Travis Barker - Can I Say [Book] (Cover Artwork)

Travis Barker

Can I Say [Book] (2015)

William Morrow

The first live drummer I ever saw was Travis Barker, but I was only 14 at the time and I didn’t know who he was. I was already a devout Blink-182 fan and I was already drumming on a practice pad after deciding to save up for a drum kit of my own. The band he was playing in at the time, The Aquabats, were the opening act that night for a bill that included Blink-182 and The Mighty Mighty Bosstones. A few days later Blink-182 parted ways with their original drummer and brought Barker into the fold before launching their foul-mouthed, speedy melodies onto the masses in the years that followed.

Since then I’ve always kept up with Travis Barker’s career – musical and otherwise – so it was only natural that I would read his tell-all book “Can I Say: Living Large, Cheating Death, And Drums, Drums, Drums.” But I wasn’t sure what to expect exactly; I could see it as being a rushed celebrity novelty item or something that would just roll through his accomplishments without any personal insight. Luckily, the book was neither of those and more of an in-depth look at what makes him who he is and his drumming what it is.

From his earliest memories in Fontana, California, Barker always knew he wanted to be a drummer; he loved Animal from The Muppet Show and even wrote the word “drummer” on a kindergarten assignment about what you want to be when you grow up. He got into punk rock with Minor Threat and the Descendents, but also had love for metal with Slayer and hip-hop with the Beastie Boys. When Barker was 13, his mom passed away leaving him in a single-parent household with his dad and two older sisters. He was able to be on the high school marching band as a snare without even attending a single practice. He joined up with several local bands; basically taking any chance he could to play music. Early on in the book, it was cool to see how determined he was to play drums for a living, but I think his gifted musical ability also played a huge role in his eventual success. Millions of books could be written about all the dudes who were determined play drums forever but ended up working retail at a record shop or music store.

Even though he rarely speaks on stage or in interviews, Barker’s success in music has been well-documented apart from some of the early beginnings with Laguna Beach punk band Feeble and superhero ska-punks The Aquabats. I didn’t learn a ton of new information about his tales involving Blink-182, 44 or the Transplants, but it definitely held my interest as a fan. Each chapter featured testimonials from the likes of Mark Hoppus, Tim Armstrong and ex-wife Shanna Moakler, as well as various friends and family. What I liked about these testimonials is that they were not simply fluff pieces patting Barker on the back for being a gifted drummer. Some were positive and some were negative. Some were just hilarious, like when Skinhead Rob told the story about when the Transplants visited Atlantic Records to have a meeting with company executives for their 2005 album “Haunted Cities,” they simply pulled out a bag of weed at the table and rolled up some blunts and started blazing because hey, it was like a three hour meeting. They offered some to the executives too, but they all said no.

One of the things that was new to me from reading this book was the extent of drug addiction that Barker has lived with. In an attempt to make flying more enjoyable, he began popping pills to ease his nerves on flights then eventually for just about everything, as many as eight or 10 a day. Barker’s lowest point was on a European tour with 44 when he was so burned out on pills that he called Mark Hoppus’ hotel room and backed out of the rest of the tour. Smoking weed with Skinhead Rob was also a favorite activity of his; when the Transplants recorded their 2013 album “In A Warzone,” Barker stated that they were smoking 20 blunts a day each. Backwoods.

Barker recounted the events of the 2009 plane crash that left him with severe burns and a laundry list of injuries ranging from breaking his back in three places to losing feeling in his left hand. The previously mentioned drug abuse ruined his body’s reaction to anesthesia so sometimes he would wake up during surgery for skin grafts. He was in so much pain that he once punched a doctor and was so verbally abusive to hospital staff that nurses would refuse to care for him. The details were gruesome and uncomforting to read, but it helped to show how incredible it is that he continues to play after sustaining such physical trauma, as well as the mental burden of the loss of Lil’ Chris Baker and Che Stills, later followed by the sudden passing of DJ-AM (Adam Goldstein). He had every reason just to take it easy and live off of his Famous Stars & Straps earnings for the rest of his life, but his determination to continue playing music remained in full force.

More recent events in Barker’s life were also covered. Reading about all of his hip-hop collaborations was cool; to me it only reinforced his ability to play a range of styles flawlessly. The reunions of Blink-182 and the Transplants were accounted for as well as his separation from Shanna Moakler and the dedication he has for being a father to his kids Landon and Alabama. Towards the end, Barker tackled of the things I was looking forward to most; the departure of Tom DeLonge from Blink-182. Barker described how DeLonge would constantly delay and reschedule time set aside for Blink-182 in favor of other projects until finally he received an e-mail on New Year’s Eve 2014 stating DeLonge no longer wanted to do Blink-182 at all, but then DeLonge tried to reverse that statement days later by offering group therapy as an alternative to leaving the band. Barker and Hoppus declined the therapy and enlisted Matt Skiba from the Alkaline Trio instead. Even though Barker wished nothing but happiness for DeLonge, DeLonge’s name is noticeably absent from an incredibly long thank you list that even included the likes of ex-wife Shanna Moakler.

In closing, reading the details of Travis Barker’s life essentially reinforced why I find him inspiring. First; he is likely the most technically skilled drummer to ever come from traditional punk – my favorite genre of music – but a genre not known for producing overly skilled players. Second; despite his success, fame and wealth, he still self-identifies as a punk rocker in a ripped Dead Kennedys t-shirt and cargo shorts no matter how out of place he may appear next to celebrities and movie stars. And third; he does not compromise who he is in order to make gains in life. I didn’t agree with everything he put forward and there were definitely some messed up moments in his past, but I don’t think people should look to musicians as some sort of moral compass. If you’re a fan of Blink-182 or the Transplants and you play drums then “Can I Say” is pretty much tailored to your interests. If you’re not then it’s likely still a worthwhile read.