Blink-182’s Travis Barker On Sobriety, Fear And Sanity

By Paul Gaita 10/28/15

The drummer overcame addiction, cancer, and divorce.

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For Travis Barker, the first of several bottoms came while on tour with Blink-182 in Australia.

As the drummer for the San Diego-based trio, he had risen to the top of the charts in the late 1990s and early 2000s on the strength of bratty pop-punk hits like “What’s My Age Again?” and “All the Small Things.” But drug use from an early age, a difficult childhood marked by his mother’s death, and the relentless schedule of recording and touring had left Barker with a serious addiction to painkillers that made it nearly impossible to function, much less perform for an audience.

“I was addicted to oxycodone, and I had security that would sleep during the day and then stay up at night to make sure I was still breathing. That was pretty pathetic,” he told Billboard.

Barker details his descent into addiction and slow recovery, which was challenged by a series of tragic personal events, in a new memoir, Can I Say: Living Large, Cheating Death and Drums, Drums, Drums.

Now sober and finished with a regular marijuana habit after finding pre-cancerous cells in his esophagus—Barker has emerged with remarkable clarity about his past. He also remains grateful for his two children from his marriage to Shanna Moakler and the joy he still derives from playing music.

“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,” he said.

Life for Barker grew progressively worse after the Australian tour. Infighting among the members of Blink-182 sent the band into a self-described “indefinite hiatus” in 2005. Barker busied himself with a dizzying array of projects, from performing with Rancid’s Tim Armstrong in the Transplants and Blink alum Mark Hoppus in +44, as well as providing beats and production for hip-hop artists and his own solo project, TRV$DJAM, which paired him with his best friend, turntablist DJ AM.

In the middle of this flurry, Barker was also starring in a reality series, Meet the Barkers, with Moakler, until their divorce in 2006. To cope with the stress and depression, he consumed vast amounts of painkillers and alcohol. Then in 2008, the second bottom hit. Barker was involved in a private plane crash that left him with second and third degree burns that required numerous surgeries and skin grafts.

The road to recovery proved rocky. Barker became near-suicidal from the combination of constant surgeries and morphine, and developed crippling post-traumatic stress that left him addicted to Xanax. He eventually overcame his medical issues and his drug dependency, and reunited with Blink-182 in 2009, only to face another challenge when DJ AM died of a drug overdose that year.

Though devastated, the barrage of life-changing events left Barker with a clearer perspective on his own mortality and worth.

“I see what’s important and what’s not important,” he said. “I’d see people walking through their day and they don’t realize they’d never looked death in the face. They don’t realize how quickly some unfortunate shit could happen, and usually, there’s no warning. But every day since the plane crash is another day I walked away from death. I’m very fortunate.”

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites. 

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