At one point Bobby Liebling was shooting up about $1,000 worth of heroin a day. That's in addition to the $500 worth of crack he smoked daily.
Then, the founder and sole original member of doom metal band Pentagram found love.
"I've loved before but I had never been in love," said Liebling during a recent phone interview. "There's a big difference; I found that out."
The woman who became his wife the day before last Thanksgiving doesn't use drugs. She said yes to Liebling's marriage proposal, but only if he cleaned up. After that Liebling says he quit cold turkey. He's been off methadone two years. Hasn't shot up heroin in three.
And it's been about 10 months since he smoked any crack.
Liebling likes being sober. And obviously, he's not shy about admitting his past. Since rock legend Johnny Thunders died, Liebling says he's been the poster boy for narcotics abuse.
"I'm an old hippie," he said. "I was taught what you were supposed to do: sex, drugs and rock and roll. I had plenty of women and plenty of narcotics and plenty of rock and roll. The only thing that's different now is I've got one woman, no narcotics, but the rock and roll never went away."
Pentagram's history is a litany of cautionary tales. Formed in Virginia in the early 1970s, the band's bludgeoning, bastardized version of the blues was in the spirit of seminal acts like Blue Cheer and Uriah Heep. They made an impression on the underground metal scene despite not securing a recording contract until 15 years into their run and an inability to keep a lineup intact. Liebling admits he was part of the problem.
"I've been called every kind of asshole in the book: pompous, prima donna," he said. "And I used to be. But now that I've been clean a long time, it's a whole new world for me."
Pentagram was a bold yet appropriate name for the act. Liebling was a practicing Satanist when he started the band with Geof O'Keefe at age 18. He lived for freaking out his audience. But at one point Liebling says he had an experience he won't reveal, other than that it "scared the dogshit out of me." He also claims to have dabbled in the occult, another adventure he found to be, well, not good.
Though he doesn't want to shove it down anyone's throat, Liebling says he's spiritual these days. At age 56, he's old enough to realize his parents were right about a lot of things. They told him he'd grow up to be like them. At the time he didn't believe it.
"Here I am now, looking in the mirror and seeing my father with long hair," Liebling says, though he still calls himself a "left-wing radical" and a "nonconformist."
It's not that Liebling is no longer the wild metal head playing under the scary moniker. Indeed, he says he's still a nut on stage, enough to make him refer to himself in the third person. It's just that time and experience have given him a new perspective on Pentagram.
For one, he's more humble now, realizing it's the fans that still make Pentagram possible.
"I never refuse an autograph or picture," he says. "I always make sure I'm at the merch table within 15 to 20 [minutes] of coming off stage. I'll sign autographs if it takes three hours, I don't care."
And while Liebling still has the music in him, there are other equally important things. His wife is expecting their first child in August. Therefore, Pentagram is a means to an honest living. For the first time in the band's history, Liebling, who owns the rights to the Pentagram name, is paying his lineup a salary. No more ebb and flow. The name celebrates its 40th anniversary in December, and Liebling wants the group to finally stay on course.
So far the reward has been ample touring and a warm reception. Last year Pentagram toured eight European countries with Trouble. This year they're scheduled to do five or six American legs and about a half-dozen festivals in Europe. A biopic on Liebling, Last Rites
, should be out on DVD this year. Pentagram also plans to record a new album with the same name.
During a show last year in Norway, Liebling remembers two Viking-looking dudes crying. They later said to him, "We never thought we'd see this day. We waited 30 years for this."
"That's a trip, man," Liebling said. "When you've been in the cobwebs as long as I have ..."