Known as the Metal God (a sobriquet which he has trademarked), Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford has spent over 50 years at the vanguard of rock. Now, aged 69, he’s releasing his autobiography, Confess – a funny, forthright and unexpectedly poignant account of his journey from a Walsall council estate to metal deity status.
But, while it is packed with rock stories to burn, as its title suggests, his memoir lays bare his life with unflinching candour. These days, he refers to himself, in a nod to Quentin Crisp, as “the stately homo of heavy metal”, but despite knowing he was gay aged 10, he didn’t come out until 36 (in a MTV interview) and used to lie awake at night worrying that it may destroy his career. That fear and angst led him to dark places: drink and drug addiction, and a suicide attempt. He also opens up about the sexual abuse he faced at the hands of older men as a teenager and the pain of a lover taking his own life.
After his impressive performance in Does Rock ‘N’ Roll Kill Braincells?!, Halford caught up with NME down the phone line from his home in Phoenix, Arizona for a quick chat about Confess, and when we can expect new Judas Priest material.
Hello Rob. Did you learn anything about yourself through revisiting your life for Confess?
Rob: “Not really. I just turned 69 and people might think, ‘It’s a miracle you got through’. But there are textures to my story that are not unique to me. There are other people out there that have been abused, other people that have had problems with drink and drugs, and who have had to deal with suicide in their family and friends. I’m not unique by any stretch of the imagination. But when you put it in sequence from my earliest memories to where I am now, it’s a strong potent story. And for whatever reason, everything seems to have turned out OK – I’m in love, I’m healthy, and I’m lucky to be in this great metal band 50 years later. I wouldn’t say I’m content, but I’m more settled.”
Most classic rock autobiographies tend to be written from the perspective of heterosexuals. What impact do you think reading a book like yours would have had on a young you?
“A massively positive one. I think role models you admire have a role to play, but it also depends on where you are in your life. As a young person, especially as you’re coming to terms with your sexuality, you’re always looking to find a connection. As a pre-teen, the only friend you’ve got is your music because you hate your mum, dad, brothers, sisters, school and everybody else in the world, but you love your music and look towards it to find a reference. And it’s true that I was never able to do that. In today’s world, I’d like to think it was different – there are so many openly out musicians in all forms of music that now for some people, at that point in their life, they don’t feel so alone.”
You open up candidly in the book about traumatic events including suffering sexual abuse at a young age, the suicide of a boyfriend, and battling alcohol and substance addiction. What do you think got you through? Where does your strength come from?
“A lot of it is just self-preservation. Especially when you have been abused. When you go through abuse, you’re in a bad place. For some unknown reason, you feel guilty. You feel like it was your fault, even though it never was. You feel like you can’t speak to anybody about it. Even in today’s world, it’s taboo. You’re basically being attacked by a predator. I’m just lucky in that somehow I had the resilience and strength to get through it. I’m not the only one who’s had to go through that kind of shocking experience – and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. But the great thing about this book is it’s allowed me to unload some of the bad things that have happened to me that I’ve kept close to my heart. A part of the reason I’ve done this is to hopefully to keep encouraging the dialogue that we need to have about abuse, which needs to be on the front burner. I’m hoping the discussion of this might create has some positive value.”
In Confess, you talk about your own depression and suicide attempt in 1985. Are you heartened by musicians – especially in metal – being increasingly open and willing to have a conversation about their own mental health?
“Yes. I’ve talked about it quite strongly in the past few years – especially when we’ve lost people in metal to that [suicide]. Even now, I always try to reach out with social media posts. It’s important for anybody feeling that way to try to reach out – if you feel it difficult to do it face to face, text somebody. Communication is vital, and mental health is such a complex discussion that we need to keep on having – especially in metal.”
Have you given your memoir to any of your musical peers to read yet?
“No. Nobody’s read it yet. A very tight group have witnessed some of the events that happened to me anyway, and my family obviously know, but as far as the broader circle of friends, this is going to be new. I’m curious about how it will be received – it’s not important to me, but there’s definitely an apprehension. It’s like making a record – you hope that everybody enjoys your music. Well, I hope that everybody enjoys the book – warts and all!”
When can we expect new music from Judas Priest?
“As far as Priest goes, we already have a strong selection of songs – practically a complete album – to go when we’re able to reconvene at some point. But we need to do a lot more work on it before we even get to the full production stage yet.”
Do you have any ambitions left to fulfil?
“I’m always striving creatively, that’s what keeps you going. But on my bucket list is jumping out of an aeroplane – with a parachute obviously! There’s a few things like that which didn’t go in the book, like bungee jumping in the rainforest in Australia or white water rafting, and coming to a stop and the guy saying: ‘You can get out of the canoe and have a dip now’, before being told to get back in because there were crocodiles. I’m always interested in doing new things like that in life.”
Confess The Autobiography by Rob Halford is out in hardback on September 29 published by Headline
For help and advice on mental health:
- ‘Am I depressed?‘ – Help and advice on mental health and what to do next
- Help Musicians UK – Around the clock mental health support and advice for musicians
- Music Support Org – Help and support for musicians struggling with alcoholism, addiction, or mental health issues
- YOUNG MINDS – The voice for young people’s health and wellbeing
- CALM – The Campaign Against Living Miserably for young men
- Time To Change – Let’s end mental health discrimination
- The Samaritans – Confidential support 24 hours a day