Rick Allen is best known as the drummer for the popular hard rock band Def Leppard. After a 1984 car accident severed Allen's left arm, the future looked bleak for the British quintet. But Allen returned after only a few months, helping the band produce some of the biggest hits of its career, including “Pour Some Sugar on Me,” “Hysteria,” and ”Two Steps Behind.” Currently on tour with Def Leppard, Allen also plays on Krishna Das’ new album of chant, “All One.” Allen finds spirituality in many places—Hindu mantras, the Lord’s Prayer, and Shamanism, to name a few. He recently spoke to Beliefnet about his spiritual transformation after his accident and the “magical” experience of playing with Krishna Das.

Can you tell me a bit about your spirituality?

My experiences—and if I talk about [them] in certain circles I would probably get locked up—have been very extreme. One experience in particular, I was actually floating above the ambulance on the way to the hospital.

During your accident?

Around the accident. I can’t pinpoint exactly when because I think we seldom visit that part of ourselves, but when we do, it’s probably the most powerful part of ourselves there is. It’s beyond words because you’re just in survival mode. All your other senses have just been shut down, because they’re useless at that point. I felt as though I went to a place where I was on hold, and I was weighing out the pros and cons of staying or going. It wasn’t a painful experience or anything like that. It was actually the most clear thing that I can perceive. It was a group decision made by the universal consciousness.

Why do you think you decided to stay?

Because I hadn’t finished doing what [I was meant to do]. I hadn’t even scratched the surface. I was 21 years old and on the outside, [had] everything going for me--lots of money, women, and whatever I wanted. But it really wasn’t enough. My accident really brought all those flashcards of clarity and truth together that have happened throughout my life. I thought that was the illusion, a hallucination of some sort, but then when I went through the experience of my accident I realized that all those mystical happenings I’d experienced during my lifetime all of a sudden made sense.

So you were spiritually transformed after the accident?

Absolutely. Without a doubt. But there was an integration period that was very difficult.

And what were you going through then?

The integration was really one of trying to grow into my new body and trying to get my head around the very subtle expressions of myself that I visited throughout this ordeal.

[After the accident] I went to live in Amsterdam and threw myself into drugs and alcohol and thought I was doing great. I didn’t have to deal with life, I didn’t have to deal with my family, I didn’t have to deal with anybody. I had enough money, I was fine. I went to some really dark places in myself. I’d walk around the streets smoking heroin--I didn’t care at that point. It wasn’t until five years ago, when I met my wife, that a lot of things started to make sense.

At the time she was working at the Boulder College of Massage teaching an energy medicine course. I attended some of her classes and they did some hands-on healing work with me. It was really profound. And all of a sudden I started to realize all the things that I had gone through, that I had experienced, there was actually scientific evidence to support.

How did your participation in the Krishna Das album come about? What made you want to do it?

I think it chose me. I didn’t choose it. It started a long time ago. As a kid I always had a copy of the Bhagavad Gita next to my bed and [although I] never really read it, I tried to get into it a little bit. We had a really comprehensive array of books at home and this one just happened to end up with me.

When I was in the hospital it was very difficult trying to be a vegetarian—I’d just kind of take the meat off the plate [and had] overcooked vegetables. So when “Mutt” Lange, our producer, [who has] got a strong Hindu belief, visited me in the hospital he said, “Rick, I want to send these people up from London [for you].” So [a Hare Krishna couple] showed up, and they came in every single day and made food for me. That ward smelled like an Indian restaurant. It was brilliant! The hospital said I’d be there for six months. Three and a half weeks later I’m leaving the hospital. I wanted to throw myself back in the band.

I started asking [the Krishna couple] about the preparation of the food, and they [told me] about the intention that they put into the food and the cleanliness, etc.

What do you mean by “intention”? Is it a sort of healing energy?

Exactly. Isn’t that cool?

Yeah, that is.

I do that these days. If I’m making a cup of tea for somebody--if it’s Joe [Elliott, singer for Def Leppard] and he’s got a sore throat, I put my hand around [the cup] and say a little prayer. The worst thing that can happen is it works.

I do that too sometimes. It’s sort of putting your love into it.

Yeah. Thich Nhat Hahn always talks about that—mindfulness. It’s great. Just with everything you do you [say], “I can make a difference there.”

The sound that feeds my soul...

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  • The album has various styles of the Hare Krishna mantra. Do you have your own personal mantra?

    The Gayatri [or Savitri, a Hindu prayer] has always been really powerful for me. [It’s] always been a good one for clarity. And I love saying the Lord’s Prayer. It works every time. I’ll also make prayers up for myself, which I find really powerful.

    When did you realize that playing the drums was a spiritual experience for you? Has it always been?

    I think so. [I remember] walking down the street as a kid next to the big bass drums of a marching band. I mean, that sound feeds my soul.

    In the early days the perfect show, the really good performance eluded me, but now it doesn’t because all I do is give it up to God. And acknowledge that I’m not in the driving seat.

    Can you tell me about the experience of playing with Krishna Das?

    One day in 2000 I was walking past a store in Boulder called Tibet, with my fiancé, and we heard this music coming out of the store. We both walked in and split up as we walked into the store. [Later] we met at the back of the store and the both of us had tears rolling down our cheeks. Afterwards we realized it was Krishna Das singing.

    A week later a very good friend of ours who works for Sounds True, [told me] he was working with Krishna Das. He invited us to go up to Boulder, and I met with Ty Burhoe, the tabla player. A few days later I was on stage playing with them. It was just so magical—that’s how it’s been with Krishna Das. Whenever he calls me I don’t even ask questions anymore. I just say, ‘I’ll be there. Where do you need me to play?’

