A Rockstar Drummer’s Journey to Inner Peace

I was born in 1964 in New York City, as the youngest of six children. My middle-class parents gave us a warm family life and basic moral beliefs. I was an active kid, always playing sports with my friends: baseball, basketball, and football. Our mother, a Catholic, made sure we went to church on Sundays.

I attended a Catholic elementary school and later transferred to a private school after our move to the Upper West Side.  In 1976, at age 12, I began to play drums. My mom noticed my interests and bought me a drum set as Christmas gift. Two years later, a professional drummer brought me to a David Bowie concert at Madison Square Garden. I was totally captivated by the show and dreamed to one day play for David Bowie. It was a long shot for a teenager.

I attended Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music and Art and Performing Arts, focusing on improving my skills as a drummer. I played in many bands and spent most of my spare time practicing music.  For that reason, I did not have much time to experiment with things like smoking, drinking and fooling around.  I felt good about not learning these bad habits like my peers.

In 1986, I began to play with Cyndi Lauper. Then Duran Duran, then Soul Asylum, and later the B-52s.
During my touring around the world, I began to drink, smoke and do drugs.  I knew that these were bad habits, but I simply could not resist them.

In 1993, I began to play drums for David Bowie, 15 years after I first attended his show.

From the outside looking in, I was having a good time. I was doing what I loved, my bosses and coworkers liked me, and the money was good. But deep inside, I became depressed and ashamed of myself for my unhealthy lifestyle. I wanted to change.

I dabbled in tai-chi and yoga. But after spending thousands of dollars on these classes, I did not feel much of a change.

One morning in May 1998, while walking in Riverside Park, I saw a small group of people doing exercises. They were mostly women, both Asian and Western. Their movements were gentle and elegant, and I felt a stream of energy emanating from them. I stopped and watched. One of the ladies handed me a pamphlet. I learned that they were practicing Falun Gong, and they were teaching the exercise for free.

The next day I returned to learn the exercise. Following their advice, I bought the book Zhuan Falun, the primary book of Falun Gong’s moral teachings, and began reading in earnest.  The book spoke to me; everything I read made sense. I finished reading the whole book in two days. Then I read it for the second time, the third time, and by this time, I knew I wanted to be a practitioner.

I also made sure to do the five sets of exercises daily. Although I did not have any purpose in mind, things began to change inside. One month into the practice, I found that I had lost interest in smoking, drinking, and drugs.  I was also in a good mood more often and stopped getting stressed out as much over the small details of life. At that point, I realized that I was in the presence of something very immense.

For so long, I thought that music came with drugs, alcohol, or being promiscuous. Now I realize it doesn’t have to be that way.  Shortly after that, I returned to be David Bowie’s drummer again. Nothing has changed from outside. The vices that influenced me were still there, but I became immured.

In July of 1999, The Chinese Communist Party launched a brutal persecution of Falun Gong. Millions of practitioners in China were arrested, sent to jail, tortured, and even killed for their faith. Reading the news about this made me very sad. I wanted to do something to stop this but did not know what I could do.

One day in late 2001, I got a phone call from a fellow practitioner. He told me that a small group of Western Falun Gong practitioners decided to go to China to voice their opinion against the persecution. Without much hesitation, I decided to join them.

On Valentine’s Day in 2002, we made it to Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.

The police wasted no time detaining us once we arrived. We were sent to a detention center and searched, punched, and kicked by some young policemen.

To my surprise, I was not angry at them. I even felt sorry for these kids. I had no fear for myself.  The practitioners in China defended their rights with their lives, so I felt that speaking up for them was the least I could do.

After returning to the US, I continued to make efforts to bring awareness about the persecution of Falun Gong. During my tour with David Bowie in 2003, I attended a peaceful protest before of the Chinese Consulate in Manchester.

One day an idea came to me while I was on tour with David. I wanted to put the Chinese characters zhen, shan, and ren on my drum. These characters mean truthfulness, compassion, and forbearance, and represent the principles that all Falun Gong practitioners are required to live by. I wanted to share these values with our audiences around the world and was able to perform with that special drum for a few shows.

I am turning 60 next year, but my physical energy and mental clarity match that of people much younger. I am currently touring with Cyndi Lauper, whom I have known for 37 years, and the job makes it hard for me to read Zhuan Falun and do the Falun Gong exercises on a fixed schedule like many other practitioners do.

But I do my best to find time, for Falun Dafa is what gave me a strong body and mind. Most importantly, I have found the way to higher places in life.