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Bob Rupp can't stop smiling. Behind his drum kit, flailing his arms wildly, he looks like he's either parking planes or simultaneously channeling the spirits of Keith Moon and Rikki Rockett. He's having the time of his life, and who can blame him? This is the second-to-last time he'll ever take the stage at Herman's Hideaway -- a room almost as legendary as he is, and a place where a lot of his memories live -- on his second-to-last night as a taxpaying resident of Colorado.
Outside, it's overcast and cold; it's been raining off and on since last night, when Rupp revealed to drive-time listeners of Uncle Nasty's show on KBPI that he was leaving town for good. The chill in the air suggests that the seasons are about to change. When it's time, you know it; you feel it in your bones, and there's no fighting it.
"I'm not retiring," insists the 46-year-old Rupp. "I'm just going into phase three of my life."
Rupp likes to package up periods of his life into tidy compartments -- "phases" and "dark sections." As he looks back over the past three decades, it's clear that compartmentalizing has helped him through the long, strange trip that took him from a small town in northern Pennsylvania to a place where the sun shines nearly 300 days a year.
There's been no shortage of sunny days in Denver. Rupp beams like a proud father when he speaks of the birth of Rupp's Drums, and as he recalls the many bands he's played with and the friends he's made along the way, he punctuates each tale with maniacal laughter. He describes almost every event, no matter how insignificant, as "magical."
But Rupp has endured just as many gut-wrenching days of darkness as light. "Dark, just dark days, you know," he says. " I've had like two, maybe three, four sections of darkness in my life. Death of my mom. Dark. Dark. Death of my nephew last year -- real dark, 'cause he was only thirteen. He was like a little guitar-player guy, had a brain tumor and it just took him down. That was real dark. My heart attack at 25 was real dark. And then being audited by the IRS: drop-dead dark."
In fact, that last ordeal was so profound that it proved the catalyst for his decision to uproot his life and start again somewhere else. The audit lasted thirteen months and nearly ran Rupp into the ground.
"That was a really bad time in my life. You know, just up all night with a calculator and 20,000 pieces of paper, trying to figure out what I did wrong," he remembers. "Oh, yeah, it was bad, but you know, we walked away the victor, so that was laid to rest."
But Rupp isn't interested in dwelling on the dark times. "I don't believe in Œall things happen for a reason,'" he says emphatically. "I don't believe that there's someone pulling strings and there's an end result to every action. I mean, we're just basically human beings trying to struggle through life and get along and have a nice life. Random things happen to random people -- good, bad or indifferent. And if there's anything that came out of that IRS problem I had, it showed me that I just couldn't stand retail anymore."
He didn't start out as a buttoned-down business guy, anyway. The son of an accomplished lawyer in Wormleysburg, Pennsylvania, who instilled in him an ironclad work ethic, Rupp was already a seasoned musician by the age of nineteen. He quickly got a real feel for the music industry. His band, Freeway, had enjoyed marginal success with a regional radio hit and was slated to play the biggest show of its young career at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park, New Jersey -- the club that helped break Bruce Springsteen -- for a record-label exec. In those days, A&R guys showed up with briefcases full of cash and contracts, looking to ink deals on the spot. Freeway was on the fast track, only to be derailed by a nervous frontman who chose to medicate himself with "more tequila than I've ever seen a human being drink in my life," Rupp remembers. "The singer was drunk, the singer fucked up. The guy got up, walked out the door. The end." That moment cemented a rule that Rupp holds to this day.
"I'm a water drinker on stage, because I'm working. Afterwards, give me a beer, I'm happy. But if I make a mistake, it's because I made a mistake, not because I was drinking beer," he says. "And there's so many artists that I go see today that play, that are drunk on stage. They fuck up and think it's funny. You know what? I don't think it's funny; I think it's an insult to the people that see you play."
After Rupp graduated from college, bolstered by years of pounding the skins up and down the Eastern seaboard, he headed west to pursue a gig as a professional drummer. The year was 1979; the destination, the City of Angels. But Rupp never made it to L.A. -- at least not then. Although he was driven in his desire, his car just wasn't up to the task. It blew a rod in Denver and Rupp pulled over. He never left.