As the drummer for the legendary rock band Def Leppard, Rick Allen knows that timing is everything. So it’s no coincidence that his upcoming appearances at Buckhead and Dunwoody galleries to showcase his other creative work —mixed-media paintings, decorated drums and jewelry — are set for Veterans Day.
The “Drums for Peace” artwork ties into, and helps fund, Project Resiliency, a nonprofit program Allen and wife Lauren Monroe formed to provide therapy and healing to veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. The effort has become therapy for Allen himself, he says, as working with veterans made him aware that he suffers PTSD from the infamous 1984 car crash in which he lost his left arm.
In a phone interview from his California home, Allen said his work with veterans “became a healing tool for me. It became a two-way street.”
It also attuned him, he says, to the many different types of trauma that his fans and others cope with.
“We wear a convincing mask, but everybody’s suffering,” he said.
Those are remarkably vulnerable words from a larger-than-life heavy metal hero known to fans as the “Thunder God.” Allen has one of rock’s great comeback stories, returning from the seemingly career-ending injury with a new, more foot-centered and electronic-aided drumming technique. He was soon back behind the kit to propel Def Leppard through its 1987 smash hit “Hysteria,” still one of the best-selling hard rock albums. (The band will tour North America and possibly Europe early next year on the new “Hysteria” 30th anniversary box set, Allen said.)
But behind the comeback and success, Allen says, he was suffering and self-destructive. After pleading guilty to spousal abuse of his former wife in the mid-1990s, Allen began straightening his life out. In 2001, he translated his interest in meditation, art therapy and other healing into the Raven Drum Foundation, intended to help other people in “crisis.”
In 2006, a visit to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., led him to make the foundation’s work more veterans-focused.
“It was just as simple as, go spend time with people with similar injuries to me,” Allen said of his reason for visiting the military hospital. “I saw how much suffering there was, but I also experienced how much potential healing there was.”
Meeting veterans struggling with PTSD awakened him to his own and how “trauma had really upset my balance … my existence.”
“I held it together there,” he said, but returned to the hotel, called his wife, and broke down. “It was the realization that I was one of them, in terms of my experience with extreme trauma,” he said.
Allen now partners with such organizations as the Wounded Warrior Project to offer a wide variety of therapeutic events, which he often attends.
Some are lengthy retreats with drum circles and horseback rides. When Def Leppard is on tour, it might be an informal group therapy session backstage before the show.
In those pre-show gatherings, Allen said, “I’ll go into my experience of my car accident and how it affected me … pushing people I loved away from me, self-medication. I’ve experienced a fair amount of tears — people just letting it out … While I’m up there playing drums … I’m thinking about all those people I just talked with.”
Painting and unity
Painting and photography are Allen’s early artistic loves, which he returned to in recent years after painting with his now 7-year-old daughter. While painting in his garage and joining Def Leppard on a massive tour are different expressions, Allen said they’re similar as therapy and as unifying people in what he called a “disappointing” time of cultural division.
“Music and art bring people from all walks of life together, and most importantly, [they] bring people together without words,” he said. “Personal experiences are more powerful than having somebody writing it down and reading it in a textbook.”
A blend of pop and abstract styles, Allen’s visual art often uses images of places or objects from his life, such as the London double-decker buses he says he is now painting in his garage. Common motifs are the flags of his native U.K. and his current home, the USA; both appear within a Purple Heart medal in a special piece he created for the local Veterans Day shows, where part of the sales will benefit Project Resiliency.
Allen says the flags touch on patriotism. What does patriotism mean to him?
“That’s a really good question,” he said. “To me, it’s about loving fellow human beings and giving people that respect, whether it’s people on the planet now” or people who are remembered for their “integrity and truth.”
“I don’t relate it to something political or even military … It’s something that brings people together,” he said. “I want it to be a unifying factor. If we all keep trying to throw a different slant, a different angle, on what it means to be patriotic, maybe that’s what we need to be searching for.”
Allen has seen cultural division up close during the 1980s culture wars, when a politically powerful group called the Parents Music Resource Center attempted to restrict or censor metal and rock albums, often by promoting conspiracy theories. Def Leppard made the PMRC’s “Filthy Fifteen” list of songs it claimed were corrupting youths into sex, drugs, crime, suicide and Satanism.
“By today’s standards, we’re like the Andrews Sisters,” Allen joked, saying the PMRC’s claims seemed ridiculous. More seriously, he added of the would-be censors, “Hopefully, people went into detail a little more and said, ‘These guys aren’t so bad after all.’ … Hopefully, they’re growing into grace and wisdom.”
“I don’t like to see division. We’re so much stronger when we’re together,” Allen added. “Even when you have differences, talk about the things we have in common first.”
Rick Allen appearances
Saturday, Nov. 11
Rick Allen will appear at Wentworth Gallery locations in Perimeter Mall and Phipps Plaza Mall. The public is welcome, but RSVPs are strongly recommended due to limited space.
4400 Ashford-Dunwoody Road
RSVP: 770-913-0641 or
Phipps Plaza Mall
3500 Peachtree Road
RSVP: 404-233-0903 or