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Does Def Leppard drummer Rick Allen mind talking about life without a left arm? Apparently not, since he's the one who brings up his absent appendage, which he lost following a New Year's Eve car crash in 1984. Moreover, he refers to it frequently when describing how he went from being a hard-rock hooligan to that most contradictory of figures, a deeply sensitive metalhead.
"When I had my accident, it opened up parts of me that I'd never dreamed were there," he says -- and he means feelings, not flesh.
Despite the changes he's gone through, Allen, who keeps time using a custom-made kit, remains devoted to Def Leppard, which is enjoying a revival. Rock of Ages, a two-CD hits collection larded with '80s smashes such as "Pour Some Sugar on Me," debuted on the Billboard album chart's top ten last May, and a companion DVD will be issued November 8. In addition, the band's forthcoming covers disc is already in the can, with an early 2006 release likely. "People have heard our music, but they might not know where it came from," he notes. "But now they'll be able to go, 'Oh, that was T. Rex, that was Slade.'"
When he's off Leppard's clock, Allen spends much of his time working with the Raven Drum Foundation, a non-profit organization whose stated mission is "to empower individuals in crisis through the healing power of the drum." He runs Raven alongside his wife, Lauren, a onetime instructor at the Boulder College of Massage Therapy, whom he met through an acquaintance in Colorado Springs. (Allen took some classes at the Boulder facility a while back in an attempt to "find my center and learn more about myself.") Earlier this month, he introduced the foundation's program to severely injured veterans at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Even though he's the celebrity most likely to relate to an amputee, he admits to some trepidation.
"Being traumatized is one thing, and I was certainly traumatized," he concedes. "To be traumatized while someone is trying to kill you is in another league. But the one thing I could identify with was the life experience of having something like that happen to you, and then reintegrating into society. And within five minutes, I felt that I was one of them. We talked about everything."
Still, there's a limit to how much he can share, at least for now. "I started writing my memoirs, but it got so dramatic that I stopped," he reveals. "It's a cathartic experience to do that -- one I don't think I'm ready for."
Luckily, the best way to work through difficult emotions is right at his fingertips. "The drum is such an ancient form of communication and therapy," Allen says. "If you go back far enough, you'll find your way to the drum. We're rhythmic beings, and those simple African forms are like the beating of a heart."
And one arm's more than enough to keep the beat.