From gang-related shootings to near overdoses, Travis Barker has consistently cheated death. The 39-year-old drummer, a human metronome who has manned the kit for Blink-182, +44 and The Transplants, has survived armed robberies, pill addiction and a plane crash in 2008 that killed four and left him with burns on 65 percent of his body. After the accident, he battled post-traumatic stress disorder, survivor’s guilt and, at his lowest point, suicidal thoughts. (Ailing in his hospital bed after the crash, he begged Transplants vocalist Rob Aston to bring a gun and end it all.) Less than a year later, the only other crash survivor, Barker’s best friend Adam “DJ AM” Goldstein, was found dead from a suspected drug overdose. Barker’s past still haunts him, but today, he’s in a better space: He’s eight years sober from hard drugs and is focusing on his career and raising his three children as a single father. The California native recounts it all in his riveting, brutally honest memoir Can I Say (HarperCollins, Oct. 20), co-authored with Gavin Edwards. Barker touches on his two divorces, flings with Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan, substance abuse and that fateful day that changed everything.
Your memoir is incredibly detailed and honest. What was the writing process like?
Thank you, man. It was like an album for me. I spent a lot of time on it, and I just wanted it to be perfect. You know with record labels, they’ll be like, “Oh, it’s gotta be turned in next month!” If the music ain’t ready, then you’re like, “Naw, sorry.” You’ve gotta postpone it. For this, I wanted to treat it like an album. I was like, “Man, it’s my life. And especially because it’s my memoir.” My first and only memoir, part one, and it’s gotta be on point.
A lot of the book is spent talking about your relationships with women. At one point, you called yourself a “complete asshole” for the way that you treated them. Taking a look back at the Travis from 20 years ago, what would you kind of say to yourself back then, knowing what you know now?
Back then I was living very much day-to-day. My attitude was like, “Shit, I could be dead tomorrow.” I grew up losing my mom at a young age, being shot at at a young age. Doing lots of drugs. If it was my time, it was my time, but then it wasn’t until when I had my kids — everything changed. Then it was like, “Oh my gosh, what did I put in my body? What did I do that for?” I loved being a father. I want to stay home with my kids, but I’m a musician, and I have to tour. That’s how I make money. It was this push and pull, and then just to medicate myself to leave. I remember I used to be in my room. It’d be like 6 in the morning, and I’d be like, “I have to leave for Europe tomorrow.” And I mean, a week before [the plane crash], I was having nightmares of plane crashes. It always happened. My sleep would be off. My breakfast was four blunts, four Vicodin, one Valium, one Oxycodone. ‘Cause that was the only way I could leave the house. I had to medicate myself before I could even think about getting in the car. It was tough.
You’ve been married and divorced twice. Are you more cautious about getting into relationships now?
No, I have much different patterns now. The moment I had kids, my life changed. I wanted to be sober for them. I wanted to be alive and healthy for them. So much had changed, and as far as like girls, it’s like –I haven’t been in a relationship since really [ex-wife] Shanna [Moakler]. I’ve had people I’ve dated and stuff, it’s cool, but I get so much love from my kids. I get so much satisfaction out of playing music, and I stay so busy doing it. I don’t have that longing to be in a relationship 24/7. I’m just happy with the way things are right now. Music and my kids are my number one priorities in my life.
There’s a lot of detail about your substance abuse problems. What was your lowest point?
There was really a couple, man. To stay gone for three months at a time without my kids, that was hard. That led to extreme abuse. But I think in Australia [in 2004], I was so addicted to Oxycodone, and I had a security that would actually sleep during the day and then stay up at night to make sure I was breathing. That was pretty pathetic. My bones were so brittle from so much painkiller use. I had this moment when I got to Europe for that tour where I really identified myself as a dumpster. And I wasn’t proud. I was scared. I had to call [Blink-182 member] Mark [Hoppus] and say, “Hey, man. I’m like borderline suicidal. I’m going crazy. I need to go home.” Like not even one show had started. I’d been there two days. I hadn’t slept one day. It was like naw, man. I need to go home and get my head right. So I think that was the most disappointing time.
These days, what’s your motivating factor for staying sober?
