1. singer of Richmond, VA -based heavy metal four-time Grammy losers lamb of god. 2. 42-year-old skateboarding, fly fishing, and bullwhipping enthusiast. 3. amateur photographer currently writing his first photo-essay book. 4. author of currently untitled memoir to be published by Da Capo/Perseus (U.S.) and Random House (everywhere else), spring 2014. 5. proud husband, son, grandson, and brother. 6. fairly righteous dude.
In 2012, Lamb of God frontman D. Randall “Randy” Blythe was arrested at an airport in the Czech Republic for allegedly pushing a fan off the stage to his death two years earlier. Facing a manslaughter charge and a sentence of five to ten years, he was locked up in the bleak and decrepit Pankraç prison before getting bailed out 37 days later. Blythe’s upcoming memoir Dark Days is a smart, harrowing and (very) darkly funny account of the entire experience, from his terrifying arrest to the climactic trial. In this passage, he is sent to the prison doctor’s office for a little talk about his health.
— The editors of Talkhouse Music
The doctor continued poking at his computer keyboard every minute or two, still showing no signs of realizing that I sat directly in front of him. The office was dead quiet except for the snores of the guard and the occasional clack of the computer’s keyboard as the doctor depressed a solitary key. After about five or six minutes of this weird silence, I couldn’t take it anymore.
“Hello, Doctor,” I said loudly, “what seems to be the problem today? How may I help you?”
This cheery announcement had an immediate effect on the doctor, who bolted upright (in reality it was more of a creaking semi-vertical lurch, his actual bolting days being long over), dropping his cigarette into his lap and retrieving it with a muttered curse. He looked at me, completely surprised by the sudden appearance of this knotty-haired, tattooed stranger. His previous unacknowledging manner had been so complete, I wondered if he was thinking that perhaps one of his pokes at the computer had summoned me from the ether, causing me to appear like magic, even though I had been right in front him for several silent minutes.
The doctor brushed some ashes from his clothes, took a long, pensive drag on what was left of his smoke, exhaled noisily, then spoke to me in a deep voice made raspy by years of chain-smoking.
“You… are… Czech?” he slowly asked me, suspicion riding the tobacco-roughened edges of his rumbling voice.
“No, American,” I replied, wondering how my initial use of English hadn’t alerted him to my status as a foreigner.
“Ah, Americansky. Goot, goot,” he replied, as if my nationality had cheered him up. Perhaps he had been having a Communist-era flashback, and my unexpected appearance had made him afraid that I was a member of the secret police come to question him. He was more than old enough to have lived through the darkest of those times, when such concerns were a very valid part of life in the country. The doctor then pulled out a clipboard with a chart on it and proceeded to very, very slowly ask me a long line of questions about my general health, of which I understood about half, and those with great difficulty.
“You… haf… dee-yah-bate-ees?” No, no diabetes.
“You… haf… arch… problem?” No, my heart seems to be fine.
“You… haf… some… tromer?” Well, I suppose we’ve all suffered some trauma throughout our lives, but there’s none I’d care to discuss at the moment, so no, no trauma, so to speak of. Then the doctor’s eyes narrowed, and I could see suspicion returning to his gaze as he asked me, “You… haf… some… invariable… disease?”
“I’m sorry, I don’t understand you,” I replied, hoping that there was no disease in Pankrác so ruthless that I would absolutely contract it, no matter how strong my immune system was.
“You… haf… some… wind… marriable… .disease?” he said, a hint of malice creeping into his voice.
“I’m very sorry, but I still don’t understand what you are saying,” I said, thinking that a) I was already married, and b) even if I was single, I would never wed something as fickle as a weather pattern.
The doctor began to stand, then, quickly thinking better of it, leaned some of his considerable bulk over the table and pointed his cigarette accusingly at my crotch. “You… haf… some… wenairial… disease!” he practically shouted, ash flying from his smoke onto the desktop. This time it was a statement of fact, as if he had just caught me red-handed, shagging his favorite teenaged granddaughter in the barn out back.
““No! No! Absolutely not! No venereal diseases!”” I stuttered, glad that the family jewels were in fact healthy, and wondering what this angry doctor would have done to me if they were not.
“Ahhhh, goot, goot,” the doctor said, “this is goot for you,” and he seemed to relax. Whew, I thought, that was a close one, as if I had actually done something to escape his ire other than have a healthy penis.
As the doctor extinguished his cigarette and lit up a fresh one, a pleasant-faced brunette nurse in her late forties entered the room and broke out in a huge and beautiful smile when she saw me. “Ah, you are music man! I like Beach Boys!” she said in a very sweet tone of voice.