    The three days we spent in the studio in New York were tremendously powerful. Three days after the recording sessions I was in a hole. I was in such a bad place, because I was dealing with the fallout of being so euphoric.

    There was a high—and then a low?

    Yeah. I didn’t see it coming. Everything sort of just went downhill, emotionally. So I got on the phone with Krishna Das and I said, “K.D, what’s the deal?” And he said, “The masters—they don’t come down [from the high].” [laughs]

    It makes me feel like I want to run away with Krishna Das and just go play with him all the time. Then I’d never have to come down. But unfortunately, I have to deal with life like everybody else.

    [Playing with him is] so good for me. I don’t feel like I’m a nutcase anymore. With all these experiences that I’ve had it’s helped [me] get involved with as many different beliefs and philosophies as possible, and really taking them at face value. They all have something, but when you put it all together, that’s when the magic happens.

    How does that spiritual experience compare with the kind of drumming you do with Def Leppard? You say that with the Krishna Das project, it chose you. But with Def Leppard, you chose it.

    I’d say that Hare Krishna has more energy attached to it in terms of thousands of years of being uttered than “Pour Some Sugar on Me.”

    "The first rhythm you ever heard was your mother’s heartbeat..."

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  • I would imagine that the audience reactions you’re getting from the big shows you’re playing with Def Leppard--the energy of the crowd--must affect you in a sort of similar way.

    It does. But I also ask for protection. When people are having a good time [they] are releasing stuff all over the place, and it’s not all good.

    There is a very clear intention that goes into…before I play. I want it to be for the good of everybody but I also have to be sensible and protect myself. It’s a slightly different experience with Krishna Das in terms of the ancient nature of the actual mantras themselves. They have a profound effect. Whereas my intention for the show is very powerful, I don’t claim that it’s such a huge experience.

    When I go and sit in with Krishna Das I can be playing drums for three hours and only feel like I’ve been playing for an hour. Whereas the Def Leppard show is a little more calculated, more structured, so I have to stay in the physical a bit more. With Krishna Das I’m able to improvise and go to more risky places in terms of playing. It is a different experience, but equally as powerful.

    Your foundation, Raven Drum, empowers people through drumming. What exactly is a drum circle?

    The circle really is a metaphor for community. It makes the individual feel as though they’re being supported in the worst times—but also in their good times. We’re all on a different cycle and sometimes it takes people who are emotionally strong to help people who are feeling like the world is bearing down on them. That’s really where the drum circle is so powerful. I’m sure it started out as body slaps and sort of an [ancient] form of communication and then it probably developed into a form of dance and then ritual.

    We can’t deny the fact that we’re all tribal. We all sat around a fire. We were there with the family group and then with the extended tribe. We were together because we helped each other out. That’s really what the drum circle is all about.

    The first rhythm you ever heard was your mother’s heartbeat, so in every way we’re such rhythmic beings. We have cycles. Our skin changes throughout the year, our hair. Life is change.

    What happens in a drum circle?

    We’ll normally use white sage to cleanse the circle and then we’ll start to set the intention-- and to me the intention is the most important thing. It doesn’t matter if you’re not a master drummer. We’re just trying to give people the experience.

    I pick rhythms that are very basic at first and then we start to get more complex as people get more comfortable with playing. Normally the first rhythm—or the first round as we call it—is welcoming in the ancestors, thanking them for making this possible and the fact that we can do this because we’re all here.

    The second round is letting go of things that don’t serve you anymore. Sometimes we take small groups of people into the center of a circle and symbolically with a stick strike the ground and allow the earth to absorb all the negativity.

    The third round is filling the void--bringing in things that do serve you—compassion, love, all the wonderful things that we’re capable of as human beings. The fourth rhythm is the dance, which is a celebration of life, a celebration of the community. We’ll teach a very simple African dance. We finish up with a big celebration and then a moment of silence [where we] let everything sort of integrate and then close the circle properly. When there’s that many people with the same intention all at the same time, it really does stir things up.

    What does the drum circle "stir up"? Emotions?

    I mean spiritually. You really do feel the support from the elders, from the ancestors. And the Great Spirit as it were.

    How does drumming heal physically?

    The instrument itself becomes this healing tool. For instance, when I go on stage tonight and play my drums, my intention will be for the good of everybody there and the sound that I make will go out and it will [reflect my intention].

    I think with there’s an alignment that happens with the vibration of the drum and the vibration of that many people in the circle playing—there’s a balancing that happens within your body as you’re feeling that vibration. Like if you went to see Krishna Das, you don’t necessarily have to be this devout Christian or Hindu or whatever--just be in the sound. When you stand and look at an ocean, when you go into a forest, that vibration dominates. I think that’s what happens in the circle—the sound and everything all gets rolled into one.

    So how did drumming heal you of pain after your accident?

    Interestingly enough, before my accident I wasn’t very interested in playing drums anymore. Because like the old cliché, sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll, I could do without the rock n’ roll. When I got hurled out of the car and my arm got left in [it]—it was taken off by the seat belt—and I landed in a field, the first thing I said, apparently, was ‘I’m a drummer and I’ve lost my arm.’ So the thing that I was really shying away from was the first thing I thought about in a time of crisis.

    In the hospital they tried to put my arm back on but got infected, and they had to take the thing off. For a week I was off in the anesthetic, but when I came around, the first thing I thought about was wanting to play again.

    They put this piece of foam at the bottom of the bed, and I started tapping my feet on [it] and all of a sudden I realized I could play all the basic rhythms that I always knew. All the information was in my head, I just needed to channel it somewhere else.

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