Rob?” I could hear my dad saying. “What’s going on? Are you OK, Rob?”
Even off my tits, I could tell that he sounded upset.
Fuck! What am I doing? I panicked.
“Sorry, I’ve gorra gew, Dad! I love you!” I blurted, and slammed the phone down. It must have been a horrible call for him to receive. And, like two typical Walsall blokes, neither of us ever mentioned it again.
I didn’t want to come offstage and be by myself in my hotel room. I craved company, male company, but it was forbidden: the forbidden fruit I dared not pick.
Everything was catching up with me: everything at once. The years of denying my true self. The sheer torture of being a gay man fronting a straight band in a macho world. The disappointment that my relationship with David, which I had moved across the world for, had turned out to be a mirage. I felt brittle, and jaded, and like it was all too much.
I don’t doubt, now, that suicidal thoughts were creeping in on that tour . . . but I had a rock, an anvil, that held me together. As ever, the music, and Judas Priest, kept me going.
Once I was onstage, I still thought — I knew — that this was all that mattered. It was when I got offstage that the problems started . . .
My sexual frustration was becoming totally unbearable. I knew I would never dare even to think of ripping off my mask, of coming out, but I was taking ever-greater chances to satisfy my cravings. And running ever-greater risks of being found out.
We had an overnight drive to Austin after a show in San Antonio, and in the small hours our tour bus stopped for fuel at an all-night truck stop. As usual, I headed straight for the loo. As soon as I walked in, I saw a pair of feet under the door of a middle cubicle. I walked into one next to him and bolted the door.
I had hardly even sat down when his eager foot started twitching. I tap-tap-tapped my signal back. Within five seconds, we knew that we were on, and our lonely dance began under that Texan night sky. There was no glory hole, but there was a gap to one side of the toilet partition. The guy squeezed his arm through and gave me a hand job. It had been a while, so let’s just say it didn’t take him long.
Then I put my hand through the gap and did the same for him.
We never said a word. Obviously.
Once he had come, I opened the door and went to wash my hands. Etiquette thus required the other guy to wait in his cubicle until I had left . . . but he didn’t.
I heard his door lock click open behind me, but kept my head down as I rinsed my hands. Human nature being what it is, I couldn’t help but glance in the mirror to check out his face. He was a young guy and he was staring at me, his gob hanging open in shock. He was decked out in Judas Priest merchandise from head to toe.
Well, this is awkward! What am I supposed to say?
As I walked out of the washroom, I winked at him. “See you on the next tour!” I said, climbed back onto the tour bus, and headed off into the night toward Austin.
After years of living my life in the spotlight and my sex life in the shadows, having to cast around furtively for sleazy release, I was coming undone. An excess of booze was loosening my inhibitions. I was out of control.
I was occasionally slipping into gay bars and bathhouses after gigs, despite the risks of being outed. It had not gone unnoticed. Our management took me to one side for a cautionary word about the sort of places I was going to, and the damage it could do to Priest if it leaked out.
The conversation was polite, and well intentioned, not to mention tangential — the word “gay” was not even uttered — but its intent and meaning were undeniable. It could basically be summarized thus:
You are gay.
We know you are gay.
But you’re also the singer in a world-famous metal band.
It’s a macho world.
Metal fans aren’t known for their tolerance.
I understood why I was being told this . . . and yet, also, I resented it. I knew that they had a point about “protecting” the band’s reputation and yet, in my early thirties, I didn’t appreciate lectures on where I should and shouldn’t go. I wasn’t a fucking kid.
So, I largely carried on doing exactly what I wanted to.
Excerpted from Confess: The Autobiography by Rob Halford. Copyright © 2020. Available from Hachette Books, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, Inc.