I’ve been sober from hard drugs for more than eight years now. But, I stopped smoking weed maybe like four years ago? And that was just something I did a little, but I even had a warning shot for that. I had like pre-cancerous cells on my throat. I was meant to be sober, man. I had done my time. I still question myself sometimes — even though I did smoke before I go to sleep, I’d be like, do I need this? Am I addicted to it? Is it like one more thing I have to hide from my kids or be disappointed in myself about? Once I was clear-headed, and I hadn’t been clear-headed in so long, I was like, I can never go back. And I’m still thankful.
You wrote that on the day of the crash, you had reservations about getting on the plane. Do you trust your gut more these days?
One hundred percent, yeah. We got [to the airport], and I did my normal thing: I’m medicating. I called my dad. I don’t know what it was, but I said, “Pops, I have a really strange feeling about this one. Something just tells me it’s not right.” And I’d walked off planes before. But I said, “I love you, and if anything happens, make sure the kids are taken care of.” And then, sure enough…
Looking back on the plane crash, do you value life more now? What’s your mentality?
I think back, and I was this little punk, someone I’m not proud of, that’s abusing pills every day and taking all this shit recreationally. And then you look death in the face and you almost die in a plane crash, and then you’re actually forced to be on morphine for four months or whatever. It’s like “Oh, how did the tables change?” I went from being like that to getting out of the hospital and refusing to take pain meds home. I was on all these crazy crazy bipolar drugs too cause I was suicidal in the hospital, masking everything from the pain of thinking, “Are my friends dead? Do you have to amputate my foot?” I was completely done. And I paid the price for it, self-medicating for so long. I woke up during 11 of my 27 surgeries [after the crash]. That wasn’t fun. And you wake up, and you don’t know what’s going on. You just feel extreme pain, and I’m trying to sock doctors and hit ’em. It really exposed what a mess I was. But you know, I was already a great father. I loved my kids, but after that it was like I had a second chance at life and so much changed. There was no more drug abuse. I already spent a lot of time with my kids, but they were all I hung out with, especially afterwards. I was a little cuckoo for a minute too. I didn’t leave the house. I was afraid if I left the house something would fall out of the sky and hit me. I was just waiting for some ill shit to happen all the time. So I just wanted to stay cooped up in the house with them until I got to my healthy state.
It was a combination from seeing like a post-traumatic doctor to Adam [DJ AM], who was completely sober, and we were each other’s support system. At that point, there was no doctor, no therapist you can talk to that’s been in a plane crash. They just don’t exist. We were it, and then there was like actually a website called Access Health we would both go on obsessively, and we come to find it’s just for plane crash survivor-victims. So it was kind of weird we were there for each other being survivors, and I went on there a lot because I lost two of my best friends on there, and it was a lot of emotions to deal with, and then there was survivor’s guilt. There was a lot of things. Mentally, it was a good six months where I just had to get my mind right.
DJ AM passed less than a year later. Having gone through that experience so soon after the crash, how did that change the way you value friendships?
He was my best friend. It was beyond friendship. It was like there was only one other person in the world. And then losing him and just wondering, “F—k, is there something I could have done?” It was like the one thing that will never stop resurfacing in my head. I look at things. I see what’s important and what’s not important, and if anyone’s going through anything severe, I can honestly say that before the plane crash… You don’t know what it’s about. There’s very few people that go through something like that. Unless you’ve actually gone through something like that, you don’t know how it feels. I’d just see people walking through their day and they don’t realize they’ve never looked death in the face. They don’t realize how quick some unfortunate shit could happen, and usually there’s no warning. So I’m still looking forward, man. It’s definitely a quality I just can’t get rid of. Even in the tour bus, I wait for impact sometimes, and people are like, “Hey man, everything’s OK. It’s chill. Take a deep breath.” But every day since the plane crash is another day I walked away from death. I’m very fortunate.
Would you consider yourself OK today?
Aw yeah, man. I have the best support system. I have the most amazing kids. I’m not on any medications. I haven’t seen a post-traumatic doctor in six years. I get so much love and happiness out of playing music and playing the drums and my kids. There’s nothing better. I couldn’t ask for more.
Go to Amazon.com to purchase Barker’s Can I Say.
An edited version of this article originally appeared in the Oct. 24 issue of Billboard.