“Really! I love the Beach Boys,” I said (because I do, and am slightly obsessed with them and their story), immediately breaking into “Barbara Anne.” The nurse was simply thrilled by this, and let out a loud shriek of glee as the doctor and now awake guard stared at me in amazement, as if they had never heard anyone sing before. After I ran through a quick verse and chorus of “Barbara Anne,” the nurse gave me a quick round of delighted applause, then turned to the doctor and abruptly began screaming at him.
Her transformation from squealing schoolgirl music fan to screeching, malicious-hearted harpy was so abrupt and unexpected I actually jumped in my seat. I had noticed before that the key components of the Czech language as it is spoken in prison (which is very different than the Czech you hear strolling through the streets of Prague) are: 1) blistering speed, 2) ear-splitting volume, and 3) an overall verbal tenor that suggests deeply, deeply seated unhappiness and anger at everything and everyone around the speaker, especially the person being spoken to. But this woman had been so childishly pleasant to me at first, so pleased with my singing, that I had forgotten for a second that, just like the Beach Boys and their music, there was a very dark core hiding beneath that sugar-coated shell — how could there not be? She worked in a prison. The nurse let the doctor have it for a minute or so, then he, too, underwent a transformation, shedding a century or two and giving it back to her just as loudly. Where before the doctor had been speaking slowly in a deep and unintelligible, yet mostly pleasant, approximation of the English language, he was now bellowing fiercely in Czech. After about two minutes of seemingly mutual hate-filled invective, Adolph Hitler-like in intensity, the nurse stomped out of the room and the doctor picked up the phone beside him and slowly, slowly pecked out a number.
As he brought the receiver to his furry ear, a female voice blasted out of it in a deafening greeting of “ahoy!” which the doctor promptly answered with his own scream of “ahoy!” before beginning to berate the woman on the other end. (This is one of many linguistic quirks of the Czechs I never figured out — another being that every single Czech woman’s last name seems to end in “ova” — despite the fact that the Czechs are quite clearly landlocked, they all turn into Popeye when they say hello.) After the doctor was done bawling her out, the woman responded with twice the energy and fury, her voice somehow seemingly louder in my ears than the doctor’s, even though it emanated solely from the tiny speaker of the phone’s headset. The doctor and the woman on the phone went back and forth like this for approximately five minutes, the doctor scribbling a note or two on a yellow pad in between verbal barrages. The two finally reached a satisfactorily aggressive enough conclusion, and the doctor slowly hung up the phone. He then screamed something ending in “ova,” which I could only guess was the nurse’s name, as she reappeared and immediately began screaming at him again. The doctor and the nurse yelled back and forth for a few minutes until she left; then he picked up the phone, slowly dialed a number, and the whole procedure, ahoys and all, began anew.
This process was repeated without variation, and I exaggerate not one bit, for at least forty-five minutes. The nurse running in and out of the room, the screaming, the infuriated sounding phone calls, the ahoys — it was nerve-shattering, and I was beginning to become a bit unwound. Throughout all this ruckus, the guard fell back asleep, not stirring or moving an inch, a large wet spot growing on his crotch where the drool dripped from his chin onto his lap. I was amazed that anyone could have slept through the commotion, which had sounded to me like three Slavic pirates exchanging screamed insults with bullhorns before sailing their ships into battle with each other on some strange Eastern European inland sea. I was starting to actually consider using some of the weapons I saw around the office to shut these people up when things mercifully began to draw to a close. Finally, after all feathers had been sufficiently ruffled and nasty enough parting shots fired, quiet descended over the office again. The doctor seemed to have forgotten me, and returned to poking at his computer again, until I cleared my throat to get his attention. He looked up from the computer screen and noticed me as if for the first time; then a hint of recognition crept into his eyes. He smiled warmly at me, like I was an old friend who he hadn’t seen in years who had decided to pop by for a surprise visit while I was in town.
“Soooo… ” he said, lighting his fiftieth cigarette since I had been there, “You… haf… some… problems?”
Yes. Yes, I do have some problems. I am in an ancient Czech prison, stuck in a filthy cell with a Mongolian Slim Whitman who is surely going to put me in the loony bin, one whistle at a time. I don’t speak the language you were just screaming in, and I will not suddenly become fluent in it, no matter how loud anyone yells it at me. I resent the fact that you people serve me “food” that I wouldn’t slop the hogs with back home in old Virginny, that I am wearing rags, and that I sleep on a metal torture device that would cripple Charles Atlas for life after just one hour on it. I am confused and I am scared, I am thousands of miles away from my wife, my family, and my friends, locked in a basement cage; and I have absolutely no idea of when or even if I will be let out. You bet your cobweb-covered ass I’ve got some problems, doc.
“No. No problems at all,” I said.
“That is goot for you,” he replied, blowing smoke in my face, “gootbye.”